“I believe that in all the things that are important, in all of these we are alike!”
I sat out to make this body of work as a personal and, non-scientific exploration of religious intolerance. Probably, in response to the current religio-political situation. As of this writing in the Spring of 2008 there are very serious religious conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Tibet, Myanmar, Israel, and Palestine, and the USA, amongst others. If this body of work has a purpose, it is to promote understanding.
“… For understanding, at least in realms as inherently noble as the great faiths of mankind, brings respect, and respect prepares the way for a higher power, love- the only power that can quench the flames of fear, suspicion and prejudice and provide the means by which the peoples of this great earth can become one to one another.
Understanding then can lead to love. But the reverse is equally true. Love brings understanding; the two are reciprocal. So we must listen in order to further the understanding the world so desperately needs, but we must also listen in order to practice the love which our own religion (whichever it be) enjoins, for it is impossible to love another without listening to him. If then, we are to be true to our own faith we must attend to others when they speak, as deeply and as alertly as we hope they will attend to us. We must have the graciousness to receive as well as to give. For there is no greater way to depersonalize another than to speak to him without also listening.”
The Religions of Man, 1964
Each of the 12 relief’s in this exhibition contains an image representing the god[dess], a topographical map of the country where an instance of religious persecution took place and, a “cattle brand” of the symbol of that religion. The various persecutions I chose were, at times, executed by the government in power but, more often, by another religion or, the dominant branch of the same religion. For example, the Catholic and Protestant persecution of Mormons. I attempted to switch roles between the opposed and the oppressor. Because I believe that being able to grasp both sides of an issue would, I hope, engender understanding.
As I sat out to make this pieces, I had to set a series of parameters to limit the scope of the project. The first boundary was to look at intolerance, through the eyes of the twelve Olympian gods. The second parameter was to limit the number of religions depicted. Third was to limit the instances of persecution to the religious kind, only.
I chose the twelve Olympian gods, from the Greek mythology, so as to anchor this experiment on the Western cannon of knowledge. So, with these Western eyes, I would scour history for an example of religious persecution through the spectacles of say, Hephaestus. That’ how the specific instance of persecution was selected. This explains the absence of some very significant and/or current events; like the Tibetan-Chinese conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Note that Jerusalem was included but in reference to the massacre of Muslims, as well as, Jews and Eastern Christians, on July 15-16, 1099, during the First Crusades.]
I limited the number of religions so as to make the research process somehow manageable. In the end I settled for seven: Bahái’í, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and, Zoroastrianism. [I chose to include Buddhism, even though it is widely agreed that Buddhism is not a religion]. This was how, for example, Hephaestus came to be represented as Thich Quang Durc, the Buddhist monk who burned himself to death, protesting Vietnamese persecution, in the early sixties.
Even though another boundary was to limit research of persecution to the religious kind only, in some instances it was unavoidable that it would overlap with ethnicity and race.
Physically, as I was building these pieces, I sometimes thought of them as coins. Imagining that the reverse of each coin represented the opposite oppressor/ oppressed arrangement. All this coin thoughts led me to ponder the relationship between money and art. At other times I thought of them as illuminated manuscripts. The “cattle brand” was intended as a scar, sometimes more visible than others. At times I thought of them as monocular views into imaginary scenes. Other times, I thought of them as seas of milk, reflecting gold light, out of which colorful countries rose as islands. But, a “cattle branded” sea.
With this body of work I was playing with three elements widely revered in almost all the religions I know: milk, gold and light. I wanted that to be the base out of which the pieces grew. And, finally, I don’t know the number of pins per relief. I would estimate it to approximately 2,500 in each.