Barcelona-based artist Jaume Plensa's septuplet of sculptures, "Tolerance," was dedicated last week, accompanied by addresses by Mayor Annise Parker, former Mayor Bill White, Mica Mosbacher, a representative of the Aga Khan Foundation and the artist himself.
The Houston Arts Alliance-commissioned sculptures of kneeling human figures, composed of multi-lingual melded metal letters resting on Spanish boulders, have been installed at the corner of Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard, and will soon serve as the locus of Harmony Walk and the Rosemont Bridge.
With the downtown skyline as a backdrop, the sculptures encourage Buffalo Bayou joggers and commuters on Allen Parkway to give pause and consider the city's dynamic diversity.
Plensa, who said he "grew up in a forest of books," sees the letter as a beautiful metaphor for human beings.
"When you compare 'A' with 'B' or 'C' with 'D,' or other characters, they seem different. But how beautiful when you can put them together and build up words. And words with words, text. And text with text, culture," he said.
Mosbacher, widow of former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher, detailed her involvement with the project, which was sparked by a vicious 2006 hate crime attack against then 16-year-old Latino student, David Ritcheson, who later committed suicide.
"In contemplating how in some small way I could help to right that wrong," said Mosbacher, "I began to think about Houston, and that in Houston our city is an open city, and those are not part of our values. We are tolerant, we embrace other cultures, and in fact, those other cultures have been the engines of our healthy and prosperous economy."
She quoted the United Nations definition of tolerance and how it relates to the city:
Tolerance is harmony in our differences. Tolerance is not a concession, it's not a condensation, or indulgence."
With special thanks given to her late husband and also to Museum of Fine Arts director Peter Marzio, who passed away in December, Mosbacher concluded, "I hope that those who visit 'Tolerance' on Harmony Walk contemplate what our city represents and will also focus on the value of each and every one of us as human beings."
At the dedication, White expressed thanks to His Highness the Aga Khan, who was pivotal in making "Tolerance" happen and has spearheaded plans for an Aga Khan Foundation Center on a lot across Allen Parkway. He became intimately involved in the project after meetings with White, with whom he shares a keen appreciation for diversity.
"I remember meeting with His Highness across the street when we first had a glimmer that public art may be attainable in this special place. At a time when we were in the depths of a great recession, the Aga Khan Foundation came through in a big way," White said.
"Above all, I really pay tribute to those who break down barriers in this community. Sometimes they're very courageous people who have endured some hardship and taken a stance . . . but often, they are quiet strugglers, individuals who have persevered when there is stereotyping. For them, this particular public art will be dedicated."