Outrage over an art exhibit which invites users to “deface the Bible” has put a negative spin on what would otherwise be dubbed an inspired curatorial program. The art work Untitled 2009, is being shown at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) as part of the “Made in God’s Image” exhibit. The work consists of an open Bible, a container of pens and the words “If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it.”
The exhibit, which was developed in collaboration with local religious groups intends to explore the contested notion of religion and sexuality, as part of the larger GOMA program sh[OUT], which raises awareness of issues faced by homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender and intersex people. GOMA explains: “working with various individuals, Christian and Muslim groups, artist Anthony Schrag explored the personal and communal experiences of being both LGBTI and hav[ing] a faith, and looked to defy the expectation that being religious was just as much of a choice as someone’s sexuality.”
Untitled 2009 was proposed by the Metropolitan Community Church, a group which is an “inclusive Christian ministry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities.” Their intention of the work was for “gallery visitors [to] suggest ways in which the Bible could be ‘reclaimed as a sacred text.’” Canadian artist Anthony Schrag who commissioned the work writes: “the work originally put on display was a gesture inviting people to write their names into the margins of the Book as a way to show the marginalization of LGBTI from religion(s) as well as to express their desire to be part of God’s love. It was, in fact, the opposite of an ‘invitation to deface’ but…a chance for people to participate in a small act of worship…”
However, since the exhibit opened last month, gallery visitors have taken a wide interpretation of the instructions. While comments like: ‘I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this’ are more closely aligned with the original intentions of the piece, other comments include simply the words: ‘Fuck the Bible’.
The response from segments of the Christian community, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been anger. Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, is quoted in The Telegraph: “We have got to a point where we call the desecration of the Bible modern art. The Bible stands for everything this art does not: for creation, beauty, hope and regeneration.” Similarly, a spokesman for the Catholic Church asks: “One wonders whether the organisers would have been quite as willing to have the Koran defaced?” However, Schrag continues to defend the work. “If we are to open up the Bible for discussion, surely we have to invite people to speak out. Art allows us to discuss difficult things…”
The controversial exhibit runs until August 22nd, and is free to the public. Sh[OUT] continues on until November 1st.
GOMA puts together social justice programs every other year. The programs include numerous exhibitions, artist talks and workshops. Previous programs have focused on politically charged issues such as refugees and asylum seekers, and sectarianism.