On Monday a five-metre tall sculpture of a hand with a face on it appeared in the city centre of Wellington, New Zealand.
“Does anyone know what the heck this is?” inquired one bemused person on Twitter.
Quasi is a polystyrene and resin sculpture that depicts a hand standing on two fingers. The face in its centre disapprovingly stares down at passers-by.
Created in 2016 by Ronnie van Hout, the statue is based on scans of the artist’s face and hands. Although some viewers believe the face could be US President Trump, it is in fact a “partial self-portrait” of the artist.
Van Hout was also inspired by Quasimodo from Victor Hugo’s ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’. The artist revealed that Quasi was named after the fictional character because “it’s a human form that’s not quite human as well. The idea of something that resembles a human but is not quite human“.
However, its looming presence over the city centre immediately sparked controversy on social media.
One Twitter user described the newly installed sculpture as “the ugliest and most disturbing piece of “art” I have ever seen in my life,” whilst another local citizen labelled it as “some hideous malevolent being.”
City Gallery Wellington noted on its website: “It’s as if ‘the hand of the artist’ has developed a monstrous life of its own.”
Wellington has loaned Quasi for three years from Christchurch City Gallery in an attempt to liven up the Civic Square. In 2016, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake damaged the square and visitor numbers have dropped ever since.
Two years ago, Quasi was originally installed in Christchurch after they too suffered from a devastating earthquake that badly effected tourism to the city.
Although the statue initially enraged Christchurch residents as well, including an art critic who demanded that it “must go”, many were saddened to see it leave. A local citizen insisted that “the gross hand belongs to Christchurch”.
Despite dramatically dividing opinion, Van Houst’s statue is ultimately intended to be a statement about acceptance.
Robert Leonard, City Gallery Wellington’s chief curator said Quasi was “about being a freak, being an outsider, being deformed and being misunderstood…it’s really interesting how the work plays off its loathsomeness, its disfigurement, its hideousness and almost asks to be loved.”