The KwaZulu-Natal Grantleigh Curro pupil who produced the artwork that a pastor considered to be “demonic” has explained that his pieces are “the furthest thing from so-called satanism”.
In a statement, the young artist, who has not been named, disagreed with the way Pastor Andrew Anderson depicted the work in a choked-up recording in which he feels that “Jesus is being crucified again”.
“It has come to my attention that a non-consensual recording of my matric art exhibition has been leaked and gone viral on social media,” the pupil said.
“It is because of the magnitude of the resultant controversy that I, the artist, am releasing this statement.
“The artworks in this exhibition explore the commercialisation of contemporary organised religion as well as the monetary exploitation of the faithful by greedy individuals who hide behind the disguise of a church or similar pious institution.
“They discuss [through the appropriation of religious imagery] how contemporary religion has become superficial.
“Instead of connecting with one’s faith on a deep, seemingly meaningful level and actually having the guts to ask metaphysical questions, many simply consume their religion in the same fashion as they would any other product [hence the use of Ronald McDonald as a symbol for the infection of faith with consumer culture], and it is because of this that they become vulnerable to manipulation at the hands of those who use their office as a religious leader to further their own lives instead of bringing about positive change in the world.”
The appearance of Ronald McDonald, the McDonald’s clown, does not act as a “defamation of anyone’s personal messiah”, but as a symbol of the abuse and misuse.
“I do not care what people believe, I simply want to highlight potential risks in how they believe it. For in a society dominated by an idea-driven culture, the contents of your mind are perhaps the most important and exploitable.”
The artist asked, in a country stricken with poverty and glaring inequalities “who can take those religious leaders who rake in millions of rand of income on a regular basis seriously?”
The statement continues: “Who can honestly say that it is right for certain religious leaders to have gotten away with robbing those who trust them most and not repaying society? Televangelism, church-sponsored merchandise and even charging a fee for attendance are all minor examples of the ways in which one contributes to the modern day business of religion.”
The drawings take the compositions of classical, religious paintings and insert symbols of capitalism in them to communicate this sentiment.
The Creation of Adam , Alba Madonna , The Last Supper , The Dead Christ Mourned ( The Three Maries ) and The Last Judgement were cited as compositions appropriated.
“However unsettling the imagery may seem, it is designed to provoke thought – to make the viewer question whether they are subject to merciless exploitation or are truly cognisant of what and how they believe.
“… Questions of rationality and irrationality, good and evil as well as an introspective reflection on my own metaphysical beliefs are all discussions pursued in my art and are sadly things forgotten and ignored by those too scared by the honesty and power of artistic expression to see my work for what it is – a dissection of contemporary faith.”
The artist said that his art was a far cry from the “satanic panic” as some people claimed it to be.
“It does not come from a place of malice nor does it necessarily reflect the views of my school.
“Christianity, Scientology, Islam or any one of the multiple thousands of other religions that exist – I really could not care what any one person believes [nor should anyone] but what I do care about is fairness and the sanctity of the human mind.
“Therefore, it is for that reason that I denounce the completely unfounded claims made against my art on social media and advise that before anyone speaks, that they perhaps think.
“I cannot damage that which has already been shattered.”
On Tuesday, Anderson called for a protest at the school over the work and said he could feel a demonic presence around the exhibition.
“My God is no clown,” said an upset Anderson in a video that was circulated widely.
He was particularly upset by the pupils’ interpretation of the religious paintings and art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper , in which Jesus was portrayed as a clown and dollar signs were on a lintel behind him, and strips of the Bible’s book of Chronicles worked on to a sculpture.
On Wednesday, the Ballito Apostolic Faith Mission pastor said the exhibition had been taken down, following a meeting with the school, which pleased him. The school would not confirm or deny this.
Anderson said there were two things he was aiming for: That the school admitted it pushed the boundary and crossed its ethos of “to God be the Glory”; and that it made a statement that this would never happen again.
In a statement on Wednesday, the school apologised for offending anybody.
“Curro extends an unreserved apology to all those community members who have been affected and offended by the artwork in question.
“It said that following an internal investigation, Curro determined that the duty of care and guidance offered to the learner did not always adequately address the underlying issues and potential implications of producing a visual art piece, the content of which was controversial and likely to stir emotive responses.
“It is also important that art is subjective and open to interpretation; art encourages people to voice an opinion, either for or against the work in question,” it stated.
The school “reaffirmed” its commitment to the constitutional right of every individual with respect to their religious belief, race or ethnicity, gender orientation.
It would actively include this as part of their ongoing good practice as an institution of learning and to rigorously avoid any action that constitutes incitement to cause harm.