“There’s nothing sacred anymore,” said Peg Lowry, a resident of Ames, Iowa, in response to a new public sculpture on Main Street. Titled “Wide Open Mind,” by Minneapolis-based artist Kimber Fiebiger, the sculpture is a stylized female figure in bronze standing with rounded arms akimbo and arced legs straddled. Chosen for the Ames Annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, the work has sparked superlative outrage among locals, the Iowa Informer reported.
“Why don’t you just rename the thing ‘Wide Open Crotch’? Because it’s really a sickening thing,” said one Ames visitor in a voicemail left for Assistant City Manager Bob Kindred. Indignant Iowans have bombarded city officials with emails demanding the sculpture’s removal, calling the pretzel-like figure “disgraceful” and “not family friendly.” “It is definitely a provocative and potentially suggestive pose,” Ryan Buck told WPXI. In mid-May, one crusader draped a yellow towel over the statue like a toga. Later, Iowa State University design students yarn-bombed the figure by knitting it a bikini. Others have gleefully posed for photographs under its arched legs. After the scandalized feedback, city officials debated removing the statue.
In an email to city officials obtained by the Iowa Informer, one resident wrote that, in light of a recent massage parlor prostitution bust in the town, the sculpture “is in very bad taste; especially with Ames in the news for prostitution and sex slave trade, [it] promotes Ames as a place where women are devalued, degraded, and disrespected.”
“That’s the opposite of what the statue is about,” Fiebiger told the Iowa Informer in response to this email. The artist said the sculpture is meant to resemble a woman in the horse yoga pose, which is designed to strengthen legs and calm the mind, not disgrace families. “As a sculptor, I don’t see nakedness, I just see sort of shape,” Fiebiger said. “It’s about being in charge of yourself, you know? The magic of being in touch with yourself and your body and your posture. It’s a woman that’s really — one of the things she’s very comfortable with is her sexuality.”
City leaders were “disappointed” that, when Fiebiger submitted the design to the Public Arts Commission, she only sent an image of its back. “We were disappointed in the artist for not showing us both sides of the piece,” said Kerry Anne Dixon, the chairwoman of the Ames Public Art Commission (PAC). After the sculpture was delivered, it was discovered that its front “has a fairly accurate portrayal of a nude female.”
The back of the sculpture, Fiebiger says, resembles “an onion … peeling away layers of yourself to get — to get like an inner knowledge of what you are.” A few out-of-towners agreed that the sculpture is about as offensive as an onion. “We’re from New Jersey, so I guess we are used to having a lot more of that,” one visitor told WPXI. Perhaps she was referring to “Forever Marilyn,” New Jersey’s supersize sculpture of the Hollywood sex symbol in a windblown dress, or to Jersey Shore mascot Snooki’s treatment of public art.
The shape of Fiebiger’s figure does vaguely resemble that of a sheela-na-gig, a type of carving that depicts a squatting naked woman showing off an exaggerated vulva. Thought to ward off death and evil, sheela-na-gigs were popular in Romanesque and later medieval churches in Britain. But compared to these ancient church decorations, “Wide Open Mind” is positively G-rated. A few Ames residents quietly agreed: “I still don’t really see what the big deal is,” Kristin Roach, who owns a tea shop on Main Street, told WXPI. “We shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies.”
Though city officials debated removing the work, promotional brochures with photos of “Wide Open Mind” had already been printed. The sculpture will remain on display in Ames until May, 2017. In the meantime, the town’s PAC plans to clarify its guidelines for future outdoor sculpture applications so that artists can’t sneak any more bronze vulvas onto Main Street.