Chagoya’s Misadventures of The Romantic Cannibals

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.


  1. Your commentary on the unfortunate artwork resonated with me on so many levels. As a Christian I understand the feeling of ‘offense’, but as an artist and teacher I realize that art isn’t always pretty, but is essentially a form of communication. I have not viewed the lithographs on a larger scale, but much of what you said about the sorry state of the institutionalized church rings true. Right wing extremists, on the other hand, are not helping the cause of Christ much by their fanaticism.

  2. Those who criticize and those who protest have common ground: neither provokes change but both gain a highly elevated sense of self-righteousness.

    Jesus levelled devastating rebuke on the Pharisees. Since He is love and cannot lie, we must assume that love and truth co-existed when he called the Pharisees out for their “religious” (yet evil) behavior.

    The light that will ultimately break through the darkness of this world is an individual’s personal obedience to the commands of Jesus. Anything else is grandstanding.

  3. Often true Joyce…although there are many fine examples of creative protest. But I somehow know you already know this.

    As for Jesus’ commands, I see them as a singular entreaty – love, always love, a truly universal requirement. Bruce Cockburn put it this way: Everything is bullshit but the open hand.

    Thanks for your comments Joyce.

  4. Your article is well-written and full of truth. Any action done in the name of the Lord that does not issue from His love is self-defeating and often destructive, as in this case. Paul wrote to the Galatians about “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:5). Love is the channel through which life should flow. Had that woman simply prayed in love, she would have accomplished something far more constructive; instead she drew attention to herself.

    When Jesus sent the disciples out to preach and heal, He told them that, if they were not received, to shake the dust of that city from off their feet and leave. He did not tell them to protest, He did not tell them to “call down fire from heaven” as two of the disciples once wanted to do and were rebuked by Jesus. Jesus is love. The pharisees were zealous but did not operate according to the Lord’s ways and He openly condemned them for it. This women acted like a pharisee. Where is love here? Her action certainly did not bring glory to God. We need to pray for people like her to get a glimpse of God’s love and glory.

    This does not excuse the artist, but as art is an expression of the artist and all he/she stands for, it cannot be controlled by the public. We can choose not to view the art or support the artist, but we cannot dictate what he should create. The less attention drawn to it by people such as this protester, the less people will even know about it. And we need to pray for the artist that he, too, will have a revelation of the Lord. Prayer and love are two powerful weapons we have to further the Kingdom of God.

  5. I have no problems with the writer of this article and I have no quarrel with the “artist” of “Misadventures”. I, however have some sympathy for Kathleen Folden.

    Were I a member of a jury or the judge before whom she had to make a plea I would want to ask myself a few pertinent questions before passing judgement.

    The first question would be why does the NEA, and by extension the tax-paying public, have to support “artists” who care nothing about the religious sensibilities of the majority religion?

    The second question I would have to ask myself is why is it that these tax-taking serial blasphemists can treat the Saviour and Lord of multiple millions with severe disrespect, apologize, if they are forced to, and move on to the next irreverence, while ordinary people like Ms. Folden are then blamed for calling attention and bringing notoriety to these “artists”.

    And finally, as so many have noticed, why is it that with leaders of certain religious groups there is a protocol and correctness that has to be observed by “artists” but with Christ there is an anything goes, live and let paint policy? And why is it that if Christians speak or act out they are blamed, but when other religious persons react the “artists” are blamed and have to go into hiding?

    I suppose Christians should be flattered that their faith is held to such a high standard by its detractors, but were I the judge or a member of the jury, I might find that Ms. Folden and fellow Christian co-religionists have been forced to turn the other cheek for so long that both sides of their faces must now be a bloody mess.

    As the judge I might find that she is guilty of destruction of property, but I would rule that the NEA should pay the fine.

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