Made in God's Image
A GOMA exhibition looking at LGBTI people’s relationship to the Bible has recently created a storm of outrage. Kirstin Innes offers the organiser a chance to defend the piece
Anthony Schrag looks a bit stressed out when we meet. It’s been a big couple of weeks for the Gallery of Modern Art’s artist in residence, for reasons you may well have heard of. Made in God’s Image, a community outreach exhibition he organised to accompany GOMA’s social justice programme sh[OUT]: Contemporary art and human rights, has made headlines
‘Made in God’s Image is one of a few smaller outreach projects attached to the main exhibition. We worked with community groups to discuss ageing and sexuality, ethnic minorities and sexuality, and this one happens to look at faith and sexuality. We worked with LGBTI people of faith, to look at the ways in which they deal with any contradictions between those two areas of their lives, their religion and their sexuality. My job, as an artist, was to go and work with different individuals and groups to make art and explore those ideas.’
It’s important to note that the people creating the works are of faith, as that aspect of the exhibition has been rather disregarded in the media furore that ensued over two particular pieces. Most recently, the Vatican has got involved, condemning the exhibition as ‘disgusting and offensive’.
One of these works is a video film which shows a woman eating a copy of the Bible, page by page; the other, by Metropolitan Community Church minister Jane Clarke, consisted simply of a Bible lying open with a pot of pens beside it. From here, the piece was in the hands of visitors to the gallery. Their comments, such as, ‘I am Bi, Female and Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this,’ and ‘this is all sexist pish, so disregard it all’ have offended religious groups, who have claimed that the text has been defaced; there have been pickets outside the gallery. Schrag feels that, in the ensuing commotion and media hysteria, the intentions behind the works have been lost.
‘The instructions by the work said, “If you feel you’ve been excluded from the Bible, please feel free to find a way to write yourself back in.” And that perhaps was naive, but the artist, who made the work was aware of that. She felt that this might be some people’s first contact with a Bible for a very long time, and that the experience might plant some seeds of faith. She’s a minister; that’s a chance she was willing to take. She was aware that some people would be immature and write silly things, and felt that spoke of some people’s relationships to the Bible.
She hoped that people would defend those comments, that that Bible would become a site of discussion, and it did. Many of the offensive comments were responded to in the margins by people defending their faith.’
He continues: ‘It was done with this understanding that there possibly would be controversy, but that this controversy was worth discussing, rather than sweeping under the table.
‘It’s a difficult subject to begin with. It’s going to be difficult to deal with them, surely they should be respected, and say let’s give them the space to have this discussion. And that’s what art does. It gives you a space where you can look at the difficult things and discuss the difficult topics.’
Made in God’s Image, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until Sat 22 Aug.