A few days ago I received an e-mail about two sculptures at an exhibition that angered Jews and Israelis and is now angering Muslims, who found out about it through email circulation. A quick search online reveled that this incident was reported in the news on 18 Feb 2010.
To summarize the news report: During an exhibition in Madrid Spanish artist Eugenio Merino revealed a sculpture of a Rabbi standing on a priest kneeling on a Muslim worshipper, who was also in the kneeling position “sojood”. Merino denied that his sculpture “Stairway to Heaven” was to provoke. “The aim was to display the wonder in the co-existence of the three religions, each making a common effort to reach God.”
A statement was issued by the Israeli Embassy in Madrid “In the body of this Spanish artist’s work there are elements offensive to Jews, Israelis and undoubtedly others as well… An offensive message doesn’t stop being offensive simply because it aims to be a work of art.” The embassy, however, did not seek to remove of the works because Israel is not a state that suppresses art.
The work was sold to a European art collector for 50,000 Euros.
To read more about the story:
“Stairway to Heaven” can be viewed from different angles. Perhaps the artist really meant to express unity in religion. All three religions complete each other and only through tolerance and “brotherhood” can we achieve peace. Yet, not everyone shares Merino’s view about his creation.
Machine Gun with a Menorah:
Perhaps tolerance would have been the message if politics hadn’t made its way to the second piece, adjacent to the first sculpture. The second piece is of a machine gun with a Menorah shooting out of its barrel. Unfortunately, I have minimum knowledge of Judaism to think of different interoperations of the sculpture… But I would understand the piece to mean that Judaism is a bullet that harms people? Or that breeds hate…. Could the gun shooting upward resemble it was aimed towards God or the Heavens? Is it symbolic for its aim to destroy the world?
This does not suggest a message of peace and tolerance!!
Putting the Machine Gun and Menorah aside, there isn’t much for Muslims to be offended at. Sadly, many Muslims were very much insulted and viewed the piece of art with a victim’s mentality and a belief in a conspiracy theory.
Every religion could find something to feel offended at. A good presentation of the different views could be read in: http://laurachiesa.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/stairway-to-heaven/
One might suggest that feminists group should also feel offended because they are represented by men.
Could lack of critical thinking and to some extent art appreciation be the main reason why some Muslims couldn’t keep an open mind about Stairway to Heaven?
Some asked: why couldn’t the Muslim be on top? All they saw was that the Muslim was on the ground and was being stepped and stomped by a Christian and a Jew.
Many Muslims, especially Arab Muslims, are not raised with the concept of Art appreciation, especially not sculpture and figures because their Islamic views have deemed such as discouraged if not permissible. In Addition, while Arabs, in general, pride themselves with how well they can recite Arabic poetry or songs this pride has not yet jumped into artwork, (paintings, sculptures… etc). it is still strange to their culture. Therefore, they see no value in any human figure sculpture.
Lack of critical thinking has made it almost impossible for them to consider that all the three figures took the position they would normally be in when praying. Artistically and logically, a kneeling Muslim, or a Christian as a matter of fact, cannot stand on the shoulder of a person without interrupting the praying posture.
Then the second question comes: why not just put them side by side instead?
Of course, a simple answer as “because then there would be nothing special about it” or that it wouldn’t convey the artist’s message are not sufficient.
So how do you answer such question in a few seconds? How do you explain that people have different views on God, religion and life in general How can you show a person that life is not all black and white especially when the e-mail, perhaps subconsciously, carried an altered statement, of the Israeli Embassy. “…and undoubtedly others as well” was removed and instead there was emphasis on the gun and the Menorah as being the reason for Israelis and Jews to be offended.
All hell’s doors would have broken loose had the Islamic world known about it sooner…
There are many way to interoperate the sculpture and these interoperations are influenced by our surroundings. Sadly, most of those who got offended, regardless of their religious point of view, got offended because of their culture that refuses to see things in the shades of gray and where tolerance is confused with mandatory acceptance.
And finally, in the words of the infamous Stairway to Heaven: “Ooh, it really makes me wonder”