In the recent days, there have been a lot of back and forth over Freedom of Speech, especially in the United States. Personally speaking, a lot of these debates falls into “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” category. One of the literally shining examples of this is the above photo by the shock artist Andres Serrano. The 1987 photo shows a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of what was purportedly the artist’s urine. (Without Serrano’s insistence that it was his urine, the viewer would not probably be able to differentiate between urine and amber or polyurethane).
Although Serrano himself has not revealed a lot about the motives behind his photo series (which also included submerging various other classical statuary in various fluids — blood, milk, urine, sperm), he noted that while this work is not intended to denounce religion, it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of icons in contemporary culture. Although some praised the work as mysterious, ethereal and beautiful, all the hell broke loose when it was discovered that Serrano received a grant from taxpayer-funded National Endowment for the Arts.
I realize this post is going to be controversial; this photo has been sitting in my draftbox for months and I know I eventually have to post it in order to be true to modi operandi of my site — which is to post any photo, famous or infamous, and frame it from a fairly objective standpoint. A photo’s inclusion does not automatically reflect its iconicity or importance. But the last straw to post this photo came when I saw a news report while vacationing in the U.S. a few weeks ago — one of the talking heads was arguing that the Muslims should not be angered at the Mohammedan cartoons in Denmark and South Park because Christians were very tolerant during Piss Christ, etcetra etcetra. I said to myself, that’s bulls**t. Not unlike those cartoonists, Andres Serrano was harassed and did receive hate mail and death threats. Even gallery owners and museum curators who displayed the work received death threats. The photo itself was vandalized several times.
Freedoms of speech and expressions are fundamental rights still alien to billions of people around the world. But it is unfortunate that those freedoms are sometimes abused by a handful, and the entire society is subsequently judged by the actions of craziest of its loons — whether they be suicide bombers, book-burning ideologues or Christ-blaspheming iconoclasts. (Serrano went on to put together another controversial exhibition, a literal shit show, which included 66 pictures of poop, generated by 66 different creatures — from jaguars to bulls to the artist himself.)