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Hindu swastika spurs discussion

Irvine museum's exhibit features tapestry woven with the symbol notoriously corrupted by Nazi Germany.

September 18, 2010|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com

Editor's note: This corrects the fourth paragraph.

Controversy flared up at Pretend City, a children's museum in Irvine, when a few visitors recently complained about a Hindu swastika woven on a tapestry in one of the museum's exhibits.

The offended visitors apparently were unaware that the swastika is an old religious symbol in Hinduism and that many other cultures around the globe revere it, among them Native Americans. The swastika, however, was co-opted most notoriously by Nazi Germany as the centerpiece of the Third Reich's flag.

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The tapestry is part of the museum's "Home" exhibit, which is currently displaying a Hindu family's belongings. The exhibit rotates every six months and takes cultural objects from local family homes and displays them to the public, allowing Orange County visitors to see how different families live. The last family was Chinese and Vietnamese, and, in late November, the museum will put on an Orthodox Jewish family exhibit.

The tapestry had been on display since July 27, but was taken down temporarily on Aug. 31. On Wednesday, the museum put the tapestry back up and posted a related statement on Facebook, where much of the clamor about the swastika had been expressed through on-line comments that sparked a debate on the importance of education and cultural awareness.

"The complaints we initially received about the tapestry helped us realize that the static explanation of this symbol in the Home was not sufficient to effectively educate our guests about this subject," Pam Shambra, Pretend City's president, said on Facebook.

She went to say: "We have since consulted with experts, reviewed the practices of other children's museums, and reviewed the practices of other early childhood education programs. With the help of the Irvine Shakha of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, we are now in the process of developing hands-on programming to help children learn the multiple meanings of symbols and the specific, and long, history of the Hindu swastika."

It is an accepted battle, Shambra said, for every museum to tackle touchy subjects and educate the public properly.

"We had heard from people that it was unpleasant to them," she told the Pilot. "We felt that there was probably a better way we could communicate the symbol. We took it down and immediately started working on a better way to display it."

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