Don't be junior's partner in crime

CULTURAL TERRORISM: Olga Dogaru allegedly destroyed Woman With Eyes Closed - a painting by British artist Lucian Freud - to protect her son, who was suspected of stealing the painting.


    Jul 29, 2013

    Don't be junior's partner in crime

    DID she burn them? Or didn't she?

    New scientific evidence announced over the weekend suggested that Romanian mother Olga Dogaru had indeed burned priceless paintings - by Picasso, Monet and Lucian Freud, among others - that her son was suspected of stealing from a Dutch museum.

    Her rationale: If there are no paintings, she told police, there will be no evidence against him.

    When I first read news of her confession, I was flabbergasted. Here was a heinous art crime - an act of cultural terrorism - disguised as a story about a mother's love for her son and her desire to protect him.

    While her son was arrested, along with his friends, on suspicion of robbing the Kunsthal museum of seven works of art in October last year, she has allegedly robbed the world of the pieces permanently by consigning them to her oven.

    Ironically, among the pieces stolen and destroyed was British artist Lucian Freud's painting, Woman With Eyes Closed. It was an image of light and serenity, depicting exactly what its name said.

    To me, it is also a metaphor for this clueless, art-destroying mother. How could anyone with eyes burn these masterworks, full in the flare of their beauty?

    Perhaps an illiterate person might have no qualms about tossing a book into the flames. Even then, this would send a cultural shockwave through the collective consciousness, such as during the Nazi mass book burning in 1933.

    But to intentionally incinerate oil paintings and pastel sketches, with their patina of tradition and history (not to mention the gloss of fame and value), and their colours and lines that go beyond language, requires a high degree of perversity.

    I have no doubt that Dogaru was motivated by complex emotions such as fear, anxiety and affection. Yet what she did is a depressing example of how, for all the sublime and wonderful things humanity is capable of creating - technology, architecture and, yes, art - there is no moral fail-safe when it comes to the ways we are all at the mercy of our most primitive, animal passions.

    I have no sympathy for her, to be honest. And I say this as a mother who might one day find herself in the same, totally-unenviable position of having to deal with the fallout of something horrible done by my offspring.

    To me, the worst thing a parent can do is protect one's child from the consequences of his actions.

    From a young age, no matter the magnitude of the wrongdoing, a fair and loving mother must let her son understand that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

    Often, that reaction might not even be very equal. A small slight might be repaid with a harsh, incommensurate punishment.

    A casual crime might have ripples that affect the world in ways you could never imagine.

    And only when a child understands that he is not able to hide behind mummy's skirt any more is he able to go forth and be a person worthy of society.

    It is a lesson that must be inculcated from young. After all, a person whose parents systematically shield him when he commits small transgressions, call in favours to cater to his whims or bend all the rules for him, will eventually start thinking that he can get away with everything.

    The Chinese have a saying, ci mu duo bai er, which means a benevolent mother blights her son.

    Parenting is an art, and, like any other, discipline is key to the practitioner who wants to excel.

    Teach your young to respect others, respect beauty. And, one day, if all else fails and I find contraband in my backyard after my son leaves with a shovel, I pray for the strength and discipline to take a deep breath - and call the police.