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Protests Against Starving Dog Art Exhibition

Protest messages provide information about a Central American art exhibition by Guillermo "Habacuc" Vargas in which a dog was allegedly starved to death as part of the exhibit. The messages urge recipients to sign a petition to stop repeats of the exhibit (Full commentary below).

Disputed - Conflicting Information

Example:(Submitted, April 2008)
Fw: PLEASE SIGN ! Don't ignore this one, please.

In 2007,the 'artist' Guillermo Vargas Habacuc, took a dog from the street, tied him to a rope in an art gallery, and starved him to death.

For several days, the 'artist' and the visitors of the exhibition?have watched emotionless the shameful 'masterpiece' based on the dog's agony, until eventually he died.

Starving Dog Art 1
Starving Dog Art 2
Starving Dog Art 3
Starving Dog Art 4
Starving Dog Art 5
Starving Dog Art 6

Does it look like art to you?

But this is not all... the prestigious Visual Arts Biennial of the Central American decided that the 'installation' was actually art, so that Guillermo Vargas Habacuc has been invited to repeat his cruel action for the biennial of 2008.


It's free of charge, there is no need to register, and it will only take 1 minute to save the life of an innocent creature.

Thank you for your time,

In 2007, Guillermo "Habacuc" Vargas included an emaciated street dog as part of a display exhibited at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. During the display, the dog, dubbed "Natividad", was tied up without water or food while the Sandinista anthem was played backwards and pieces of crack cocaine were set alight in a large incense burner. A slogan made from dog biscuits, "Eres Lo Que Lees" ("You Are What You Read), also formed part of the display.

Widespread reports have claimed that the dog starved to death during the exhibit. These claims have generated outrage and international condemnation. A number of protest messages like the example included above have subsequently circulated via email and online. The messages condemn Habacuc's "art" and ask recipients to sign an online petition to help stop him creating similar exhibits in the future.

Such protests, and the genuine outrage felt by so many people around the world, are certainly understandable. If the claims that the animal died of starvation are true, this so-called "artist" well deserves the condemnation and contempt that has been directed at him. In many jurisdictions, the "artist" could be charged with a criminal act of animal cruelty.

However, exactly what transpired at the exhibition is unclear. The protest messages state unequivocally that the dog indeed starved to death. On the other hand, the gallery's director insists that the dog was fed and did not die during the display. An article about the controversy published in The Observer notes:
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.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals has also investigated the incident. A statement on the WSPA website notes in part:
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.

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.
The article also notes:
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.

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.
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.

Boycott to the presence of Guillermo Vargas "Habacuc" at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008
Outrage at 'starvation' of a stray dog for art
The eye is treacherous (Google Translation from Spanish)
No excuses for cruelty - WSPA

Last updated: 17th April 2008
First published: 17th April 2008

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen