Speech at the inauguration of Jens Galschiøt’s
art project ”The Children of Abraham” at
Art Centre Silkeborg Bad, 17th January 2015
Congratulations Jens Galschiøt! You’ve done it again! Made a piece of art that, all in one, is monumental, overwhelming, beautiful and classic in its choice of material.
It is brave in choice of subject, provocative and at the same time reconciliatory. It is insistent and annoying and necessary!
It is communicating – the work wants to be seen! It is alive and takes a new look consistently with the ever changing quotes – it communicates both in words and in design – and challenges more rooms, where we, the participant, can take part in the dialogue.
It is so current – that it seems like an answer to the events in Paris, Nigeria and Northern Iraq we all have been witnesses to over the last weeks, and it interferes in the discussion that is conducted in newspaper columns around the world today and tomorrow. And yet, it has been on its way for 8 years. Jens Galschiøt has a unique ability to see where the inhumanity, the injustice and the oppression destroy human beings and the world, and to use his art to unveil, initiate debate and spur to action.
I don’t think that Jens Galschiøt wants to call himself ‘religious’, but in my eyes he is one of the most religious people I know – he is consistently wrestling the wonders of life, and with God, and with us humans’ way of distributing the Creation and our meeting with our neighbour.
In this work, texts from three whole religions and interpretations of humans are taken up.
“The Children of Abraham” is an excoriation of fundamentalism! With 300 bright, loving and hopeful quotes from The Torah, The New Testament and The Quran, we are lured to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and we are lured to believe that the each quote utters the absolute truth. And on that illusion we move into the artwork's inner circle, and there we are met by 300 dark, excluding, occupying and power-hungry quotes from the three religions’ scriptures. And if the bright quotes utter a truth, then the dark quotes must do it also. And then they drive us to repression, exclusivity, curses, judgment and killing. And once you are captured in this fundamentalist exclusive truth, there is no way out of it – unless you break with the fundamentalism’s built-in laws and rules – illustrated in the artwork’s blocked exit.
Fundamentalism is a way to approach religions and their scriptures. ”The Children of Abraham” reveals Fundamentalism, and it reveals that Fundamentalism has affiliation to all three monotheistic religions. The artwork is a necessary shout-out against the tendencies that in these weeks are spreading from mass demonstrations in Germany to Denmark and other countries, where Islam and Muslims are demonised on the basis of Christian fundamentalism. As the former Bishop, Niels Henrik Arendt, has put it: “To demonise the beliefs of other’s, contains the obvious risk of shutting down your view of the demonic properties that stick to your own worshiping”.
The fundamentalist ideology is a pariah – a leech that attaches itself to the religions, and twists and scrambles detached quotes and distorts the messages from its own sick worldview. This is revealed by Jens Galschiøt – a necessary revelation!
But the artwork also calls for theological reflection and reaction. For Jens Galschiøt himself chooses a fundamentalist approach to the religions. Jens Galschiøt chooses to describe Judaism, Christianity and Islam from detached quotes that thereby appear as absolutes. Thereby, it can appear as if the religions are and want the same!
In the same way, you can take three great novels and pick out sentences that looked the same and claim that the novels wanted the same – which is far from certain.
The paradox of fundamentalism is that it claims to own the absolute truth, at the same time as it actually can reach any conclusion.
Judaism and Christianity is not the same. Christianity stands on the shoulders of Judaism, but Jesus is in fact presenting a new interpretation that is differs so much from The Judaism’s interpretation that a new religion occur. Islam also arises from a dialogue with and a rebellion against both Judaism and Christianity, and with such different interpretations that it becomes a new religion.
All religion is interpretation. Luther knew this, and therefore his approach to The Bible was that everything should be read through Christ – with Christ as the interpreting key. That religion is interpretation is known by all proper theologians – and as a result, 126 Muslim scholars issued an open letter in September last year to condemn Islamic State’s fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran.
But Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a lot in common – they are in fact the children of Abraham. As Desmond Tutu says it: “When we read the classics of the various religions in matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism, we find substantial convergence, and that is something to rejoice at. We have enough that conspires to separate us; let us celebrate that which unites us, that which we share in common” – it is an interpretation that is not far from the essence of Galschiøt’s artwork. And Tutu continues: ”God is not Christian. His concern is for all his children”.
Such an interpretation is reconciliatory, but it is dangerous for fundamentalists.
Thank you for “The Children of Abraham”. Thank you for an artistic masterpiece that makes us small and calls for humility and battle. Thank you for your courage and for standing up to the radicalisation of the religions, as we have seen it in Paris, Nigeria and Northern Iraq, in a time where others fear. Thank you for, yet another occasion for dialogue with seriousness but without ridicule. And thank you for your stubborn insistence on human dignity and on the fight, which implicitly carries hope!
Congratulation, Jens Galschiøt and to all who fight religious dialogue, intercultural understanding, peace and reconciliation.