Statue remains controversial
Sarasota City Commissioner Erik Arroyo has asked City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs to place on an upcoming commission agenda a discussion about moving the Unconditional Surrender statute from its location within Bayfront Park to a more prominent spot near the Gulfstream Avenue roundabout.
The Oct. 16 exchange, which came near the end of the regular meeting that day, did not specify which agenda. The commission’s next regular session will be held on Nov. 6, but The Sarasota News Leader did not find such a discussion listed on the agenda for that session.
Arroyo was part of the board majority in November 2020 that voted to move the statue permanently to a site between O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill and Marina Jack. The relocation was necessary because of the design of the Gulfstream roundabout.
At that time, Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch was the only commissioner to vote against the Bayfront Park spot. She cited a city survey that proposed nine different locations, offering her view that Unconditional Surrender should stand in front of the Sahib Shriners building located at 600 N. Beneva Road. That was the fiscally prudent option, she pointed out, as the Shriners had offered to pay for the move and upkeep of the statue.
Then-Mayor Hagen Brody argued for a different site: the center of a circular drive at the entrance to Bayfront Park, where, he said, the statue would be visible from drivers on U.S. 41 and from Sarasota Bay.
Unconditional Surrender has been the focus of controversy since it first was unveiled at a Season of Sculpture event on the bayfront.
During his Oct. 16 remarks, Arroyo pointed out that when he and his family recently had visited Bayfront Park, he had observed, “Everybody was taking pictures next to Unconditional Surrender. It is truly such a beautiful — I think — piece of art, that, of course, means different things to different people, but it belonged where it was before.”
A number of people in the community have stressed — and provided images to make their case — that the statue glorifies a sexual assault. The inspiration for the statue was the famous Alfred Eisenstadt photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in New York City’s Times Square after Japan’s surrender in World War II was announced.
During the Nov. 16, 2020 board discussion, city resident Kafi Benz, president of the nonprofit Friends of Seagate, told the commissioners, “For years, many mistook [the Eisenstaedt] photograph as a mutual celebration. Instead, the woman was grabbed by a drunken stranger, forced into a headlock, bent backward, off balance, into an unwelcome act that was an unequal wrestling match.”
Benz added, “The clear, nonverbal message of this statue is subjugation. It never could be explained away with an apologetic sign. Failing to remove this statue from our public space would convey to the youth viewing it in the decades ahead that this subjugation is somehow romantic, and worthy of imitation.”
Another person who addressed the board members that day, Melanie Goddard, who also lives in the city, pointed to an interview recorded with the woman later found to have been the person the sailor kissed in Times Square, Greta Zimmer Friedman. Friedman said “she was just grabbed and overpowered,” Goddard continued. “Most telling,” Goddard said, “is that Ms. Zimmer refused, ever, to recreate the scene.”
Moreover, some city residents have emphasized the fact that the statue is not an original work of art, as are the other sculptures that the city has included in its Public Art Program over the years.
During his Oct. 16 remarks, Arroyo pointed out of the statue, “You barely see it where it’s at now. You have to really … get kind of right there, up in its face, to see [it].”
Another factor in his desire to have it moved closer to its previous position, he said, is “You don’t see it necessarily when you’re driving by. … It’s not the iconic piece that it was before.”
He further emphasized to his colleagues, “It was one of our most popular pieces of art …”
Arroyo did acknowledge that Unconditional Surrender could not be placed in the interior of the new roundabout, because “You don’t want people to go in there —”
“To take pictures,” Vice Mayor Liz Alpert finished his sentence.
Perhaps it could be situated near the roundabout, Arroyo added.
When City Auditor and Clerk Griggs asked for clarification that Arroyo simply was seeking a board discussion about moving the statue again, he responded that that was correct.
City commissioners routinely ask for items to be placed on the discussion; no board vote is necessary for that scheduling.