Juanita Bermúdez, director of the Códice Gallery, insisted Natividad escaped after just one day. She said: 'It was untied all the time except for the three hours the exhibition lasted and it was fed regularly with dog food Habacuc himself brought in.'Some have suggested that the director's claim is no more than a belated attempt to avoid further condemnation. And the artist himself has refused to deny the allegations, and has thus made himself look guilty in the eyes of many people. The Observer article notes:
Vargas, 32, said he wanted to test the public's reaction, and insisted none of the exhibition visitors intervened to stop the animal's suffering. He refused to say whether the animal had survived the show, but said he had received dozens of death threats.In an interview published on Yahoo (in Spanish), Habacuc claims that he was inspired to create the exhibit by a case in which a Nicaraguan crack addict named Natividad Canda was killed by two dogs because police and firemen watching from the sidelines would not or could not intervene. Subsequent footage of the incident shown on TV generated disgust from the public. Habacuc viewed this disgust as hypocritical and therefore wanted to create a similar public reaction with his exhibition. Again, he does not clearly confirm or deny if the animal died during the display. In the interview, he rather ambiguously states that "the human eye is treacherous" and suggests that what one first believes he is seeing may turn out to be different after due reflection.
In 2007, artist Guillermo Vargas showed an emaciated live dog in a Nicaraguan gallery. Despite public outcry, the country's lack of animal welfare laws meant he faced no consequences. This year, when Vargas was invited to compete in an art show in Honduras, WSPA and member society the Honduras Association for the Protection of Animals and their Environment (AHPRA) acted to ensure this cruelty could not be repeated by any artist.The article also notes:
Elly Hiby, WSPA's Head of Companion Animals, commented: "Information regarding the treatment and fate of the dog used in the 2007 exhibition is inconsistent, but for WSPA – irrespective of the exact outcome – chaining a dog without food or water for public entertainment is a reprehensible abuse". Our attempts to discuss the matter with Vargas' representative were met with silence.
In the meeting, WSPA's representative gave sound welfare arguments against the work shown in Nicaragua and formally requested that the Honduras AHPRA be invited to observe the Biennale exhibition.Regardless of the real fate of Natividad, in this writer's opinion, the display does not constitute "art" in any case. Even if the clearly emaciated animal did not die during the display, it was still tied up without food and water for hours at a time. Art is and has always been a voice of social commentary. However, art can be confronting without being unconscionable cruel. Unfortunately, the furore over the exhibit, although understandable, has also given Vargas a great deal of free publicity - a degree of publicity that many would feel is certainly not an accurate reflection of the "artist's" level of talent.
After pressure from WSPA, the Honduras AHPRA and the public, the Biennial organizers have agreed not only to make AHPRA official observers but also to include new competition rules that prohibit the abuse of animals.
Last updated: 17th April 2008
First published: 17th April 2008
Write-up by Brett M. Christensen