Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blasphemy charge aids queer Jesus project

Equal Means Equal Jesus by Bill Burch, 2009.
Photo, 8” x 10.” www.harepepol.com 

Below left: BFF Jesus by Bill Burch, 2009. Photo, 8” x 10.”

Accusations of blasphemy from an art school professor gave a big boost recently to an alternative Jesus photo project by Bill Burch, an art student at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colorado.

A conservative Christian professor harassed some of Burch’s models and threatened to “shut down” his project, which includes GLBT and female Jesus photos. The effort to stop the project had the opposite effect, inspiring many more students to volunteer as models!

“It seems the more biblical he gets, the more the student body reacts, like an equal and opposite reaction,” Burch reports. “Participation by his students has really increased, too.”

Now Burch is well on his way to completing his ambitious project of 64 alternative Jesus images. The flood of new models included the gay men pictured above in “Equal Means Equal Jesus” (above). Other queer images among the new photos are a female couple in “BFF Jesus” (left) and a man dressed as a woman in “Lady Liberty Jesus” (below).

The Alternative Jesus project is a concrete embodiment of Jesus’ own teaching that everybody is one with Christ. “If one believes in Jesus and accepts Jesus into their heart they become Christian, or Christ-like. They become Jesus, and Jesus them,” Burch explains.

The stated purpose of the project is to challenge traditional representations of the crucifixion by replacing the traditional Christ figure with other versions of the sacrificial lamb, archetypes usually repressed by conservative American Christianity. “If Jesus was a black lesbian would She be welcomed in Montgomery Alabama, or hung from a tree like strange fruit? It is this paradigm I question,” Burch says.

He plans to arrange the 64 unconventional Jesus images into a montage that looks like a traditional Jesus portrait from a distance. As the viewer approaches, the familiar face will disappear, revealing a multitude of different Christ figures. Each hangs on the cross, but they embody a variety of ages, races, body sizes, gender identities and sexual orientations.

Burch successfully defended his “Alternative Jesus” photos to a college committee including the conservative professor at a graduate review in December. ”Because of the depth of writing in my artist statement, my conservative professor’s arguments were totally defused,” Burch says. “The only question he asked was about the symbolism of two models on the cross. Previously, he had told me to ask my models what they would be willing to die for. I told him the two models said they would die for love, as simple as that. Amazing!”

The 2008 U.S. election inspired Burch to start the alternative Jesus project. He welcomed the “evolutionary leap” of America’s first black president, and decided use his art to counteract the “giant step backwards” of California’s Proposition 8. Conservative Christian groups were instrumental in passing Prop 8 to ban same-sex marriage.

“Many Christians are prejudiced against anything different, what they consider deviant. Jesus said, ‘What you do to the least of these you do to me,’” Burch says.

His own spiritual journey includes a Christian conversion followed by a religious phase, when he was so zealous that he was known as “Fireball Bill.” Eventually he became disillusioned by the hypocrisy of many Christians, and left the church.

Burch sees his Alternative Jesus project as “a post-modern iconoclastic reformation. It is a breaking and re-making of traditional religious iconographic representations.”

Sounds like what Jesus himself did!

For more Bill Burch photos, see my previous post “Transvestite Jesus appears in photo project.”

Lady Liberty Jesus, by Bill Burch, 2009.
Photo, 8” x 10.” www.harepepol.com


pennyjane said...

fantastic!!! the younger generation can be sooooo inspiring. sometimes they see right through the hipocricy we older people build around ourselves.

our associate pastor....unbelievable young woman...just five years out of seminary...introduced me to two of her friends from seminary today. they both seemed utterly unconcerned that they were meeting a transsexual there in the church office...i got huggs and good wishes from them as i amonished them all to BE CAREFUL on their drive down to louisville and on the nashville.

rachel...our pastor...mouthed the words simotaneouly with me...BE CAREFUL...she knows the old trannie too well!

it's gotta be a good sign...all these young ministers...looking more to God than to others for their instruction.

thanks for sharing this...it feels good!

Trudie said...

Wonderful post! Congratulations to Bill and to you as well for sharing it. I've tipped my friend and gallery owner Erin off to this post, and I hope he visits the site.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I’m glad that you’re so enthusiastic about my coverage of Burch’s art. He provided some great material to work with -- artistic vision and an articulate statement about why the alternative Jesus project is important.

Whether or not Bill is from the “younger generation” depends on your perspective. He’s no teenager, but is somebody who returned to school later in life. His viewpoint is fresh and obviously resonates with his younger fellow students.

Trudie, (((thanks))) for introducing this post to your gallery owner friend. Erin, if you’re reading this, welcome! I’ve been wondering what gallery is going to be brave enough to display Bill’s alternative Jesus project when it is finished.

Yewtree said...

I like the idea of alternative Jesus very much - but I am ambivalent about the use of the cross, because I can only see it as an instrument of torture and not a symbol of liberation. I'm also not keen on the theological justification; as far as I am concerned the Christ archetype is one of many, and Jesus was just one embodiment of that archetype.

I preferred the Elisabeth Ohlstrom Wallin series. But, you know, if it works for Christians, fair enough. I really like the poem about the gay centurion, myself: The Love That Dares to Speak its Name - I think it's beautiful.

Anonymous A said...

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a mainstream gallery or even museum gallery had enough gumption to do a show of Bill Burch’s photos of queered Jesus on the cross! I know, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ almost caused the National Endowment for the Arts to be shut down, so this isn’t going to happen. I can’t help it – I’m just a politically incorrect dreamer.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Yes, the cross is a symbol of torture, as Yewtree correctly points out. As I see it, it becomes a liberating image when the Christ figure is seen as God siding with (or BEING) those who are tortured and oppressed in today’s society. When you mistreat a black person or a queer person or a woman, you are torturing God! And God does not forsake anyone, even those who are tortured and executed.

THANK YOU for introducing me to the poem about the gay centurion “The Love That Dares to Speak its Name.” Wow, how did I miss that until now?! I’m planning to do a whole post about it in the future.

Yes, I love Elisabeth’s “Ecce Homo” photo series, too. What’s amazing to me is that the theme of the queer Christ continues to manifest in new art and literature all the time. I get more and more tips every month. I just keep following the leads and see where they take us.

John, I’m glad that these photos touched you. I’ll keep everyone posted about exhibitions of Burch’s alternative Jesus project.

Anonymous said...

Good for you Bill and comrade models. A little ruckus is always good for people. It's exercise for our spirits and as we know exercise can leave you with sore muscles.

We get to rethink who we are and what we believe if we want and this is a catalyst. Then we die, so its really not all that serious. Love the humor. It made me giggle.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Anonymous, I agree that a little ruckus can be good for the soul. I've always liked the idea that Jesus came to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."