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Monday, April 09, 2007

Chocolate Jesus

I had just said I was dreading the day when the confectioners would decide public opinion and public demand were in their favour and chocolate crosses and chocolate Jesuses came out at Easter. Crosses filled with marshmallow or a sticky creamy sweetness - or crosses that were hollow. Angels of white chocolate, dark chocolate or milk chocolate. Jesus - hey, I'm gonna eat his foot first, I'm gonna eat his hands, I'm gonna eat his nose, I'm gonna bite off his head. The height of the trivialization of the Christian faith. And I feared I might see them first in Christian bookstores - "It's great, just great, sales are great, and we give them a free colour booklet of the Easter Story along with the milk chocolate Christ figure. It makes the gospel message hit home with them."

So there it was as I checked the internet news at the beginning of my day. A Chocolate Jesus! Fuming, I clicked into the story. A sculptor in New York, a gallery in New York, a Chocolate Jesus entitled My Sweet Lord. The New York Catholics were up in arms. Complaints were sizzling into the gallery. Boycotts and public protests were threatened. Well, it was not mass produced little Jesus figures filled with nuts and raisins. Still, it seemed to me a bad idea at Easter to make such a figure. Imagine making a chocolate Muhammed to commemorate the day he ascended to heaven on his horse.

The controversy continued and I did not think much more about the Chocolate Jesus until I actually saw a picture of it online and on TV. The sculpture was surprising. It was Jesus on the cross though there was no cross. Somehow I had it in my head the whole thing was a sculptor's stunt to gain a day or week of notoriety and that the Christ figure would be a caricature of sorts. But it was not that. The figure had great dignity. The chocolate gleamed darkly over arms and legs and face and chest. It was simply and powerfully done.

I thought: Well, then, if this Christ figure had been done in ebony or marble or stone there would have been no complaints. It's a work of art. It's sublime. There is a quiet strength about the whole piece. But because Easter bunnies are made of chocolate, and this Christ figure has been made of chocolate at Easter time, people have reasoned the sculptor has meant to equate the son of God with Peter Cottontail and trivialize and mock what is holy and sacred. So the gallery shut down the exhibition. A mistake, I came to realize as I viewed the dark Christ.

For what the sculptor had succeeded in doing was taking a substance that is considered no more than mouth candy, and by fashioning a dying brooding Christ out of it, had ironically changed the candy into a substance made profound by the significance of its subject. Jesus had not been changed into candy. Jesus had changed the chocolate into something more, a substance capable of doing far more than sweeten the mouth, a substance capable of challenging the stone and marble and wood and iron and copper of the sculptor's art. No longer meant simply for bunnies or eggs or Pot of Gold boxed treats, a chocolate crucified Christ had transcended those shelves of Easter indulgences and made the mix of sugar and cocoa worthy of fashioning objects of excellence, reflection and, yes, veneration. It was the shallowness and frivolity of what we now call Easter that was transformed. Not the other way around.

I hope we may see the Dark Christ again and that he may be displayed properly and at length and the artist given the respect that is due. There is more of Easter in that sculpture than is found in millions of homes whose carpets are littered with the bright foil of chocolate eggs unwrapped in haste and with little inclination towards a faith of any kind.

2 comments:

Doug said...

For some reason, this also reminds me of Sister Wendy's response to Bill Moyers when he asked her if she was offended by Serrano's "Piss Christ". No, she said, "I thought he was saying, in a rather simplistic, magazine-y type of way, that this is what we are doing to Christ. We're not treating him with reverence--his great sacrifice is not used. We live very vulgar lives. We put Christ in a bottle of urine, in practice. It was a very admonitory work. Not a great work, one wouldn't want to go on looking at it after one had seen it once, but I think that to call it blasphemous is really rather begging the question. It could be, it could not be -- it's what you make of it."

murray said...

That's an interesting take, Doug. Most Christians found Piss Christ over the top and thought it hypocritical of the media in Canada that Piss Christ was displayed but the cartoons of Muhammed suppressed out of concern for Islamist religious sympathies.

Have you read any of sister Wendy's books? if so, which ones would you recommend?