Learning About Lolita Through Art

By Suzanne Wentley
    What a pleasant surprise to discover, as I was cruising up South Beach’s Washington Avenue in my new white-and-hot pink quad roller skates, my dear friend and very talented artist Huong!
     I knew she lived in Miami, but the fact that she had a fabulous gallery there slipped past my busy mind. I was overcome with joy to see that she also happen to be there the day I was visiting with my boyfriend.
     Her gallery was quite different than the one she opened in the town where I live, about two hours north, in Jensen Beach. When I met her a decade ago, her “War and Peace” museum had rocked this quiet, conservative town, and I loved it! She painted from the heart, with passion and with knowledge, about the horrors of war and the dream of peace. I had the same dream. It’s how we connected.
     It had been years since I saw her. Since then, I know she’s moved on to use her compelling personal story and her powerful art to bring other important issues to light. Creating a network of dedicated activist artists, she remains an advocate to close the “detention camp” in Guantanamo Bay (as am I). Together with others, she worked to change the unfair immigration laws. And she took a stand when Trayvon Martin was shot, reminding everyone who listened that it could have been them in that hoodie sweatshirt.
     She has always cared about the rights of others to live in peace, beauty and joy, and that’s why I love her.
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     So I was impressed that her studio’s current exhibit focuses on the health of our world’s oceans and marine life. One of the sentinel beings caught up in the mix of everything is Lolita, a killer whale that’s been living in 35-foot-wide tank since she was captured in the Puget Sound in 1970. Forty five years! The comparison to prisoners of war was obvious to me. Just as Huong’s early work shed light on the barbaric state of war in her native land of Vietnam, fellow artist Michael Gray’s huge painting of Lolita in Huong’s studio reminds us of how unjust her captivity is. Just for our entertainment, a beautiful, normally social creature has been forced to spend most of her life in a loud, confining chamber.
     It takes no time for visitors to understand that Lolita must be immediately freed from the Miami Seaquarium pool, if for no other reason than the need to follow our own moral compass by helping those who cannot speak for themselves.
Talk about disturbing. Check out this video of her capture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzUgLbHzKIE&feature=related
     Everyone who has a heart has to agree that Lolita needs to return to the sea, which is breathtakingly depicted in small squares of brilliantly colored artwork that hangs along the hallway walls of her gallery. I had never been to the Seaquarium, so I am grateful to Huong for once again opening my eyes and sparking my (and others) commitment to advocating for what is right.
     I sent this note off:
I recently became aware of the fact that you have kept a killer whale in confined captivity for 45 years, and I would like to tell you that I am completely disgusted by this. I am boycotting your educational facility and will be telling everyone I know how cruel, inhumane, immoral and unjust your organization is. If you had any heart whatsoever, you would release Lolita from her small pool and allow her to return to the wild where she was taken. This needs to happen immediately. I work with children’s organizations, and I will be sure to alert everyone to the slavery you are perpetuating just because the slave is a different species. I think all children agree that you ought to be ashamed of this and end it immediately.
Thank you for reading this and freeing Lolita right now.
     You can do the same by clicking here: http://www.miamiseaquarium.com/hours-and-directions/contact-us
     I also encourage you to visit Huong’s gallery at 1606 Washington Ave., Miami Beach FL 33139, to meet this beautiful woman and hear more about this tragic situation. Of course she has petitions for you to sign, too.
    One piece of art there states a quote from John C. Sawhill: “A society is defined not only by what it creates but by what it refuses to destroy.” Let’s preserve the dignity of other magnificent beings, preserve our stewardship of nature and refuse to destroy my faith in humankind.

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