León Ferrari, Western Christian Civilization
Western Christian Civilization as Violence
The crucifix has held a very sacred meaning for millions all over the world. It is an image of God being hung on a cross, for believers a reminder of the pain he suffered and of God’s love. Many people feel very strongly about this image and even stronger when it is distorted. In Ferrari’s Western Christian Civilization, he took a sculpted figure of Christ on the cross and nailed it to a United States Air Force bomber. Putting two objects or images together for contrasting effect is called juxtaposition. Ferrari has used juxtaposition effectively in this work, to critique religion in government and to make a stand on Argentina’s involvement with the US (Ferrari).
This particular piece is shocking for many different reasons. The Christ figure is full scale, around six feet tall, and the FH 107 fighter aircraft is nearly twice the size. Just the size alone is alarming. Then you look closer and you notice how gruesome the Christ figure really is. Blood is dripping from his feet, knees, ribs, wrists and head. However, images like this can be found in churches all over the world, and because these images are so widespread, the blood has almost become the least shocking aspect of the work. Ferrari placed the figure in such a way that Christ’s hands are nailed to two of the bombs. Christ’s image has been iconized to the point that this sculpture is not meant to remind us of the original death sentence that he received but it is a representation of Catholicism and the Church. So when Ferrari chose to nail Christ to the bombs, it was not about Christ’s death being tied to American violence, it is about the Church’s involvement in government and foreign policy. The downward position of the bomber is also important because it gives the work a sense of movement, like it is diving in the middle of a battle (Ferrari). Another detail worth noting is the prominence of the U.S. imagery. The plane is clearly American with USAF decals along with the red, white, and blue stars and stripes.
Ferrari’s work was very critical of the United States but Argentina was also a nation with a long history of involvement with the Catholic Church, one of Ferrari’s favorite targets. It would be easy to write Ferrari’s work off as anti-American, anti-church, and consequently anti-Argentina but he was actually critiquing his own nation in an attempt at improving it. His critiques of the Catholic church were really a call for improvement. When his work was being protested, he responded by saying “The Church [in Argentina] has launched a concerted campaign against my exhibit, yet it has not condemned the violence committed by some of its parishioners, which is an attitude that encourages them to repeat their deeds." (Ballve) Ferrari wanted a better Argentina and to have that, he believed the Church had no business meddling in the government. Ferrari felt that for Argentina to progress it had to put aside the conservative Christian ideals. Almost 50 years after the exhibit, Buenos Aires legalized civil unions and two gay men were the first to gain this legal category—Latin America’s first state-sanctioned gay union (Ballve). For Ferrari, Argentina was a place that was hard to love for someone so critical of the church but because of progress like this, Ferrari may have died a little prouder of his nation. His work was not nationalist in the sense that it blindly supported the nation's ideals but it worked to help create a more humanitarian nation.
"León Ferrari." Biennale of Sydney. Accessed April 13, 2015. http://biennale.sitesuite.cn/app/biennale/artist/66.
Ballve, Teo. "Argentina's Catholic Backlash." NACLA Report on the Americas. March 3, 2005. Accessed April 14, 2015. http://www.teoballve.com/article/argentinas-catholic-backlash/.