Black Jesus in an Electric Chair + a Crucified Gorilla

I rarely understand modern art, but I appreciate whenever traditional views are challenged, and this will certainly do the trick.

Paul Fryer‘s newest work brings together race, religion, and a gorilla… on a crucifix:

[Fryer] insists he wants to highlight the plight of the Western Lowland Gorillas, and to challenge the Christian notion that animals do not have souls. But he does not want to cause offence.

Right… I’m sure no one will take any offense at all. (Artists know damn well when their work will offend somebody, so they need to stop saying otherwise. It’d be more honest if they said they wanted to challenge peoples’ mindsets and get them to think differently.)

Just to be clear, Fryer is not calling Jesus a gorilla.

(Though, from an evolutionary perspective, using that image to say we share a common ancestor would be very interesting…)

For his next piece of work, Fryer crucifies Jesus in slightly more modern times. There’s no cross. Instead, we see Jesus in an electric chair.

Oh. And Jesus is black.

In his contemporary version of a Pieta, a life-like black Christ is depicted in an electric chair. An earlier version, featuring a white Christ, provoked protests in the French town of Gap earlier this year.

“If they had had the chair in Christ’s time, people would be wearing little electric chairs now,” Fryer said.

That’s a Lenny Bruce line, by the way.

It’s all not-so-surprisingly controversial. You expect Bill Donohue will flip his shit in 5… 4… 3…

I never understand why people get offended by things like this. It doesn’t change or diminish what you believe happened. It’s not inciting violence nor is it directly or indirectly hurting anyone. It’s just one person’s reworking of several well-known themes.

If you’re offended, then criticize the supposed artistry. Don’t get offended because you dislike the interpretation. Just because you find something sacred doesn’t mean the rest of us have to follow in step.

What does Fryer say about his perceived “attacks” on religion?

… The symbols and iconography belong to me as much as anyone else. They are mine to do with as I see fit. I mean, what the fuck does anything have to do with anything? Why does everything have to be explained? Okay… I’ll try. The figure of Christ isn’t just in the electric chair he’s starved and he’s black. Hundreds more black people have been executed in the chair than white people. More black people starve to death than white people by what you could call a significant margin too. We still execute people 2,000 years after Christ’s death. And he was black too. Back then the guy must have thought he was wasting his breath. God only knows what he would think if he saw the world today. It’s just as well he was resurrected because if he was in the grave he’d be turning in it. As for the apes, at the rate we’re killing them all the lowland gorillas will be dead by the year 2020. Do animals have souls? What a question. We should be asking the same question of ourselves.

The exhibit featuring these works and several more is called The Age of the Marvellous and it can be seen at Holy Trinity Church, 1 Marylebone Rd, London, NW1 4DU through Thursday.

(via LA Atheism Examiner)

  • Valdyr

    And he was black too.

    Wait, what? No. If Jesus were black, it would’ve been recorded in some way. Black people were still something of a curiosity back then, even in places as close to Africa as Palestine. The “real” Jesus would’ve looked something like a modern Palestinian, not that it makes a difference.

    For some reason, everyone wants to claim this guy was of their own ethnicity. I’m reminded of the Asianized Jesus sculptures from early Christian converts in 16th century Japan. Yeah, sorry, guys, but if Jesus existed he probably didn’t walk around Jerusalem wearing a kimono and dropping Japanese-language parables… although given the sheer weirdness of some of the stories in the New Testament, I might consider a “badly translated from Japanese” hypothesis, after all.

    Edit: aren’t there also some kooky Christian women out there who claim Jesus was really a woman?

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-8947-LA-Atheism-Examinerhttp:// Hugh Kramer

    What is the purpose of art? Well, besides allowing the artist to express himself, pay the rent and attract groupies, is its effect on viewers. Art is intended to evoke a reaction; to make you think or feel something you weren’t thinking or feeling before. Even if a piece is agenda-driven or shocking simply for the sake of being shocking, the viewers’ reactions are uniquely their own. Art questions you, but you arrive at your own answers. You don’t have to like it. If it jars you out of your complacency and makes you think, it is a success.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-8947-LA-Atheism-Examinerhttp:// Hugh Kramer

    Well-researched article, Hemant. Well-written too.

  • Squid

    “If they had had the chair in Christ’s time, people would be wearing little electric chairs now,” Fryer said.

    No. Way. That’s what I’ve been saying for years, almost word for word.

    Wow… there’s actually someone else out there who made the cross/chair connection. The mind boggles!

  • ColinSFX

    “Jesus was black”

    Translation: White ethnocentrists are running Jesus’ religion today. Most modern Christians picture a doll-faced European on the cross and would snap-reject anyone approximating the “Real Jesus” based on his homeless Arab appearance.

    It’s clumsy shorthand in a world as rife with racial and religious tension as ours, but I get what those people are saying. Give them a little leeway to fight fire with fire in my opinion.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com holytape

    Everyone knows that Jesus was a Yeti not a gorilla.

  • JJR

    Cue the CFI concern trolls in 5..4…3…2.

  • Matt

    I bet you could totally train a gorilla to drag a cross through a street. He totally should have put on a passion play with a gorilla.

  • JulietEcho

    I’ve often tried to explain to people why I find the cross repugnant as a symbol by asking them to picture people wearing tiny electric chairs and erecting giant monuments shaped like them.

    Jesus wasn’t the only person to be crucified – far from it – and the thousands of other innocents who were tortured to death in such a cruel way are forgotten by those who see the cross as a special symbol of one man’s suffering, as if that suffering was somehow a beautiful thing. It makes me feel a bit ill.

  • Twewi

    “If they had had the chair in Christ’s time, people would be wearing little electric chairs now.”

    Am I the only one dark enough that the thought of people walking around with little execution chairs on their necks caused me to burst into laughter in the middle of the office?

    A coworker with a cross dangling from her neck looked at me funny. That didn’t help.

  • Miko

    There’s a difference between not trying to offend anyone and not expecting to offend anyone. ;-)

  • http://stolteclan.ca Lyf

    Thanks for a really good, thoughtful article. I totally agree with your comment,

    I never understand why people get offended by things like this. It doesn’t change or diminish what you believe happened. It’s not inciting violence nor is it directly or indirectly hurting anyone. It’s just one person’s reworking of several well-known themes.

    If you’re offended, then criticize the supposed artistry. Don’t get offended because you dislike the interpretation. Just because you find something sacred doesn’t mean the rest of us have to follow in step.

    …it’s very true. I appreciate art that challenges my preconceived notions of, well, anything really. Sometimes the best way to fully understand something is to embrace and contemplate others perceptions of those events/people/things. Again, thanks!

  • http://davenewton.me Newtoid

    Great article!

    To quote Shaun Ryder of Black Grape:
    “Jesus was a black man,
    No, Jesus was Batman,
    No! That was Bruce Wayne!”

    Black or white or whatever, the pieces pictured are thought provoking and will cause offence because religion is a dickhead. And the animals not having souls bit, if you believe that your parents obviously never let you have a pet.

  • http://www.myspace.com/stagendogs Stagendogs

    http://elmismisimodemonio666.blogspot.com/2009/10/atheist-art.html
    Atheist art!
    I have done this series of “rosarios”
    In which I am exposing what religion teaches mainly: Anthropocentrism and woman objectification.
    I am planning to do some more with different torture devives.

  • http://www.myspace.com/stagendogs Stagendogs

    @Juliete Echo
    http://elmismisimodemonio666.blogspot.com/2009/10/atheist-art.html
    Atheist art!
    I have done this series of “rosarios”
    In which I am exposing what religion teaches mainly: Anthropocentrism and woman objectification.
    I am planning to do some more with different torture devices, I think we share this point of view….


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