Updated on May 25th, 2013
The children of Abraham
An art installation about the dogmas of the monotheism
With the sculpture FUNDAMENTALISM
For many years people have asked me why I haven’t made an art installation that grasps the great questions about the growing influence of religious dogmas in our society. The newspaper Jyllands-Posten tried to get my backup on the Muhammad cartoons - but I refused, because I believe the cartoons were not an attempt at artistic interpretation and dialogue, but a project seeking to mob and provoke Muslims and this would act as a sort of ‘hate speech’ and stigmatization.
Since 2003 I’ve been pondering an idea of creating a sculpture installation, which deals precisely with this issue and I believe that now is the time to give a more balanced artistic bid on this discussion.
This project is not anti-religious. Religion is probably deep down humanity's attempts to find the meaning of existence. Religions are not fundamentally bad for humanity; on the contrary, all the three mono-theistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, often had a good impact on communities, particularly the requirement for mercy to the poor and other basic guidelines to promote tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
There are many beautiful words and rules in the monotheistic books, but there are also many nonsensical and callous rules belonging to a medieval civilization. If you take everything in the religious writings literally and strictly obey the wording, the people and their communities risk to get heartless and callous.
It is important for me to create a dialogue based on the assumption that the books are not essentially wrong, but to blame are those who choose to interpret them headless, without regard to the progress of human civilization and increasing tolerance among people. You can easily find a humane interpretation of the books if you want to take this approach. But it is equally feasible to defend an inhuman interpretation of the same books. Precisely this is the point of “The Children of Abraham”.
I named the project “The Children of Abraham” because the three religions all recognize Abraham as their common ancestor. One could say that the disagreements between these religions are some sort of family fight among the children of Abraham.
Jens Galschiot 2013
Sculpture description / Idea
idea is to create a monumental bronze sculpture consisting of the letters of
the word FUNDAMENTALISM.
letters are 2.5 meters tall and erected in a large closed circle with a
circumference of 9 meters, and they will be put on a 90 cm plinth. A small
opening at one of the letters is the only entrance to the inside of the
Each letter of the sculpture is built up of
religious books from ‘the people of the book – monotheism’, Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam.
These religions are known as “the people of the book” because they have the holy writings as a basis of their religions. The sculpture is built from copper copies of these books, respectively:
• The Quran
• The Christian Bible (Old and
• The Jewish Torah
The books are stacked on each other to form individual letters, but separately so that one character is built of Qurans, another of Bibles, and a third of the Torah. To avoid a barren discussion about blasphemy, I have chosen not to make castings of original religious books, but to model the books by hand, with real religious books of all sizes and forms used as models.
They are stacked irregularly, so the sculpture appears with a slightly shaky expression. The installation will consist of more than 8,000 books of wax, all of them transformed to copper.
As there are only 14 letters and 3 religions, one religion will have only 4 letters – in return it will have some of the bigger letters.
The whole construction of letters is placed on a 90 cm high plinth of steel coated with dark sheets of rolled copper. The plinth forms a circle with a diameter of 9 meters.
Integrated in the plinth, there will be installed 28 big flat screens, two for each letter, one on the inside of the circle, and one on the outside.
On the outside of the circle directly on the individual letters there will continuously be displayed on the screens quotations from the book of which each letter is constructed. The texts will be in the original language and in Danish (or the language of the country where the installation is exhibited).
On the outside of the sculpture the ‘good’ quotes will be displayed, those expressing a humane approach to issues such as reconciliation, forgiveness, women's rights, care for the weak, equality, wisdom, beauty, compassion, Faith, Hope and Charity, etc.
On the inside of the circle is engraved the corresponding negation of a humane attitude found in the same book, of which the letter is composed, for example. 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth', that sinners must be subject to cruel punishment (stoning, amputation of limbs), persecution and intolerance towards religious, sexual and other minorities, the woman must obey her husband, be silent in public gatherings, must wear veils, etc.
The integration of the 28 big flat screens in the sculpture makes it possible for the spectators to read the quotes in their own language, and the texts can be seen from far away. Inside the circle the ‘bombardment’ with religious quotes will have an overwhelming impact.
There is only one entrance to the interior of the installation: a small hole through one of the letters (the T) above which a sign says 'Welcome'. When you come into the circle, one can only get out of the same opening, but here is a sign saying 'NO EXIT'.
The quotes/the books
The quotes from the holy books are chosen by the artist himself, in cooperation with experts (for example religious historians). With their professional expertise they can guarantee, that the quotes are authorized from recognized translations.
The quotes will be displayed on the screens installed in the plinth. The quotes will have the source, the quote in the original language (Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Ancient Greek) and a local translation, for example Danish for the exhibition in Denmark. At the moment there are 400 quotes per religion, 1.200 different quotes all in all.
Light and sound: The sculptures will be illuminated by LED light strips (RGB washer), that will be integrated in the plinth. The can be programmed to do a slow light changeover. The sculpture might get sound installed through the flat screen speakers.
Size: Height 340 cm (including the plinth), 9 m in diameter. Estimated weight: 10 tonnes. It is important that the sculpture has a size and monumental radiance to emphasize that there are forces at work that make an individual insignificant and could easily destroy it.
The religious books in the sculpture must exude age, weight and significance. The sculpture will have a radiation as a 'Stonehenge' of books or similar to library in The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.
Vandalism security: The sculpture should be put up in public, without guards and insurance. Therefore there have been comprehensive engineering calculations on the construction, to protect it from weather and vandalism, and safety at the installation, exhibition and transportation. Likewise, there will be web based surveillance cameras installed in the construction.
The symbolism can of course be interpreted differently, but here are some of my suggestions:
• The crucial point is not the literal wording of the religious books, but rather how they are interpreted and by whom.
• All religions contain contradictory texts and could be used to justify both the most brutal and the noblest deeds.
• Many people get caught by the beautiful quotes, but end up suffering the bad ones.
• You must break the rule (the plate 'NO EXIT') to get out of the circle, which symbolizes that when you have only entered into a fundamentalist interpretation of religion, it is hard to get out because the exit would be an offence against 'God's rules'.
Publication and exhibition of the art installation
The first Exhibition of “The Children of Abraham”. will be arranged in
connection to prestigious art institutions (art museums, exhibition halls, art
fairs etc.). Thereafter the installation will make a tour in the public space
and various exhibition sites in Denmark and abroad.
Website / Facebook / Twitter, etc.: An interactive website will be established with description of the sculpture and the many quotations from the books where you can download, sort and search. At the same time, user pages are created where you can debate about the sculpture and fundamentalism. You can also sign up for an email list where you will be informed about the project’s development and on-going dialog.
Mail and fax campaign: A comprehensive information campaign will be launched in connection with the first exhibition. The cornerstone of the campaign will be Jens Galschiot’s database with e-mails and fax-numbers of 150,000 contacts to the press, ngo’s, art institutions, galleries, religious organizations and individuals.
Catalogue / book: the whole art installation is described in a book, both in printed and E-book edition. The contents are:
• All quotations from religious books which are displayed on the flat screens. They are categorized and arranged according to their context.
• Photos and description of the installation.
• Statements from high-ranking religious leaders and eminent persons who relate to the sculpture and to the discussions about the literal interpretation of the books.
Poster: There will be published a poster in DIN A3 size, with pictures of the sculpture installation and a text on the back where the project is explained. The posters are distributed free to the public.
This topic is
obviously hazardous to work with and there is great danger that the project
goes astray ending up in infertile and shrill debates. It can easily be
exploited by the fundamentalists or the political right / left-wing to promote
their views. This obviously cannot be avoided completely, even though Jens
Galschiot who is the artist behind the installation is known to have a balanced
relationship with all three religions. There will therefore from the outset of
the project be taken various initiatives and actions to help ensure a good and
open dialogue, without taking the sting out of the art installation and the
idea behind it.
Working with religious leaders and prominent persons: We are attempting to establish cooperation / dialogue with religious leaders and prominent persons from all three religions, who could support the idea that religious books must be interpreted symbolically and not literally. We hope that this cooperation will make it possible to use this installation as a platform for an open and unbiased discussion and dialogue about the consequences of fundamentalism. A sort of support group can contribute to a constructive debate about 'FUNDAMENTALISM'.
Public dialogue: We seek to establish a direct cooperation with institutions, TV and other press, who could be interested in supporting and creating a fruitful and differentiated dialogue about this subject.
Marathon debate: A curator has come up with the idea, of inviting a group of religious people to live in- and outside the sculpture for 24 hours. The 24 hours would be spiced up a bit with introductory presentations to be discussed the whole day. It will all be videotaped and cut for a number of TV-stations. Some sort of reality TV, now with meaningful content.
Status, May 2013
The letters A-A-M-M-N-N-I and L are all done, and put up in one of the exhibition halls at the workshop.
There are now 5 stages still left to work on, on the FUNDAMENTALISM project:
- Build-up and casting of the remaining 6 letters.
- Choosing the religious quotes, and experimenting with the screen-project of the quotes.
- Calculations and building the plinth – experimenting with the surface of the plinth, lighting, screens and further adjustments.
- Establishing contact to different places for exhibition, and establishing support groups for the project, and so on.
- Finding financial support to finish the sculpture.
Updates available at www.aidoh.dk/fundamentalism
Portrait of Jens Galschiot (CV): http://www.aidoh.dk/CV
General information: www.aidoh.dk
Jens Galschiot - Banevaenget 22 - DK-5270 Odense N - Denmark
Phone: +45 6618 4058 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.aidoh.dk