Public art adds to the cultural landscape of a community, but what happens when a piece causes a collision between two of those cultures? That's the subject of the P.O.V. documentary, The Last Conquistador, to be broadcast on PBS July 15 (check your local listings for the time).
The film, by John J. Valadez and Cristina Ibarra, explores the moral dilemma facing sculptor John Houser as he creates the world's largest equestrian sculpture, a tribute to Juan de Onate, Spanish explorer and first governor of New Mexico. While many of the people of El Paso, where the monument will be placed, are excited to see a tribute to their Hispanic heritage, the Native Americans of New Mexico are outraged. Their ancestors were the victims of Onate's genocide, and the wounds are still fresh.
The documentary is a powerful examination of the role of public art and the responsibility of the sculptor to see both sides of the story. It's an engrossing hour for anyone who wants to create public art or is interested in the history of the American Southwest.
We will be presenting an in-depth feature on the sculptor and his monument in the October issue of Sculptural Pursuit.