Sunday, November 01, 2015

New art film highlights queer saints, Sebastian and homophobic violence for All Saints Day

Tony O'Connell prepares to kiss St Sebastian in his new film
Prayers to queer saints and a re-enactment of Saint Sebastian’s martyrdom make a strong statement against homophobic violence in a new short film for All Saints Day by queer British artist Tony O’Connell.

He sculpted a life-size statue of Sebastian and filmed his dramatic interactions with the figure, who is widely recognized as the patron saint of homosexuality.

The 12-minute video film of his performance art premieres today for All Saints Day at a private viewing in Liverpool and also on YouTube. The multimedia event includes an art exhibit of the Sebastian statue and related “relics” -- small sculptural assemblages fashioned by O’Connell from props in the film.

O’Connell’s script can serve as a model prayer for people of faith, while sharply criticizing church leaders who incite violence against LGBTQ people. He calls upon Sebastian “not to punish but only to humble those who dedicate themselves to oppression and evil,” listing more than a dozen of them by name.

Then he invites Sebastian to “be glorified with the host of our own queer saints,” who are also named. They include a wide variety of LGBTQ leaders and martyrs throughout history as well as traditional saints who broke gender taboos.

The text is reprinted below in full with O’Connell’s permission.

Sebastian was an early Christian martyr who was shot with arrows and executed in 288 on orders from the Roman emperor. In addition to his longstanding but unofficial status as patron saint of gay men, he is known as a protector against plague and a patron saint of soldiers, archers and athletes.

Hinting at a love-hate relationship and the complexity of the queer spiritual path, O’Connell plays three different roles in the film: A priest who kisses Sebastian on the lips and then spits on the ground. The police executioner who strips Sebastian and shoots arrows into his chest. A queer activist/devotee who honors the martyr with prayers and offerings.

The action occurs in the Bridewell, a former police station that has been converted to art studios in Liverpool. The film is titled “Sancte Sebastian ora pro nobis.” The Latin words mean “Saint Sebastian, pray for us,” a phrase that recurs many times in O’Connell’s voice-over narration.

St Sebastian is martyred by arrows in O'Connell's film

This is O’Connell’s first film, but he has spent years creating art on themes of queer sainthood, democratizing sacredness, and reclaiming the holiness in ordinary life, especially in LGBT experience, His ongoing series include pilgrimages to LGBT historical sites and photos of people with haloes formed by round objects from daily life.

The new film weaves together aspects of O’Connell’s own queer and religious background. He was raised in the Roman Catholic church, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995. While playing a priest in the film, he spreads smoky incense with a golden thurible like the one he remembers from his childhood stint as an altar boy. Later in the film he wears the 25-year-old T-shirt that he wore  during the early years of the radical British LGBT-rights group Outrage!

“I feel like making this sculpture has not only taken me back to my roots as a sculptor but allowed for genuine spiritual practice,” O’Connell told the Jesus in Love Blog. “I am careful never to work with unwashed hands or not to start touching him before I have made incense offerings to him.”

Filming finished in late October, but the project is far from done. For today’s premiere, O’Connell transformed his Sebastian sculpture by filling him with fragrant oils so he smells like roses, covering his face with gold leaf and building him a halo to indicate that he is now a saint.

Later Sebastian may be reincarnated as a Buddha. “After he has been Saint Sebastian it is possible he will be broken down and reused to build a seated Buddha Shakyamuni for our Liverpool Centre,” O’Connell said. “It would be suitable for me to see becoming a Buddha as a symbol for spiritual evolution -- or even a reward for martyrdom.”

O’Connell worked with many camera people on the film. They include another Liverpool queer artist, Colin Cairns, who is exhibiting his art about pagan deities at the premiere today. Others on the camera crew include Claire Martin, Heather Snow Gum, Kelsang Tenwang, Damian Cruikshank (who also shot O’Connell’s Alan Turing pilgrimage), Dave Elis and Fiona Filby.

Sancte Sebastian ora pro nobis
By Tony O’Connell

Welcoming the saint when others do not
Saint Sebastian, Glorious martyr, I invite you and welcome you to this space. Please bless us with your presence. My father was born in your parish and I knew you from childhood. Now it seems images of your sacrifice are no longer in currency in church shops. Statues, rupas and paintings of you are disappearing. Our Poets and artists have always adored you. Perhaps your association with us has led to removal. If this is true and others turn away from you, know that I do not and we do not, therefore I offer you this litany in celebration and remembrance.

Offerings to the saint and prostrations at his lotus feet

Saint Sebastian, Pray for us.

Invincible Martyr, Pray for us.

Knight, noble by birth and fame, Pray for us.

Glorious warrior and martyr of Christ, Pray for us.

Patron and mirror of soldiers, Pray for us.

Despiser of the world, Pray for us.

Conqueror of Satan, Pray for us.

Comfort of the dying, Pray for us.

Consoler of the afflicted, Pray for us.

Announcer of the truth, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, perfect in virtue and wisdom, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, mighty in word and work, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, who strengthens the persecuted Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, who by example gives courage to the down-trodden Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, empowered to avert pestilence and contagious diseases, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian empowered to protect from plague and AIDS, Pray for us

St. Sebastian, surrounded by celestial light, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, instructed by holy Angels, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, giving speech to those without a voice, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, lover of God and men, Pray for us.

St Sebastian, loved and then abandoned by the Roman Emperor, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, loved and increasingly abandoned by the Roman Church, Pray for us

St. Sebastian, Loved by our people, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, who, inflamed with love despised the pains inflicted by the tyrant, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, unafraid of worldly authority or law, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, unbowed by physical violence, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, with the courage to defy your abusers, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, who was wounded by arrows, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, who was murdered with clubs, Pray for us.

St. Sebastian, who was crowned with eternal glory, Pray for us.

Protection by the saint from enemies

Glorious Martyr and undefeated warrior, we ask that you protect the persecuted from tyrants and enemies. Use your unstoppable energy not to punish but only to humble those who dedicate themselves to oppression and evil.

Please humble all members of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church

Please Humble Anne Coulson, speaker of hate and supporter of the WBC

Please humble Grindr using Rev Matthew Makela, who drove Tyler Kish to consider suicide by saying “he was going to hell either way”

Please humble Westcity Bible Baptist Church pastor Logan Robertson who called a gay Christian author a "filthy child molesting fag".

Please humble hypocrite Clerk of Rowan County, Kim Davis

Please humble Steven Anderson, Baptist pastor in Arizona who called for the death of all gays.

Please humble televangelist Pat Robertson who has dedicated his life to poison and hate.

Please humble Pope Benedict and Pope Francis who failed our people beyond measure.

Please humble Hate preacher Scott Lively to stand trial for crimes against humanity

Please humble Pastor James David Manning, who’s homophobic sign oppresses the vulnerable

Please humble Hull vicar Melvin Tinker who compares homosexuality to paedophilia and adultery

Please humble Brian Brown of the National Organisation for Marriage who spread hate as far as Russia

Please humble Vitaly Milonov sponsor of legislation criminalizing "homosexual propaganda.” who dedicates his life to hate.

Please humble Ugandan Dictator, Yoweri Museveni, whose law condemns homosexuals to life imprisonment.

And causing these enemies to fall from public grace, allow them the shame to recognise the harm they have caused and repent it.

Litany of the Queer Saints

Seeing that your image seems increasingly sanitised from church shops but knowing that we have not forgotten your name, we invite you and welcome you to sit and be glorified with the host of our own queer saints. Take your place with the brave, the gentle and the fierce to be honoured for ever and ever in knowing that we have never abandoned you.

Saint Derek Jarman of Dungeness, hero, artist, Disciple of St Sebastian, martyred by deliberate lack of funding into HIV, Pray for us.

Saint Peter Tatchel, fierce protector of the west, unbowed in the face of violence and hate, Pray for us.

Saint Nikolay Alexeyev, fierce protector of the East, resistant to tyranny, Pray for us.

Saint Uncumber, gender defiant bearded lady, patron of purity and refusal, Pray for us.

Saint Joan of Arc, Fearless warrior and gender-queer martyr, Pray for us.

Saints Boris and Saint George of Russia united in love and death, Pray for us.

Saint Sergius and Saint Bachus united in love and death, Pray for us.

Saints Perpetua and Saint Felicity: Patron saints of same-sex couples, Pray for us

Saint Aderonke Apata, protector of Nigeria, courageous in the face of humiliation and violence, Pray for us.

Saint Mark Ashton LGSM, hero of solidarity with the miners, Pray for us.

Saint David Kato: Ugandan activist and resilient martyr, Pray for us.

Saint Matthew Shepard, crucified by hateful men, young forever, Pray for us.

Saint Mychal Judge, Fire-brigade chaplain and First martyr of 9/11, ordained but un-canonised by the church on account of your queer spirit, Pray for us.

Saint Alan Turing, who ended war, saved millions and changed the world- martyred by the judiciary, Pray for us.

Saint Oscar Wilde, our saint of humour, grace and elegance, whose gentle hands were put to hard labour, Pray for us.

Saint Harvey Milk, courageous and compassionate, mayor and martyr of San Francisco, Pray for us.

Holy Innocents of the Nazi death camps, Pray for us.

Holy Innocents martyred by ISIS, Pray for us.

Holy Innocents driven to death by the church, Pray for us.

Daughters of Stonewall, Pray for us.

Martyrs of the Upstairs Lounge, Pray for us.

Saint Leelah Alcorn, our sister who walked into the oncoming tide for the benefit of others, Pray for us.

Saint Sebastian we prostrate to you and thank you. Empowered by the benison of your protection we go forward with courage and grace to face the arrows of oppressors and tyrants, and to defeat them.


Related link:

Why we need LGBT saints by Kittredge Cherry

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


Sue Branch said...

I really loved this . The prayers were tremendous.

Julia/Alix Oglvie said...

This litany was tremendously moving. I was especially glad that you included Leelah Alcorn.
Thank you! Julia Ogilvie

Charles R said...

Sorry! I missed the Saint! apologies!

Kittredge Cherry said...

Charles, I'm glad you found that Saint Derek Jarman is indeed included. I didn't know that he was made a saint by the Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, so thanks for that info!