The question we need to perhaps ask is: Demonic art or Demonic Heart? when it comes to a Grantleigh Curro school matric pupil’s art display…
In the light of Artgate, i thought it might be helpful to collate a number of the posts i have shared about this, mostly from friends of mine, to hopefully help us think about the whole thing a little more clearly:
It started with the video of the pastor guy denouncing what he called demonic art at a school called Grantleigh and i don’t want to post the video, but it’s easy enough to find and if you’re here it’s likely because you already know a whole lot of the story.
First up was a satirical reflection by Tom Eaton who often nails it on the head, although given some of the backlash across the country, there may not be a big enough place for this to have happened…
I put it to you that the “demonic” Matric art project story is not about god or freedom of expression but rather about a person with satirical instincts who has just discovered he needs to live somewhere slightly bigger than Richards Bay. [Tom Eaton]
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Next up came the response from the artist himself:
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Where Context is King
My friend, Jason Currie, who is a pastor in the area and well connected to the school gave a much more helpful and contextual understanding of the situation which has gone largely viral and has been found super helpful by a number of people:
I am a pastor who is very involved at Grantleigh.
I believe it’s important to state this, as part of me feels it would be better to lay low as the bullets fly. But Grantleigh is a school I have come to love. I have been involved in the school through assemblies, camps and various academic ceremonies for the past 4 years. I was at the school on Monday to do the devotion at their Grade 12 awards ceremony.
I had heard about the controversial artwork but had not had an opportunity to view it. I was engaged by Mr Anderson about the artwork during the ceremony and I could see he were deeply disturbed and emotional about the display. My counsel to him was to engage with the school in a formal way and that I would view the artwork after the ceremony had finished to gather my opinion.
A short time later, the video was posted. I spent a lot of time at this particular display with the intention of putting James 1:19-20 into practice by reading each art work and the rationale behind it. Since the video was released, I have spent the majority of Tuesday at the school addressing the pupils, individual classes and with some of the staff and leadership themselves. On Tuesday night the Grantleigh Parents Association met, which had a surprising record attendance. With this in mind, I feel it important to address a few things in my journey through this:
Facts are friends
“Facts are friends”, and it would seem that there are many lonely people. As open letters from previous students are penned, petitions are created and signed, social media whims are sent off, the facts are frightfully few. To give a bit of context, the display was put up on Monday, 14 October. It stayed up and could not be moved according to IEB examinations rules which was done on Friday, 18 October. It was taken down on Monday, 21 October after the Grade 12 awards ceremony.
The display was placed in a corner cubicle, with a curtain at the entrance that stopped access. There was also a sign that warned that the artwork would be offensive and discretion was needed. It also did not allow kids Grade 7 and younger entry and asked that no pictures or videos were allowed. The reason I raise this is not to defend the artwork or the school but the misconception was that any age pupil had access to the artwork in a public place like the foyer. We love our holy cows
It has disturbed me that many Christians are more concerned about our symbols of holiness than holiness itself. This is a person, someone’s child. He is not the enemy. He is made in the image of God with a very brilliant mind and in many fields. But he has experienced a side of church we despise and are ashamed of. Yet we pick up stones to hurl at someone who is criticizing the church we created.
I wish he had experienced or seen the loving, redemptive, forgiving, all mighty God I have experienced instead of the hollow deceit and religiosity he has come to know. While I agree with some of his art, there is much I do not. But he expresses his personal journey from religion to atheism that breaks my heart, because what he has experienced and portrays as truth, is far from the truth of God in His word and the Lord I have experienced in my heart.
People have been infuriated at his depiction of Christ and use of Christian items. To the stone yielding Christians, consider if Jesus would be congratulating you on your defense of the Bible being torn up or on your prayers to see his prodigal son returned.
Ashamed is how I have felt at the response of Christians.
The school office telephone has not stopped ringing. Eventually the secretary could not deal with the volume and abuse. People went from name calling such as ‘dark lords’ to verbal abuse. As a pastor I have been ashamed by the Christian world at large who have joined a crusade bent on ridicule, anger and abuse all in the name of faith.
I may view his artwork as offensive and dishonoring but so has the response of the majority of the Christian body. As my wife commented to me-I just hope that all these parents who are so disgusted by this video will not be dressing up their kids for Halloween in a few days’ time. The application of our Christian beliefs is very convenient for some. Wrong on both sides
If you have ever watched “Seconds to Disaster”, you will know that it is not just one event that leads to chaos and destruction. Both parties, Mr Anderson and the school are learning from this. How the video was put together does not represent me, my faith or my faith community.
In fact, I am infuriated that such disregard for the current pupils, the well-being of the school and the integrity of the church was negated by a sensational emotional response. As church leaders we can do better, we need to do better! I also ask every parent to please be the adult in this situation.
I met with some of the classes. I asked the grade 7 pupils how many of them had seen the display live. Not one. When asked how many had seen the video, 95 percent lifted their hands. They were shown by their parents! Mr. Anderson is shocked that something like this could be displayed in a school and should never have been allowed. Through his video, he has personally brought these images into our homes and minds.
Both the school and Mr. Anderson could have done better. Questions are being asked of both sides and both sides are working to safeguard the future.
Does God have the right to be God?
What happened at Grantleigh is not unique. Our churches and Christian based organisations will be facing this more and more in time to come. How do we allow Freedom of Expression and at yet still hold to our Christian beliefs and ethos? This is a challenge that will need to be debated and worked out. The irony that that while we have a student who stands upon their right to express their view, which goes against the school ethos, so Mr. Anderson equally feels it’s his right to express his views despite the request to not film or record the displays. They both stand upon the same inalienable right.
Is there a line?
In closing, should nothing have been done about the art work? No. The Christian community needs to be ever vigilant to engage with the world. The question is not should we stand up for what we believe but HOW we stand that is important! As a parent at the school the recurring question has been, ‘How can art like this be displayed at a school whose motto is “to God be the Glory?”’.
It’s a question every parent at the school never wants to raise again but I have full confidence that this question, with corrective measures and consultation, is being addressed for the future and God’s glory. Jason Currie
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Then a status from me:
A bible is shredded for an art work and Christians lose their number twos. Yet much worse is done with the bible every day when we shred it by living lives that look nothing like Jesus when it comes to money, when it comes to the marginalised, when it comes to loving your enemy as yourself, when it comes to seeking first God’s Kingdom and righteousness and when it comes to denying self, taking up cross and following Jesus. We can be very selective with our outrage and we have to wonder as we stand with stones in our hands ready to throw them [at a high school kid no less] which part of the story that makes us… and what we should be considering throwing at our own greed, selfishness and complacency when it comes to the things that really matter in and around us.
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Some brilliant words from my friend Jacqui Tooke:
My take on the Grantleigh Curro art saga:
If we could only grieve over the ways the church HAS partnered with greed and consumerism with the same degree of passion that Ps Anderson (who made the video) grieves over what he perceives the high school artist has done: made God into a clown and “re-crucified him again”. The truth is that every time the church turns a deaf ear to the poor, excludes those who it’s called to love, and extorts money from those who are desperate, it is in THOSE actions (not the art the critiques it), that Jesus is once again crucified. [Jacqui Tooke]
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Another amazing response from another friend Caren Falconer:
As an art teacher, “artist’ and Christian, I would like to share some thoughts on the viral social media video on the Curo matric art student at on of our Private schools.
1. All matric art students have a public exhibition so that their work can be enjoyed by the school community and also to be moderated externally.
2. along with every artists work is a detailed explanation of the thinking behind the artwork. If you are viewing these works , which have taken so much time, effort and thought,PLEASE READ the blurb the student has written about their work. It helps put the work into context and they have put extensive work into writing it.
3. In the case of this student, they have done exactly that. Their work is clearly and concisely explained . To this end there was no need for this video ( without permission) and the huge uproar could have and should have been avoided.
4. Art is created to question and shine a light on the world we live in. Sometimes it is beautiful and provocative it is often
5. We live in a country where there is so much to question and I am glad that our teens are asking good questions.
6. If you ask me, am I offended by this artwork, my answer is no.
Here are my reasons:
– the world does not see or know the God of the bible as I do and so will get the representation of him all wrong and confused ( although this was NOT what was going on here ) I am not offended BECAUSE I expect that.
– God is big enough to look after his name
– it is my job to love the people around me and how I would have done that , in this case, is to sit down and talk to the student and NOT make a video that confuses and shuts down debate. ( a lost opportunity)
– We live in a country with freedom of expression and I will uphold this right for those around me who have DIFFERENT views on all sorts of things SO THAT I too can have that freedom.
– lastly, I feel deeply saddened and frustrated by he response of MANY Christians to this young persons artwork. Surely we are bigger and more grounded in our faith than to respond with such unloving comments and actions than this. Surely we can choose to love those around us because they are different from us and hold different views so that we can build relationships across these differences rather than calling people out on the wrongs we see. I think there is another way to explore in responding to the world and THIS way does not make any sense to me. [Caren Falconer]
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A shorter reflection from me:
Jesus: Love your neighbour as yourself.
Crowd: But what if they make art we find offensive to You?
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Some thoughts i had leading in to a comment from my Improv friend who is not Christian:
This is something the church of South Africa needs to hear right now. Call me when you get as passionate about the poor and marginalised or the greed within your own ranks. Or committed to dealing with race or the treatment of women (both inside and outside your building) or or or. This is the one you choose? Really? May as well go back to fighting to be able to hit our kids. Just stop it already.
“Honestly can’t breathe. So much true life suffering and SA is collapsing over an art project. If this is how your religion works it is no less than evil.” [Megan Furniss]
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This one which was shared by a friend alongside this image of black Jesus:
There is an irony about people being deeply offended by the Jesus in the appropriated Renaissance paintings (Grantleigh artist) being replaced with Ronald Macdonald – somehow the ethnically-insensitive-Eurocentric depiction of Jesus has become sacred despite its peddling a ‘whitewashed’ view of the historical person of Christ.
Ah but it’s symbolical you say – yet the symbolism of the artist’s message is lost on you.
The truth is if you call yourself Christian then you are the image bearer, not some 16th century paintings.
And we like ants have rushed to defend the Elephant with righteous indignation… but should not only you who is without sin tie your chords into whips… never mind that Jesus was railing against the very same thing the artist is making a statement about – the exploitation of the faithful masses for financial gain.
For now we see darkly and in that imperfection there are corporate clowns on the blessed virgins lap, there are gargoyles on Notre Dame and there are logs in all our eyes. [Emlyn Maduray]
i added this piece in that i found from my friend Angus Kelly:
Dear people of the interwebs.
The devil would love you to think that skulls and torn up Bibles are evil. The worst thing that could ever happen. They’re not.
Evil looks like a world in which the rich can get / buy a decent education and the poor are stuffed 50 in a class with pit toilets and no water. Evil looks like the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.
Spooky creepy people with kudu horns on their heads aren’t evil. They’re just creepy. Skulls aren’t evil. They remind us of mortality.
If Jesus were to walk in on the controversial exhibition I think he’d be amused. Because I think we sometimes treat God like a MacDonalds clown as we pray for a happy meal to momentarily quench our hunger for something more real.
I think he wouldn’t recognise Swedish Jesus as depicted in the pictures as himself. And I guess that’s the artist’s intention.
Evil isn’t kids dressed up as Zombies. Evil is kids dying of hunger while we throw away good food. Evil is boring. That’s how it goes on unnoticed. [Angus Kelly]
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And one more from me:
God: As I looked down on South Africa today, I was deeply saddened by the inequality that still persists, by the way those who have treat those who have not, by the racial mindsets and actions that are being perpetrated on a daily basis, by the fact that there are still schools without toilets while some households have more toilets than people, by the violence to women and children that has so many living in fear and suffering regular abuse, by the drugs and gangsterism and murder and rape, by the attitudes of the greedy, by the people who say one thing on Sunday and live another the rest of the week, by those who praise Me on Sunday and pay the woman who cleans their house less than she can afford to live on, the othering, the entitlement, the superiority I see in so many white people, those who tonight will sleep under bridges and in doorways, those who have holiday houses which sit unused on so many days of the year, those who…
Jesus [interrupting]: YES, BUT THE ART!!!
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Demonic art or Demonic heart?
i honestly think there is enough here to form some opinions, or to counter some opinions [and maybe actions] that some of you have already had. One of the biggest pieces for me is the priority of our outrage – a few years ago it was directed at the government for taking away our permission to hit our children and today it is an artwork. Regardless of whether any of the outrage directed at this artwork is legitimate or not, i would LOVE to see churches and christians being AS PASSIONATE AND DESPERATE AND CONVINCED AND CALLED TO ACTION about issues such as racism or violence towards women and children in our country or even lack of service delivery or the fact that little children are still dying in pit latrines…
What if all of the upcoming mission trips that churches had planned in the next year were converted to trips aimed at paying for and building proper toilets in schools where they don’t have? i wonder if any of those communities might be interested in the Jesus you preach after seeing an action like that? What if all the funds being committed to camps and holiday clubs and beach missions and Plett Rage outreaches was redirected towards something like that which would literally save lives?
It doesn’t have to be either/or… but the amount of energy and passion and outrage directed towards artwork certainly feels completely out of sync with many of the much bigger issues we face around us at the moment. And maybe it’s time that individually and collectively we did better.
After all, i’m pretty sure Jesus said the most important command was loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and loving your neighbour as yourself. Not worrying too much about how non-believers act and draw…
Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.