In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution actually had the “nerve” to assemble an exhibit of GLBT artists. Called “Hide/Seek,” this exhibit runs through February 13th of next year. There was a recent controversy around one of the exhibits: a video that shows (in part) a crucifix with ants crawling on it. Religious conservatives demanded that this “sacreligious” exhibit be closed. The museum director removed the one “offending” piece, but the Hide/Seek exhibit was not closed in its entirety.
I happen to believe that one of the most fundamental purposes of art is to create thought, dialogue, and meaning. In other words, good art should present you with new viewpoints, new ways of looking at objects and concepts that you may have never thought of before. Good art helps you decide what’s important to you and what you want to be: the ideals you want to support or aim for. This must by definition include thoughts, viewpoints, and ideas that you do not support or identify with. Good art makes you smarter and more tolerant. It educates and instructs and teaches you how to solve problems and make decisions. I’m referring to the very idea of contrast and comparison, which can take place on several different levels. I am again dismayed at the inability of religious conservatives in America to understand the purpose of art as anything other than propaganda!
I’m going to explain a few things and make it simple for those conservatives short on thought, dialogue, and meaning. The cross was a torture and execution device perfected by the Roman Empire. Crucifixions were public; crosses were erected high above busy thoroughfares and public focal points. It took several hours for those crucified to die; as a matter of fact, Jesus in the Bible died on his cross, but a centurion stabbed him with a spear to insure that the long dying process was completed in time for the Hebrew Sabbath. During these long, agonizing crucifixions, you can be sure that not only insects but several different varieties of animals crawled on the crosses, not only for the blood of the dying but for the exposed, mutilated flesh that might appeal to any carnivorous birds. It was the symbolism of Jesus’ death on the cross that fetishized the shape and symbol of the cross for Christians not long after his death. Many comparisons have been made between the cross and the Nazi swastika emblem of the Third Reich. One of the most ironic uses of the cross began in the twentieth century when the Ku Klux Klan used burning crosses to intimidate African Americans (and other minorities.) I would love to know why there has NEVER been an outcry at such a horrible distortion of the cross by the Ku Klux Klan, especially considering that Jesus Christ himself was a Jewish man from the middle east. The answer is obvious and embarrassing: those burning crosses were always lit by white conservative Christians who had no problem using symbolism as a weapon, who had lost the original Christian meaning of the cross as an incredible spiritual sacrifice by an innocent man who was horribly and brutally executed. So here’s my point: how does this one temporarily exhibited video of ants on a little plastic cross hurt their faith since it’s not really powered by the shape of a cross? One artist’s work in the exhibit shows a plastic crucifix for a few seconds with ants on it. This should provoke thought at what the cross means in the artist’s context. However, religious groups hostile to the rights of the GLBT community are trying to fetishize the idea of a cross once again as a weapon against freedom of expression. It’s no secret how terribly offended ignorant conservative Christians are by the very existence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. We as a community have been fetishized by those conservative Christians as scapegoats for their own divorces, their own child abuse, their own sexual issues or repressions, and their own prejudices. I submit that all those groups trying to use the cross as a weapon reflect deeply on the idea of what a fetish is, what their faith should really mean to themselves, and how this almost 2,000 year-old symbol is being abused yet again: not by an artist, but by groups which have the gall to claim a powerful symbol as their exclusive weapon of choice.