It never ceases to amaze me how on one hand cultural products considered offensive to Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism are treated as “hate crimes”. If, God forbid, a book or a film offends Islam (and that is easy enough, because Muslims do get easily offended), on top of being labelled a hate crime it also puts author, director or producers’ lives at risk with a fatwa (in fact, a film about Islam would be even too dangerous to make).
But on the other hand to offend Christianity is “art”, as in the case of Chris Ofili's painting of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung and surrounded by cut-outs from pornographic magazines.
The existence of the much over-used words "anti-semitic" and "islamophobic" obviously shows that certain groups are protected by political correctness, but one group is not.
There have been many excuses put forward for Ofili's work, the most common of which have been:
1)You can attack your own religion.
No, because it is not only your religion, it is not exclusive to yourself. Many other coreligionists may be offended by something that you don't find offensive, and you have to think of its effect on them.
2) Dung is God's creation.
What about pornographic cuts? Last time I checked it was not God that created Playboy or hard core movies.
The question is one of context. It is not the human body or its products at issue here, but the association of a Christian symbol with something which has a repulsive connotation.
3) It makes people think.
Wow! So, without a product of defecation or urination slapped in front of them, people wouldn't be able to think. Whatever the persons who put forward this excuse have faith in they can't have a lot of faith in people's reflective powers.
It's possible to make people think without the "shock, horror!" techniques that someone seems to believe necessary. Incidentally, aren't they the same techniques used by popular tabloids and mags ('gutter press' they are called in England)?
People who defend Ofili's work overlook the all-important question of communication.
We use certain words (and discard others) because we know that they convey a certain meaning to other people, that is the recipients of our communication, not to ourselves.
Communication is all about thinking of who is going to receive it and what they will make of it.
Now, art is one of the most important forms of communication.
Whether a painting is a real work of art or is art only in its producer's wishes (and wildest dreams), it doesn't alter the fact that it is a means of communication.
Whatever Ofili thinks, it should have been obvious even to a not exactly gigantic intellect like him that the majority of people who would see the painting considered elephant dung as a symbol of something totally different from Ofili's supposed and alleged original intentions.
By associating it with a symbol of Christianity, Ofili conveyed a clear message.
The message is: profanity.
Let me explain what it means, from the original Greek: it is to pollute and displace one icon with another. Now, trying to interject offensive symbology into a religion's iconography certainly is profanity. Is it profane for the culture involved, Christianity, or not? Since so many Christians protested vehemently about it, one could with certainty infer that they found it profane.
The most interesting things I read on that work by Ofili are this:
"There is contempt of the past, a senseless denial of any possibility of enduring meaning, in desecration art. Desecration art functions like the parasite; it destroys the heritage from which it draws its meaning. Ofili's piece illustrates this. The icon gives the piece meaning, yet the icon is what the piece seeks to destroy. Destroy the meaning of the icon and the meaning of the piece is destroyed with it like the parasite that dies with its host. The artist is vandal and the museum the gate to this cultural barbarism."
"Or perhaps the artist, not unlike a dirtyminded little adolescent, sought the most offensive image his little brain could contrive in order to aquire a name and hopefully wealth. Because that is what art today is really about, money. It is no different from pop culture, which is what Warhol went to all the trouble to point out."
And the central issue at stake here is that no works of "art" have done the same thorough job at desecrating fundamental symbols of religions other than Christianity.
Conversely, every time a Christian symbol is depicted in "art" now is surrounded by or associated with excreta, urine, vaginas, condoms, breasts, panties, coat hangers for abortion, phallic pipes, simulated sex acts and the like.