When Momi Suzuki drove up the hill Thursday morning to do a little gardening at Lanai City’s historic Ka Lokahi church, where her grandfather had once been the minister, she ran across something new: a bronze sculpture of a full-figured man’s naked rump.
“I was watering the plants around the church and I looked up and I was really appalled to see such a horrendous statue,” said Suzuki, who is a church member. “The one statue of a male being without a malo (loincloth) looks really inappropriate.”
The statues appeared on Wednesday and by late Thursday morning, the sculpture of the rotund man, along with a companion piece just yards away depicting a voluptuous naked woman, had become the talk of this small, insular island.
The people of Lanai quickly rendered a verdict: The placement of nude sculptures so near to a house of worship was tasteless.
By mid-afternoon, the statues were gone. No one knows how they mysteriously disappeared, but people presume they were removed in response to residents’ distaste for them.
The statues installed at the entrance to Lanai At Koele this week are part of billionaire tech entrepreneur Larry Ellison’s plans to reboot the island with resorts and amenities that cater to the jet-setting super-rich.
Pulama Lanai, the management company that oversees Ellison’s 98% ownership stake in the island, positioned the dual statues at the gateway to the new wellness center at Koele, which is expected to open later this year under the Four Seasons flagship.
They are works of the celebrated Colombian artist Fernando Botero. The sculptor and painter is famous for rendering people and animals with corpulent figures in an ode to humor or, in some cases, political criticism. His subjects span the gamut from drug cartel lords and Iraqi soldiers to jazz musicians and nightlife-goers.
Lanai At Koele’s impending opening follows the $75 million renovation of the Four Seasons Lanai Resort in 2016. Outfitted with a Nobu restaurant and luxury suites with nightly rates over $20,000, the resort is in stark contrast with the 3,000 deeply rooted Lanai residents’ simple way of life.
Robin Kaye, a longtime Lanai resident, said he had no problem with the statues themselves. But he took issue with their ill-fitting placement.
“It’s a strange welcoming statement to make to people who are coming up to that place to find wellness,” Kaye said. “Not to mention it’s maybe 30 yards from a church. And part of it reflects a broader issue of the absence of community input into some of the things that Pulama Lanai does.”
“I don’t think they needed to ask the community, ‘Do you like these?'” he added. “But they could have had a conversation with some of the people in the community about, ‘Where do you think these two sculptures would fit best?’ And that never happens. We’re invisible.”
Representatives for Pulama Lanai did not respond to requests for comment.
Suzuki said she admired those who made the decision to heed the criticism of local residents.
“He realized it is not a right place to have statues like that,” she said of Ellison. “It’s very nice of him to do that when they were put there just yesterday. “
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