*I put a very challenging image into the universe two days ago to start a conversation not to shut down one.
Images are important to us...to all of us. This is part of the reason I believe in the power of art to change the world. The fact is it already has.
The fact that the most reproduced image in history is a piece of art created in 1940 is testimony of that. Therefore, that piece of art not only has to bear accountability but also comes with a huge responsibility. I believe that now that responsibility is ours: those of us who spread it, those of us who believe in it, and those of us who consume it...and there are consequences for us all.
The images we consume in media and art where the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Superman, John Wayne, Mel Gibson, or Sandra Bullock comes in to save the day are infinite. This troubles the identity forming process for all: for those who always look like the savior and those who look like the ones who always need saving or defending against. It impacts all of our religious, charitable, philanthropic, personal lives, and relationships. It plays a role in shaping the way we see ourselves and the way we see others. That is in essence what art does and why it is so powerful.
It is super hard for all of us to grapple with the fact that this is the reality...particularly if we are well meaning and good hearted. But we must if we wish to change it. The fight to rebel against this narrative belongs to all of us and it starts with acknowledging not only its existence but its deadly consequences.
If for those who believe that the First Century Palestinian Jew named Jesus is the Savior of the world...who was born to be a liberator, a healer, a revolutionary, and the one who is to reconcile relationships between all of humanity and God, then the way the teachings, message, and images of him are understood, spread, and interpreted...and the consequences of all of the above have to be taken seriously.
If Jesus is the savior of the world and IF human beings must see images of Jesus to truly worship him and IF who he was/is does not have to match a fixed point on a historical timeline AND therefore we are allowed to create images in a way that help us relate to him...to make him personal for us...to make him the embodiment of our hopes and dreams...to make him one's personal savior, then Sallman's Head of Christ may, in all fairness, may be one of those images.
But IF all of the above exist, then it can't be the only one. The fact is that Sallman's rendition is an imaginative, historically inaccurate, personally suiting, reflection of Jesus from the perspective of the artist. Since this is true, then there can (and always have been) others...and the others should not be seen as any less valid. The problem is that in a context of Western dominated, classist, patriarchal world, this is a tough sell...and they are hard to seen as anything but "alternatives". Although they were all created by artists just like Sallman, they are often hard to be taken (by people who they are created in the image of or by others) as legitimate options. (Selah)
But nevertheless they do exist. Folks who understand Christ as the "suffering servant" of varying ethnic and gender groups have created images of Christ in (maybe/maybe not) the same way Sallman did.
Just like those of us -all of us who are committed to justice have reached across the aisle to break down segregation and have done everything in our power to erase hate and love our neighbor as ourselves we can continue to do so. Let us challenge ourselves to do just that.
None of these images are sacred simply because they were created. The only thing sacred about any of them is what or who they point us to. What is your image of Jesus? What/Who is it pointing you to?
A transcendent, resurrected savior?
The suffering in the world?
The people you most need to be reconciled to?
Does it call you to action...or does it make you complacent?
When you look at it, does it make you want to love more? Does it make you want to fight against injustice? Does it make you forgive?
Whatever it is, let it be a choice...a conscious choice...a well thought out conscious choice...even if you decide that it is better to not have one at all.
...and may it lead to all of our collective liberation.
Creator of 50 Shades of Black
Exploring Sexuality & Skin Tone in the Formation of Identity