Enrique Chagoya’s twelve-piece lithograph, The Misadventures of The Romantic Cannibals, appearing to depict, in one panel, a feminized Jesus receiving oral sex, is not so much art as over-cooked illustration—a kind of sexually transgressive American Splendor comic strip.
It is not, as some Christians have said, pornography; as it does not seek to physically stimulate, it does however, according to its creator, seek to mentally stimulate.
But for one Kathleen Folden, the work super-charged her, and caused her to rise with righteous zeal and drive from Kalispell, Montana to Loveland, Colorado, packing a crowbar, with which she handily smashed through a plexiglass barrier and—with much heat and haste—hand-shredded the lithograph. She then sat down in her "My Saviour is as Tough as Nails" tee-shirt and awaited her arrest.
Chagoya, a professor at Stanford University, said he was upset to hear that his art had been attacked. He said he didn’t intend to offend—although I sense some disingenuousness here as it’s hard to see how he could think his piece wouldn’t offend. He says his work is a critique of corruption in religious institutions, not people’s beliefs.
For many Christians, me included, "Misadventures" is simply questionable art—bad form and bad taste. But certainly, the museum might have expected some negative reaction. It is after all a public museum, supported by Loveland tax-payers, most of whom, according to one report, didn’t support the display of the lithograph. It all could have been avoided. And we northern folk would be happily unaware of Chagoya’s twelfth panel.
There is however a sloganeering triumphal segment of Christianity that finds a certain fascination surrounding such a situation. It’s a fascination that polarizes and sacrificially fumes and can’t help but do something about any shocking display of barbarous blasphemy. Often self-appointed, they take the drawn-sword ear-severing approach. But they habitually fail to recall Love’s rebuke.
Perhaps however there’s reason and rhyme for all the pother. Perhaps Chagoya’s critique should be taken seriously. Considering "Misadventures" along side a church that harboured pedophile priests, and still resists inquiries, leave alone full disclosure, a church that places gay and lesbian folk into impossible double binds by supposedly accepting them, but not their sexuality, a church that still excludes women in roles of meaningful leadership, that is silent about war and nuclear armament, that spends more on decor and the edifice than on caring for the poor…the etchings evaporate into the ether.
And now with your permission, let me speculate—with some warrant I believe—about what Jesus would think about Chagoya’s depiction: Judging from the gospel record, he would view it with profound indifference, and be not in the least polarized. And how would Jesus feel about the tee-shirt and its not so oblique reference to the crucifixion and his nail-toughness? Probably dismayed.