Wednesday, May 14, 2008
‘Art That Dares’ excites audience
An enthusiastic audience listened as I participated in the reading for Lambda Literary Award finalists last week at A Different Light Bookstore in West Hollywood. I read from Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More, which is a finalist in the LGBT Arts and Culture category. Six other finalists also read from their books. It was fun to hear the audience reactions and answer their questions about queer Christian art. The most dramatic moment came when I unveiled a large print of Jesus kissing Lord Rama by Alex Donis, which is featured in the book. Christopher Rice, novelist and Lambda Board member, did an unobtrusively brilliant job introducing each finalists and moderating questions. Winners will be announced at the big Lammy awards ceremony May 29 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. For tickets and more info, visit LambdaLiterary.org. The following is my speech, with notes in brackets about audience reaction. _________ Artists are making amazing images of a gay Jesus and a female Christ. But they’re being censored and destroyed by Christian conservatives. So I compiled them into a book to make sure they’d be available for people to see. My book Art That Dares is FULL of color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe. The artists tell the stories behind the images, and my introduction puts them into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom. Being named a Lammy finalist is a great honor -- but it also can make you a target for homophobia. [Other Lammy finalists looked surprised.] I recently had an ugly experience while I was getting ready for tonight’s reading. I decided to get some new business cards made to hand out tonight and at the Lammy Awards ceremony later this month with my website, JesusInLove.org. It has a lot of material from the book. Easy, right? No, not when your book is about queer Christian art. I called a printer who had worked with my life partner for years. At first he agreed to print the cards. Then he checked my website. The next morning he refused to do print the cards on the grounds that he’s a born-again Christian. [Loud gasps from the audience! They were a lot more shocked than I expected. It was a younger crowd, so maybe they think that the fight against discrimination has already been won?] Well, the artists in this book have a much more inclusive, diverse view of Jesus. So, let’s look at some of what got the printer so upset. I’ll start by reading from the introduction. [I read the section that ends, “The gay Jesus and the female Christ are not a reaction. They’re a revelation.”] Now I’m going to reveal one of the actual prints from the book. [I pulled away a cloth to reveal a large print of Jesus kissing Lord Rama by Alex Donis. The audience burst into applause. Someone called out, “I like that! ” Some stood and craned their necks to get a good look at it.] This the actually the first image that got me excited about the topic. You’re fortunate to get to see this print because the original was destroyed during exhibition in San Francisco. [“In San Francisco?!!” someone exclaimed aloud in disbelief. They listened, laughing at Donis’ humor, then turned sober when I read from the section about Alex Donis and how vandals destroyed his Jesus and Rama artwork.] There are lots more fascinating stories in this book. All the artists dared to follow their vision, even when they faced opposition. I feel that I share this Lammy award with them because they touched me. They are my role models and inspiration, even in small things like business cards. [Audience laughter.] I kept on looking for a printer until I found one who would print mine. I’ve got my new business cards! [I hold them up in triumph to laughter followed by applause.] So let me know if you want one, and thanks for being an audience who dares! [Applause] ________ Kittredge Cherry blogs at the Jesus in Love Blog and edits the Jesus in Love Newsletter on queer spirituality and the arts. She offers GLBT and progressive spiritual resources at JesusInLove.org.