Saturday, March 31, 2007

Choc Horror?

A sculpture of Jesus Christ - made out of chocolate, has been pulled from an exhibition in New York.

The decision was made after various religious groups (spearheaded by the Catholic League), piled the pressure on The Manhattan Lab Gallery.

I am a Christian, but I'm not going to blindly criticise a work of art without trying to understand what the artist was getting at first.

The points that seem to cause the most offence are the nudity of the Christ figure, the artistic medium used to represent him... and the fact that the public had been invited to eat the work when it was scheduled to be displayed.

Before I go on, I want to remind you that I was one of the people who was upset by The Jerry Springer musical - my reasons were different from most of the zealots... if you want to know my reasons, ask me. However, I feel it is only fair that you know that I had a position on that as it might view this article in a different context.

There are a couple of things that Christians should consider before preparing to cast stones. Firstly, when Jesus was actually crucified, he in all probability was completely naked - for it was part of the punishment of crucifixion: the physical agony of being mortally wounded and hung on a scaffold to die... coupled with the humiliation of being on public display, stripped of all clothing. Most crucifixes probably have loincloths, to stop people from being distracted from the deep meaning of Christ's sacrifice. Although, having said that... I have heard some suspicious people theorise that by putting a loincloth on Jesus, the Church is actually trying cover up his Jewish heritage. Personally I think Christ's Jewish heritage is something to celebrate.

Now, on to the medium being used - chocolate. Chocolate is a luxury food, it is sweet and sensual... not to mention it is comforting on a very bad day. True, it can be argued that it's desirability as a food can allude to sexuality... but I don't think that is what the artist was trying to convey. You could take it on a number of levels... it rather depends on what ideas the artist himself was trying to explore and get across. Chocolate, being a "feel good food" might imply that the artist was saying that followers of religion only worship because it makes them feel better.

What it makes me think about, is the fact that in western Christianity, we have a tradition of stuffing ourselves silly with chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday and celebrating the symbolism of new life. I have been told that the image of eggs and bunny rabbits actually comes from a mythological pagan goddess, who fell from the sky in an egg and possessed the ability to shape shift (usually into a rabbit). It would be easy for me as a Christian to point my finger at the artist's work and say it is inappropriate, that it belittles what Jesus did.

It is also easy for us to tuck into chocolate on Resurrection Sunday (what the Church calls Easter), thank Jesus for what he did and get on with our merry lives without giving him a second thought.

If your father, your mother, brother, sister, spouse or friend lay down their life for you... do you really think it would be appropriate to remember there actions by eating junk food on the anniversary? I am not saying it is sinful to eat chocolate, I am saying it is important that if we really have this belief... we should have some form of conviction that goes beyond some kind of seasonal gimmick.

If we point the finger at this artist's work, we only serve to highlight the hypocrisy in a non-biblical tradition associated with the Church. To condemn this work of art is also to condemn the triviality with which we sometimes treat our own beliefs.

One of my favourite sculptures (admittedly I have never seen it, but I love the concept), is Mark Wallinger's Ecce Homo:

Here, Jesus is portrayed in such a manner as to liken him to his own race... in a way that is relevant to their more contemporary sufferings. He stands stripped to his underwear with the crown of thorns adorning his head. However, his head is shaved... and he bears a tattooed number not unlike those found on the arms of Auschwitz survivors. A very bold and poignant statement on the artist's part, worthy of commendation. Astonishingly this piece of work also came under fire from a London councillor who felt the use of white marble was racist! What an imbecile the man must have been!

We should not be so quick to assume everything is evil. We should look for the good in people's work... and then if we find none, be honest and frank about it based on informed opinion.

I am ashamed at the fundamentalists who have spouted off without thinking... and I am not one of them.

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