Made With a Chainsaw in Slovenia, This Folk-Art Sculpture of Melania Trump Is Already Garnering Comparisons to ‘Beast Jesus’
The sculpture of America's First Lady has divided local opinion.
Is it a scarecrow? A Smurfette? Or simply a disgrace?
These are some of the reactions to a towering statue of Melania Trump, which appeared on a riverbank in her native Slovenia last week. The roughly hewn version of the First Lady of the United States—the first-ever monument to Melania—has her arm raised, as if waving to her hometown of Sevnica, located just a few miles away.
The sculpture, clad in the robin’s egg blue dress from Ralph Lauren that Trump wore to her husband’s inauguration, was unveiled on July 5 to mixed reviews from locals and the Twittersphere.
Berlin-based American artist Brad Downey commissioned the curious depiction of the first lady from local pipe layer and folk artist Ales Zupvec, known as Maxi. Downey, who is known for artistic pranks, considers the commission as a work of his own. The sculpture—carved with a chainsaw out of a tree trunk—has garnered comparisons to the botched restoration known as “Beast Jesus” and the much-ridiculed bust of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Downey maintains that the nine-foot-tall statue, titled Melania, is a “serious” work of art. The piece is part of Downey’s exhibition “This Echo” at Match Gallery in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. The folk-art tribute, as well as other works in the show, aim to probe Melania’s connection to her native country amid her husband’s harsh stance on immigration.
“Since the current political situation popped up, I felt compelled to inject a bit of my voice into this narrative,” Downey told the New York Times. “The idea to commission the first monument to Melania has some cheekiness to it, but I wanted to do a serious investigation there.”
According to the show’s press release, existential questions about the First Lady’s relationship with her homeland are at the foundation of the exhibition, which is on view until August 25: “How deep are the first lady of the US’s roots and how do local people live with and react to this indisputable historical fact?”
This isn’t, however, the first time locals have capitalized on the First Lady’s Slovenian heritage, and the country has enjoyed an uptick in tourism and visits from journalists as a result. In her hometown, there are namesake sausages, wine, and cakes dedicated to her.
In his research for the show, Downey visited the hospital where Melania Trump was born. He says he searched the records for someone who was born there around the same time in April, but whose life had taken a different trajectory. He found Zupevc.
The pipe layer who carves wood in his spare time and speaks frankly of his financial struggles was given carte blanche from Downey, who only specified the dress color and overall size. “She might come and see the thing,” says Zupevc in a video by Downey about the making of Melania. “She might like it.”
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