Thursday, March 21, 2013

Niki Johnson: Condom Portrait of Pope Benedict

Do you think this is a nice portrait of Pope Benedict XVI?

Would you judge it differently if you knew the "artist" made it with condoms?

The work is titled Eggs Benedict.

Photo here.

Not very respectful, is it?

The artist, Niki Johnson, is not praising Pope Benedict. She's condemning and mocking him.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, once again a step behind and slow in its reporting:

A Milwaukee artist is drawing national attention, some of it negative, for one of her creations: a portrait of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI constructed out of 17,000 colorful condoms.

The piece by Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design instructor Niki Johnson, a kind of latch hook portrait, is a commentary on the artist's views on sex and Benedict's statements on condoms -- including the now famous 2009 quote while on a trip in Africa stating that condoms increase the spread of AIDS.

Local church officials did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. But it's been featured on the Huffington Post news website and described as "disgusting" by MediaBusters, a conservative website.

Ironically, Johnson's commentary on her blog is in some ways in sync with Catholic teaching. She says, in part: "Healthy sexual choices are at the root of creating a healthy nation." However, they clearly differ on what constitutes "healthy."

The church holds holds that sex is a gift to be expressed only between a man and a woman in the confines of marriage. Johnson, who lives in Shorewood, says: "Love in all of its colors, partners and kinky curiosities is to be enjoyed by those who are in it."
Note to the JS: It's ridiculous to suggest that Johnson's commentary is at all in sync with Catholic teaching.

Read Johnson's post about her portrait.

She writes:

Eggs Benedict exists because I believe it is my responsibility as an able bodied person living in our current cultural climate to incite further discussion about the direction our leaders point us in. As an artist, my thoughts manifest in my artwork best. It’s a pretty simple relationship. During the production of this piece I made many intentional choices; from selecting a cheerful moment from the Pope’s earlier years to reproduce, to going with a festive color palette, to putting great care into the making of the portrait to ensure that both the subject matter and the materials were on some level being celebrated in the midst of the questions that their combination raises. I made these choices because it is important to me that this piece opens more doors than it closes, by remaining both glorious and irreverent at the same time, if that’s possible. Like other portraits I have made, I see Eggs Benedict conceptually existing in a grey space between the black/white nature of political statements- creating room for a nuanced experience that has an added degree of complexity.
There's nothing nuanced or complex about this work.

Johnson expresses her disdain for Pope Benedict, something she has the right to do.

But let's be honest. Johnson isn't opening any doors to discussion. Her portrait is not operating in a "grey space." It's perfectly black and white.

Personally, I don't find Johnson's portrait to be nearly as offensive to me as a Catholic as Piss Christ, Andres Serrano's photograph of a crucifix submerged in his own urine. Adding insult to injury was the fact that the National Endowment for the Arts was supporting Serrano's "art," that tax dollars had gone to the creator of Piss Christ.

The offensive "art" was defended by liberals. It was deemed artistic expression, not desecration. Although it caused some uproar and offended some Christians in the U.S. in the late 1980s, there were no riots. The taxpayer funds supporting it irritated many; but there were no fires, no calls for beheadings.

Like Serrano, I think Johnson wanted attention. She got it. She knew the way to get noticed would be to mock the Pope.

To some, she's a hero. To others, she's intolerant and hateful.

Bottom line: The Constitution doesn't protect us from being offended. It protects freedom of expression.

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