The story of the Paul Dibble sculpture The Garden is one plagued by contradictions.

Johanna Mouat thinks that "discussion is important", yet there was no chance for public discussion before the artwork's acquisition and placement was finalised.

It seemed to have been agreed upon by the Hastings District Council, MTG Foundation, Landmarks Trust, and some of the Havelock North Business Association – who hadn't told all of their own members because they "wanted it to be a surprise".

Has it not been learned from the Te Mata Peak track disaster that surprises are actually unethical when they involve significant, permanent changes in the public sphere?


There's no such thing as a good surprise in this context. Members of the public must be informed ahead of time and able to give input.

It would be interesting to know the actual number of people involved in the decision-making, and to what extent they reflect the diversity of our community.

Mouat also claims that The Garden is a celebration of Hawke's Bay, yet it's previously been displayed in Palmerston North, and another version of it, titled Fruits of the Garden, is already in place permanently in Wellington.

It's a generic sculpture, like Dibble's other piece in Napier: Gold of the Kowhai. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we should acknowledge that this could just as easily be placed anywhere in the country, or overseas for that matter: wherever there are trees and fruit. It's not specific to Hawke's Bay, despite the apple.

And so we get to the work itself. We are told it is a "celebration of life and beauty", yet it most certainly is not. It's a celebration of a Western male fantasy of domination over life and beauty. It uses a dismembered set of thighs, vulva and abdomen to symbolise the fertility of the land.

A person (in this case, Eve) is reduced to their childbearing parts and treated like the apple perched on top: just another object. In this worldview, women and land are passive things for men to use and enjoy.

Men sow their seeds in the womb/soil and extract the fruits that grow.

This, in the time of #metoo, where the pervasiveness of male entitlement to women's bodies in the form of sexual assault is finally being addressed. This, in the time of facing up to the destructive nature of industrial farming, including the contamination of waterways and degradation of soils.

I know Dibble is critical of this country's long colonial history of mistreating the land – Gold of the Kowhai laments the eradication of most of the native bush.

Yet, in his attempt to take a purely celebratory view, he slips into the exact same damaging worldview: women and land imagined as submissive producers for white men.

While the sculpture itself is insipid and therefore could be seen as benign, the perspective on the world that it represents is toxic.

Unsurprisingly, the same arrogance and entitlement has led to The Garden's placement without any public discussion: as if those who have wealth have more right to decide what is placed in the public sphere than others.

They don't have more right, but currently they do have more power. Until that changes, we'll see more of the same patronising behaviour.

Jess Mio is a Napier resident and holds a Master of Arts in Art History.