Monday, June 18, 2012

Is Justice blind in Singapore?

Recent happenings have prompted many to ask if justice is indeed blind in Singapore. Intriguing question, since I wasn't at all sure how the idea that justice should be blind actually came about.

The only Greek goddess that regularly had a blindfold was actually the goddess of fortune/fate (Fortuna, Tyche/Dike). It really wasn't until about the 15th century that a number of goddess imageries were conflated to give the idea that justice is scaled, sworded and also blind. Even so, the goddess of justice (Justitia) is not always portrayed outside our courthouses as being blind. For example, outside the Old Bailey in London, Justitia is clearly sighted. Outside the Legislative Council Building in Hong Kong, on the other hand, Justitia is presented as wearing a blindfold.

Interestingly, On top of our old Supreme Court Building, the tympanum carries a scene conceptualized by artist Rodolfo Nolli, where Justitia is represented. The scene apparently depicts: "......the central figure represents Justice; to the left is a person begging for mercy (or protection), and next to him are the legislators with books in hand, representing the Law. On the other side of Justice is a figure showing gratitude, then a man and a bull, and two children holding a sheaf of wheat, all representing Wealth, Prosperity and Abundance where Law and Justice prevails."

But the scene looks too intriguing to just refer to official interpretations. In the spirit of the book Da Vinci's Code, I tried my hand at explaining the scene as I saw it. Firstly it should be noted that the Singapore version of Justitia is similarly scaled, sworded but fully sighted. On the right of Justitia are two very sorry looking figures. At the extreme end, the one with the snake is probably Adam wallowing in his sin, unforgiven. Just next to Justitia is another unforgiven figure begging for mercy. Between them, a pair of very conspiratorial looking figures, plotting to throw the book at the guilty ones. On Justitia's left however, by the hand that holds the sword, is a very grateful forgiven woman. One can only guess at why she has been forgiven. Following her however, is an entourage bearing icons of power and prosperity - cattle and grain.

Was the artist trying to make a statement about how justice operates? Here clearly justice is not blind. Does wealth and prosperity feature in the dispensing of justice? I leave it to your interpretation of this very interesting and oft overlooked piece of public art. After all art, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder.

Oscar Wilde did write that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing this oft-overlooked piece of insights right in our justice doorstep. Quite revealing ...