Note from longtime Glasstire contributor, Betsy Huete: As part of an initiative to inspire competition and rigor in arts writing in education, one of my students’ written pieces will be featured on Glasstire each year. The following review of a sculpture by Jaume Plensa is by Husna Krueng, an eighth grader (at the time of writing) from Tanglewood Middle School in Houston ISD. For last year’s installment, please go here.
Even the most horrific topics can be represented by work that is stunning and articulate. Tolerance (2011), as its name suggests, is meant to represent racial and religious discrimination, and how people today can be intolerant and hateful towards those considered socially “below” them. Tolerance expresses acceptance towards minorities, brings awareness to racism and serves as a memorial to those who have been subject to prejudice, hate crimes, and racism. Located near Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Jaume Plensa’s Tolerance is marvelous and eye opening. Its message demands reflection and action.
Plensa, born in Barcelona in 1955, is a Spanish artist who has created public sculptures across the United States and Europe. He has won many international awards, including the National Plastic Arts Award, and the Medaille de Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. Tolerance shows how prejudice and blatant discrimination affects minorities and their daily lives. A prime example of this would be David Ritcheson, whose name is engraved on the plaque by the sculpture. Ritcheson was a victim of a hate crime. In 2006, two white students at Klein Collins High School heavily assaulted Ritcheson, who was Latino, resulting in him being put on a ventilator because his lungs were failing. A year after the incident, Ritcheson committed suicide.
Plensa intended to represent an overlooked problem in society. It’s truly inspiring how instead of creating a sculpture purely for its aesthetic qualities, Plensa chose to recognize minorities and their struggles. The piece represents people from all over the world by including words and characters from many different languages. Tolerance is wonderfully crafted, manifesting as three-dimensional human figures composed entirely of text made from metal. The sculpture is elegant, especially at night when it lights up and you can see the figures more clearly.
While Tolerance is elegant and has great intentions, its message isn’t very clear. Without context, it’s simply another inclusive, “all over the world” sculpture. Tolerance doesn’t properly convey the violent and destructive component of hate crimes. Instead of a socially critiquing piece, it reads as neutral. It is also bland for something that’s supposed to represent diversity. Despite the adequate execution, Juame Plensa has great intent and inspiration for Tolerance, and it’s clear that he is sincere. Though the sculpture lacks the colorful expression that could signify diversity, the message is still accessible. Its intent makes it outstanding.
Tolerance is an enlightening and influential piece of work, encapsulating intolerance with elegance. It holds a powerful message that we all need to hear and consider. In a world full of dishonesty and hate, Tolerance enlightens and inspires.
Husna Krueng is an 8th grade student at Tanglewood Middle School in the Houston Independent School District and is a student of Besty Huete, a long time contributor to Glasstire.