Church's Paintings Draw Fire
Last spring, when Gwyneth Leech was preparing for the Stations of the Cross she had been commissioned to paint for St. Paul's on the Green, her mind was on the rising insurgency in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.Oooh! Red flag alert! The artist you commissioned said she needed to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view images of the crucifixion. This can't be good. Inverted crucifix in a jar of urine anyone?
While the New York-based artist was setting out to depict the religious images in a modern setting, she didn't know what that setting would be until she visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view images of Jesus' crucifixion.
"It seemed at that time, the papers were just flooded with images of funerals and grieving families," Leech said. "I suddenly made the connection between those images of the women weeping at the foot of the cross. They were strikingly similar to the images in the newspaper I was seeing every day."Now, in most churches that display the stations, the exhibit is very serious and occupies a sacred place in the parish community due to the subject matter -- the crucifixion of Christ. I suppose this church decided that the original exhibit needed to be updated to spark renewed discussion and debate.
The 14 vivid paintings that now line the walls at St. Paul's are not the traditional, dark, 1950s works that the church director wanted to replace. They mix images of Jesus as he carries the cross with those of modern-day soldiers, weeping American and Iraqi mothers and fathers and refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan.
Indeed, the paintings reference actions that the United States has been recently criticized for. The first station shows Jesus' judgment before Pontius Pilate. While Pilate is clothed in a traditional Middle Eastern robe, Jesus is depicted in an orange prisoner jumpsuit standing between two soldiers in fatigues, an image reminiscent of prisoners at Guantanamo. An angry mob stands before a tangle of barbed wire, a symbol in many of the other paintings that evokes the image of the crown of thorns.
The image that has garnered much controversy shows a naked Jesus with his hands on his head, while two soldiers threaten him with snarling, leashed dogs, which is based on a photo from Abu Ghraib.
The paintings were funded by members of the congregation, who pledged the money before knowing what they would look like. A church official said that one couple felt strongly about the war images, and asked that their name not be added to a donor plaque.I can only imagine a conversation among a family of parisioners in the year 2046, "Mommy, why is Jesus dressed like the guys who pick up garbage along side the highway?" "Well Jimmy, way back when I was a little girl, President Bush..."
Another thing I wish I didn't have to explain to my son. Thanks alot.
Thanks be to Greyhawk for his Open Post.