I have something to say and I’m not sure it’s my place to say it, but I have tried to bite my tongue all day, and I have been so concerned about ALLY THEATER (which I suck at) that I didn’t want to claim a voice in this controversy. But I can’t take it anymore. I am seeing things posted on facebook from friends whom I love and respect that are turning my stomach.
J. Kirk Richards painted a “Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge” which I adored. I fell in love with the piece. A few days ago I heard a different perspective of how for a few black mormon women they saw the image and actually felt pain and hurt. I was really defensive at first, but I decided to talk less and listen more.
Yesterday it went public with an article in the SL Tribune where Peggy Fletcher Stack quoted the negative feedback from those African-American LDS women. I think all three women I’ve seen publicly speak about it (Mica McGriggs, Bryndis Roberts, and Janan Graham-Russell) have been pretty eloquent in the hurt and pain that the portrayal gave them. I’m not going to add any words to that what they have already said, but I’m going to say that I can tell that most of you are missing the mark.
For the past 24 hours all I have seen is white, progressive Mormons negating their voices. Silencing them, discounting them, trivializing them — telling them they are over-exaggerating and choosing to be offended. I have seen a beloved artist be defended by others and even seen him come out in his own defense — to communicate that the artist had good intent, even righteous intent. It’s obvious that no pain was ever intended but many think it would be ridiculous to interpret something that was done from a place of love as negative.
Earlier this week on facebook I shared this article by Dr. Julie Hanks about how people respond defensively to criticism with “You’re choosing to be offended.” My commentary:
In an effort to make the world a better place I try to talk about situations that hurt people. This is a frequent response I get in return (You’re choosing to be offended). Just because someone has been hurt doesn’t mean they are offended. Wounds may be inadvertent, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need healing. I liked this article – it points out that people who respond with “You’re choosing to be offended” can use the more apt “Is it I?” approach that encourages reconciliation.
“If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” – Louis CK
I want to flash all of us back two weeks ago when Elder Bednar said “There are no homosexual members of the church.” This caused LGBT Mormons we love pain. They felt erased and silenced and that the value they derive from their identity doesn’t matter/was a bad thing. Progressive Mormons rose up en masse to defend and show an outpouring of love towards the injured. Many conservative Mormons raised their voices back in response to say “You are misunderstanding what he is saying. What he is saying is from a place of deep love. This was never meant to cause pain and you all are just choosing to be offended.” Two weeks ago we cared about the people who felt pain.
In the last 48 hours I want to ask you: whose pain and discomfort are you most concerned about right now? The white progressive Mormon man who had pure intentions (and whose intentions reflected our own) or those who were inadvertently hurt by him? And why has this been our reaction?
Why do we easily understand this dynamic when white women are being injured? Or when the #LGBTQ+ community is hurt? But almost every single damn time we can’t, for the life of us, empathize with black women?
P.S. Demanding that these women come and educate us or explain their positions (that we don’t understand) is further alienating and discounting their experience. Guess what: I bet they don’t want to go through the time and effort (and yes, reliving and holding onto the pain they feel) to educate our sorry-excuse-for-an-ally white mormon progressive arses.
P.P.S. It feels kind of self-congratulatory to me to have the response be “this is such an important conversation to be having and it’s really great that this piece is causing it to happen.” I’m not sure that any of these women agree with that sentiment.
P.P.P.S. Yes, I know you have a black mormon friend who loves this piece. Yes I know they aren’t hurt or offended by it. Black mormons aren’t monolith. They will all respond differently. Doesn’t mean the critique isn’t valid.
P.P.P.P.S. I’m sorry if you don’t know exactly what this is referring to – but mostly to things being said on facebook in response to this critique, and those aren’t easily linkable.
Hi Kristine! Thoughtful post. Thank you! I KNOW I am going to regret commenting on this but here goes: On a thread on FB, I did leave a comment for Kirk letting him know that my dear friend loved the piece. I let him know that it was not only the benighted (ignorant people without understanding of what it means to be a black woman, of which I am one certainly) that liked it. Since your PPPS is pretty close to that situation you were either referring to that moment or a similar one. My friend is a Christian struggling with some of her faith tradition’s cultural issues and the painting gave her some peace. My comment was not made as a way to negate the feelings/insights/understanding of others, I can absolutely respect and (to the best of my ability without a shared background) understand the source of those legitimate reactions. In that same thread, someone accused me of saying black mormons/PoC in general are monolith. JKR is no longer tagged on the thread, so I can’t respond. But of course, this was the opposite of what I was saying…there is a spectrum of responses from WoC and every single one is valid. Which means my friends response is valid, too. And sharing it (at her request…”Tell the artist!”) isn’t invalidating anyone else’s different response. Of course, not. That being said, I am absolutely telling her to just “friend” all the right people on social media next time and leave the appreciative comments herself. When I sent her a screen shot of the tell-off in the thread she emoji laughed at me for about twenty lines. Something about getting my white ass handed to me. Which, of course, was its own kind of reward. Amen.
Meg, thanks for replying. I’m not sure if I saw your comment. There were hundreds and hundreds of them and it seemed like a few dozen were about how other PoC loved the print. Brad Kramer shared that the print has sold very well with other people of color. I’ve had a friend (black woman) who wanted to purchase it. So I get it. I just think that when we’re trying to have this conversation it’s not super helpful.
FYI HERE are a few words from Janan Graham-Russel that she shared on Twitter.
It’s a loaded subject with lots to unpack. What responsibility do people have towards others who are hurt by our actions and words? Some degree of offence is unavoidable in almost all situations. There will always be someone, somewhere, who has had such a unique experience, that ANYTHING we say could be hurtful. Just my BEING a Mormon is offensive to some people. Does this mean we should be tiptoeing around in life, second guessing every word and action?
I think you have to ask yourself: What is my “reach?” The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If a handful of people are offended by something which is meaningful and insightful to hundreds of others, you have “reach.” It does a lot of good, and little harm.
However, you also have to ask yourself, does the intensity of the harm to the few outweigh the intensity of the good to the many? If this painting is mildly pleasant to a hundred people, but EXTREMELY unpleasant to 10 people, then maybe you should reconsider. But if the painting is very meaningful to 100 people and only mildly offensive to 10 people, then it would be OK.
Another issue: “how valuable is the minority you are hurting?” Everyone has value of course, black or white. But in LDS culture, blacks have a special place because they have been an extremely disenfranchised group in our past. We owe it to them to be especially sensitive because of the history. If J. Kirk Richards had painted a naked Latino woman, and a few Latino LDS women were offended, it might not be as big a deal as if a few black LDS women were offended, because our history with blacks demands special consideration in our conversation, more than it would with Latinos, because Latinos were never disenfranchised in the same way.
I would probably guess that most LDS black women would approve of the painting. I could be wrong, but that is my guess. Not only would they approve, I think many would really love it. And for the others who are offended, like Janan Graham-Russel, I don’t think they are so much genuinely “hurt” as overly anxious to engage in a heated dialogue about it, using it as a platform to highlight the various blind spots white LDS culture has. Maybe I’m totally off base. We’d have to take a poll to find the right answer.
But in the end, we can’t poll. We just have to use our judgement. My own judgement stands with Richards. I think he made the right choice. More black LDS women will love this painting than will hate it. But I could be wrong. We could ALL be wrong. Therefore, we should all try to be compassionate and understanding of each other’s perspectives, as we try imperfectly to make the world a better place. We are all trying to do our best.
One silver lining you might have in this controversy. No one has talked about how conservative white members might be offended because Eve is black, and this supports evolution, and the idea of evolution offends them. But with all the controversy coming from black members, these conservative white members will naturally jump on the “political correctness gone amuck” bandwagon, and run to the defence of the painter. This will open their heart to the idea that maybe Eve WAS black. And this is just one step away from embracing evolution!
Nate, one thing that did come up was that this implies that the mark of Cain turned him Caucasian. Which is a bit of irony.
For those who are wondering: https://www.facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack/posts/840799469380358
That is the link to the discussion on Facebook.
I’m in an emotionally friable place, so I’ll not be commenting too much on this as it brings in issues of class and position that mingle with everything else and those are ones I don’t do as well with.
However, the lessons of this strike me as also applying when conservatives say that something a progressive has said offends them or hurts them. Conservatives tend to be blue collar. Progressives tend to be more likely to be white collar or academic.
They tend to value themselves more than they value the feelings of working class blue collar types of whom they are often pretty dismissive.
But choosing to be offended also happens when people take offense at someone else’s pain. Sometimes there are marginalized communities that feel pain. When they express their pain do we choose to castigate them for it or listen?
How often do we tell people to just shut up? When we tell someone to shut up are we speaking out against someone who is easy to bully? Are we dismissive? I remember recently hearing someone dismissing a man as “hairy and short. [laugh track]” You rarely hear someone dismissed as “tall and good looking.”
Anyway, a lot to think about and to unpack.
I think a lot of it comes down to whether or not someone is acting as a bully or just expressing pain. I’m not wise enough to always tell the difference. Perhaps not wise enough to ever tell the difference.
To me, art that starts contemplation and discussion can be good. The possibility of critique, even sincere and heart-felt critique, should not be used to silence speakers or painters. If so, then all speakers would have to be silent (for fear of offending someone) and all painters would have to stop painting (for fear of offending someone). I’m glad the painter was free to paint and that others are free to voice their critique. I am free to have my own thoughts regarding the painting and also the critique.
I have been thinking a lot about this, too. I can appreciate the various perspectives from which to view this, even while I am more and more aware of my own blind spots and inability to truly empathize.
I’m not going to try to justify any particular side of the controversy here, but I would like to defend the controversy itself. I admit that I am frustrated by suggestions that we shouldn’t even be talking about this or asking to hear someone out so we can better understand. I don’t feel like the solution should be that white male artists should only stick to creating art consisting of white male bodies. So the piece exists, and I’m glad. But in the same way that I’m both glad and anxious that Hemingway’s works have been preserved, part of my gratitude stems from the conversations we can have about nuanced problems of misogyny inherent in Hemingway’s pieces. Why should art be purely positive or uplifting? Can’t the painful perspective be a part of experiencing this piece, and shouldn’t that hurt, once we are aware of it, be an important product of the influence of the piece, since hurt and pain are better than indifference?
So no, I don’t agree that we should stop asking to understand and be taught. I also don’t think anyone should have to answer or comply to these requests. But if the conversation is silenced, if art that includes a black, naked Eve are considered too offensive to display, then all of the things discussed and exposed regarding the white Mormon progressive’s consumption of WoC will also be sucked back into void, leaving ignorance and indifference.
I say, let the work stand, and let the critics’ voices accompany it. There’s no reason the piece can’t be representative of both an empowered Eve and an exoticized body of color. We shouldn’t have to dismiss the ugliness in order to appreciate what is beautiful, nor do I think that a perspective should be deemed illegitimate either because it loves or hates the work. I’m glad it exists. I’m glad these Mormon WoC care enough to respond with criticism. I’m glad you care enough to write your own contribution to the debate here. I get why you suggest this a self-congratulatory sentiment, but it would be dishonest if I said I wasn’t grateful for the many posts and comments and responses on this that I’ve read in the past day or two. It is cynicism to suggest that a desire to understand another’s perspective comes from a place of egoism rather than a desire to better mourn with those that mourn, that we can better share the body of Christ with fellowship and empathy.
This is drama in the literal sense of the word. *Taking offense* is simultaneously a psychological defense and a manipulative offense. It turns the table while changing the subject. When done well the original “victim” quickly becomes the victorious “persecutor” complete with social cover from sympethitic allies who hold their attackers at bay via. guilt. It’s total manipulation!
Don’t fall into this dramatic quicksand. Simply speak your mind but do it kindly and without drama letting the chips fall where they may. If the other side does the same consider their position and respond to it. This is called a conversation, something of a lost art in polarized 21 century politics and religion.
Phew I wake up and all of the comments are thoughtful.
Nate there has been good discussion of how this and other pieces break those barriers in a good way (BCC has a post).
I very well could be doing the wrong thing by dragging this out when they want to just move on. One of the reasons I spoke up is because I think I was one of the most vocal fangirls of JKR – I had put him up on a pedestal as a progressive mormon hero to me a bit. I sincerely loved this piece for all of the good things I saw it stand for and it’s beauty. Perhaps the criticism only came out because as white progressive Mormons we were a bit over-the-top in our praise (ok, really I was) when the context was so obvious to them. At the very least when we view art we should do so in context and present the art in context. I think most of the criticism was that we should have been able to take off the blinders on our own.
Also a lot of what I’m saying here is in response to a lot of the facebook comments I saw, which is hard to see the specifics. So when I say it’s a bit oppressive to keep asking to have it be explained it’s because I saw so many comments that were asking for further information and justification before they would acknowledge the criticism as valid. And it’s notable that Jennifer Gonzalez had some really great suggestions to everyone, like googling “your fave is problematic” as a way of self-educating. It felt like some people wanted to grill them first instead of trying to figure it out on their own first; and even if we didn’t totally understand it we could give their voices and perspectives more weight than our own and just sit with it (and then do a lot of the work on our own until we understood the criticism better). So it is a really important discussion – one they probably wish we could have on our own without them having to make us “get it.”
So I also agree the discussion is good, would that I could be better at my blind spots that their critique would have never been needed. I guess that is more the sentiment I’m thinking instead of “I’m so glad he made this so I could be challenged like this” or the other comment I saw “this makes the art even more important/provocative” we could just acknowledge that. There was very little “this is valid criticism” and “I could do better, I have work to do”.
And also this is responding to the comments of how many people are talking about how vulnerable and brave JKR is but I hadn’t seen any comments about how vulnerable and brave these women were. We centered on his pain and how hard of a time he’s having with it.
I like what Emily Grover said a lot. I’ll take it one step further, probably beyond what she’d be comfortable with. I don’t agree with your Louis CK quote. It embodies a progressive fallacy. If someone says I caused them pain, I cannot say whether they’ve experienced pain, but it is my responsibility to decide whether I caused it. And sometimes, the answer is no. We must be considerate of people’s sore spots, but people can have sore spots that it’s unreasonable to expect others to entirely avoid. That doesn’t mean they’re “choosing to be offended”, but it also doesn’t mean it’s good for the rest of us to avoid hurting them at all costs. That’s the beef with the PC police. My very joy can be faulted for triggering someone else’s pain. Should I avoid joy? It’s absurd. So, I’m with Emily Grover in thinking it’s great that there are those who find beauty in the painting and that there are those who explain their pain, and that both groups can and should express themselves that all the rest of us can be edified by it.
Martin I’m going to use my own experience with something to address your comment.
I’m infertile and a lot of things I here are hurtful. I am not necessarily offended – but they do hurt. And sometimes it’s how others express their joy at parenthood. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be joy in parenthood. I do wish others were just more self aware of how their joy could hurt others, and try to be better in ways to express joy wo hurting them. It would be totally ridiculous to expect others would entirely avoid these situations.
Sometimes the pain that is caused just needs time to heal. And it helps when someone just says – I didn’t mean to cause you pain, I’ll try to be better.
The path to healing is not pain avoidance, it pain resolution and you cannot resolve it without feeling it first.
I more or less share ji’s perspective here. Well said.
Kristine, you said “It felt like some people wanted to grill them first instead of trying to figure it out on their own,” and I want to qualify my own comment that I agree with you. I just re-watched that old 30 Rock episode when Liz Lemon refuses to give a list of funny female entertainers because Tracy Jordan should just do his own research (even though the episode ends up giving quite a long list of names before the credits roll). I agree that it isn’t fair to put the weight of responsibility on Mormon WoC to educate the rest of us on all things, when we are perfectly capable of opening our own eyes and making ourselves aware of that beyond ourselves. That’s a fair point to make.
That seems to be the greater theme of all of these discussions: to be aware beyond ourselves, which is something that Mormons aren’t good at. Your comments about the joy exuded by other parents being a cause for infertile women to feel pain makes me think about every testimony meeting in which ward members joyfully declare their happiness to be gifts from God, while suffering fellow ward members sweat in their seats and wonder what they did to get curses from God, or why God would care so much about helping so-and-so find her car keys when the same God couldn’t bother to save her own son from leukemia at six years old. Our own gratitude and joy can truly step on someone else’s heart and crush it, and I do believe that testimony meetings and church talks need to be written with more than just one’s own individual feelings and experiences in mind.
So I’m glad that conversations like this one can make us painfully aware of how little we are aware of others outside of ourselves. I don’t think it is asking too much to be awake to the hearts of those around us as we share our own testimonies, either in spoken form or painted form or written form. I also think you are right that the solution isn’t necessarily to stop having joy or stop speaking up or stop painting images of Eve, but that the ways we express these things can help make the discussions more inclusive and acknowledging of the variety of souls and lives who are influenced by what we put out there. I also think that whenever we put ourselves out there, we risk marginalizing or offending or disturbing or upending people. I don’t think this is ever fully avoidable (such words or art would be too benign to have an effect at that point, I think) nor do I think that this risk is a reason to refrain from putting something out there. I do think there is a responsibility to speak up and out and to let others speak back at us.
It is possible to have a conversation/discussion without an argument where issues are raised, people educated but nobody feels the need to win and nobody comes away feeling that they’ve lost. The problem is when we feel our opinion is the Truth.
I don’t usually think of conversations in terms of winning and losing, but I think it’s important that in conversations that have been jump-started because someone expresses the pain that they are in,t hat it’s not so simple to separate the conversation from the goal of minimizing pain. There is this thing that I see sometimes where people really privilege and value the ability to be as emotionally dispassionate as possible, and I think that that misses the point that for some folks, these issues aren’t purely academic. They are lived experience sort of things.
I see a beautiful selection of colors. Perspectives present–the painting has a front, middle, and back. Symbolism with the sun either rising with a new day beginning or setting, perhaps, as a day of innocence comes to an end. The sun creates a halo around Eve, suggesting holiness or wisdom. Interestingly, the fruit is almost the same color of the sun, also suggesting wisdom. Many interesting ideas to absorb.
I sorrow to think that an artistic expression of female form causes pain and reference to slavery. My awareness and ability to empathize has increased from that pain being shared.
I do find hope that a racial barrier in our tradition of gospel art has been breached in a newsbreaking way. Chris Rock compared Hollywood racism to sorority classism. ‘We like you, but you’re not a Kappa’, or something to that effect. In other words, you cannot be a sister in our sorority. Here, we have an artist inviting us to welcome black mother Eve as the mother of all living.
I hope it leads to breakthroughs in our other LDS media–black actors and actresses in temple films for example. (Though I haven’t seen all of the new temple films, so if I have missed that event, someone can correct me.)
I think the painting is beautiful. I’m glad he painted it.
I’m glad that his painting Eve as a black woman challenges our eurocentric, surely inaccurate depictions of Eve (assuming she ever existed).
I think if she weren’t nude, we wouldn’t be talking about the painting. The subversion of our Mormon sense of modesty is equally as powerful as the subversion of our assumption that Eve was white. I love that she seems unashamed.
The critics have a point that the combination of making her black and making her naked reinforces white exoticisation of Africans. This is unfortunate.
I’m not sure what the critics want. For it never to be painted? For whites or males to never depict blacks or females without approval? An apology?
Andrew S, I agree. What may derail the conversation is when the emotion experienced is jarring to the other person who then can’t stop, step back and acknowledge it but instead tries to explain or dismiss it. Then the whole point of the encounter shifts and a chance for understanding slips away.
I’m not black, but I’m female and LDS and trying to understand.
From my own perspective, for an artist to depict a female, black, nude Eve in our LDS culture is ambitious. Even with the best of intentions, the final execution of the piece matters. I heard one woman describe it as sacred ground, so perhaps the artist should tread carefully. I like many things about the painting but from my own white, female perspective there are some things about it that I don’t like. And I’m no prude when it comes to nudity in art.
I’d feel the same way about a depiction of Heavenly Mother. Those are some very sensitive issues for me that have been shaped by church culture, sometimes in negative ways. Depict her as beautiful but lacking in power or influence, there’s a problem there. A problem that may exist more for the women than the men viewing such an image. Art is an important part of culture, even our LDS culture.
I guess what I want, then, is sensitivity for what these important images may bring to the people to whom they likely matter most. Sensitivity on the part of the artist before the image is even made. A questioning on the part of the artist if it is even an image that he should create? Perhaps a dialogue on his part with those who may take offense. Maybe some context when it is released that he considered the implications. And especially acknowledgement by not only the artist, but especially the rest of us, once offense has been voiced.
There’s a lot of talk about offense going on, people taking offense too easily, should an artist not have the right to paint a piece in the off chance a small group of people might be offended, etc. etc. We’re not talking about just any old thing here. The subject of the painting is female, nude, and black. And she’s Eve. And we’re a bunch of Mormons (mostly white) with years of Mormon culture behind us that isn’t always pretty. I can see why this is kind of a big deal.
This thread got me thinking of doing a clothed white male eve.
That would be a definite change of perspective.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m not answering on purpose. I drove down to Utah and am at Sunstone Borderlands and haven’t had time to read anything. I’ll have more time tonight to come back and respond. Sorry.
I did just storified my notes from Mica McGriggs, which aren’t perfect; but her words were.
There’s another aspect I’d like to point out, and that is that the wounded minority often makes their pain so pre-eminent that it drowns out any other discussion. I understand that their pain is pre-eminent for them, but it shouldn’t necessarily be so for the rest of us.
Imagine a hypothetical debate between Trump and Obama. Imagine what would happen should some pundit, in a subtle effort to emphasize the value of intelligent debate, described Obama as articulate . What would happen? Yes, some would immediately recognize the dig against Trump, who is not articulate, and long for civilized, nuanced, and well-expressed opinions in politics. But the conversation would immediately be derailed by rage against white people patronizing a black person by calling him articulate or well-spoken. I have no doubt some would feel pain at the comment. I also have no doubt they and their sympathizers’ outrage would derail the conversation. The pundit stepped in their pile of poo, and they’ll notice nothing but the stench. What’s worse, they’ll try to make sure no one else notices anything but stench, either.
Is it reasonable for us to have to avoid each other’s poo like that? I don’t think so. I know that any pundit worth her salt would know better, precisely because she’s seen it happen in the past, and that must be the point. But it shuts down conversation.
Kristine’s comment about infertility is the perfect example wrt church. The greatest joy of my life has been my children. I might say that at church. Why? Maybe because I’d be encouraging others to keep their priorities straight, or maybe to express appreciation for what was taught to me. I’d have no intent to hurt Kristine, yet it might. Nor need she choose to take offense for it to hurt. Yet it is a sentiment that I feel belongs in church and ought to be expressed, because of the effect it can have on so many parents — including me, when I was younger.
I heard about the painting and I like it for 2 reasons. One is that Eve is black and one that it shows her in her human form, not all covered up because “men can’t control their thoughts!” I actually am drawn to the color/lighting of the fruit from an artistic point of view. The reason I like it is I think this pushes us as a church on 2 items we need to be pushed on, race and the difference between nudity and porn (I feel we don’t “get” either very well at all). I visited a temple where I used to live. I notice a picture in the temple of a contemplative black woman and I was so pleased to see it, but it reminded me that one of my good black friends were told in this temple, “you don’t belong here” by a temple worker.
Since I don’t “live” in Facebook I didn’t see much of the commentary/commotion, but I did hear some comments from one of the women you mentioned and it made me think of what I wasn’t getting. I am a slightly balding fat aging man, so even though I feel I try, I am realizing there are some things I just can’t quite get.
I have tried to think about why this offended some. I can understand a bit how the combination of a black Eve being one of the first Eve being shown topless might seem exploitative. As in “why not first show a Caucasian topless Eve?” But I don’t think outside Mormonism this is the first “revealing” portrait of Eve.
But I am very sorry that it is bothersome to some. Even though I don’t totally get why it bothers some, I want to respect them and their point of view. I hope that me even expressing the above does not cause further angst. I pray that we can all learn from this.
There is a very significant difference between how we treat one another and how an organization treats a class of people especially when that organization is your top down church or top down government and turns out to be wrong. In that case the wounded minority were systematically abused under color of authority.
Dr. Sheldon Solomon on why we don’t get along with people who are different.
#21 different Meg, I really like this point: “Perhaps a dialogue on his part with those who may take offense. Maybe some context when it is released that he considered the implications. And especially acknowledgement by not only the artist, but especially the rest of us, once offense has been voiced.”
I’m infertile and a lot of things I here are hurtful. I am not necessarily offended – but they do hurt. And sometimes it’s how others express their joy at parenthood. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be joy in parenthood. I do wish others were just more self aware of how their joy could hurt others, and try to be better in ways to express joy wo hurting them. It would be totally ridiculous to expect others would entirely avoid these situations.”
That brings up an interesting point.
On the one hand, I really think we need to exercise care for those in our congregations who suffer in this way.
On the other hand, having buried three children, and having a child with Tourette’s, so very, very much can cause me pain. I really do not feel that my pain should give me a veto on other’s joy.
Which may be affecting how I approach issues like this one.
I’ll have to think about this more. How to balance care on the one side with sharing others joy as well as their sorrow.
(1) This isn’t a discussion of right or wrong. People can disagree with the critique, it’s not necessary to agree with marginalized people. But it is important to say that the critique is valid. To see it through their “lens” and acknowledge it’s legit. We should care about what marginalized people think about their own portrayals. If we don’t we are further marginalizing them for our own use.
(2) The reason why I feel that ProgMos need to step back is that out of all people, we should be trying to get it. It’s as if a bunch of male feminists decided to do something they think will help feminism, a big project….but because they aren’t women they just didn’t see how it would come across and hurt some women. But then all of the other male feminists come to meetings to talk about how amazing and groundbreaking all of the work the men did and how it’s perfect and just what they need. If a few women then raise their voices and say, “look, actually the way that this good thing was done actually triggers pain in me as a woman, and y’all are not seeing it. Maybe have women put out messages next time?” We might understand it. Or value the feedback.
But there wasn’t a lot of “this is totally legit criticism” and the thing that made it worse is the effusive celebration is from a group that is acting on behalf of helping the marginalized group. It’s like salt in a wound that makes the inadvertent slight more eye roll inducing. We have blind spots! This shouldn’t be news to anyone.
In the book My Name Is Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jew artist paints a crucification picture that includes a portrayal of his mother. He cannot find anything symbolic in art that captures suffering like the crucifixition, so it is incorporated into his art. His family and community are offended. As Hasidic Jews, they see using a cross or symbolic crucification as something that a Jew just doesn’t ever do. There is a disconnect between his Art and his religious culture.
There is plenty of similarity here.
As a little kid, National Geographic was full of photos of bare breasted women of color. White women were not portrayed in the same way. Many of us grew up under that standard.
Currently, there is lots of art of dark bare breasts that is considered very main stream. Too often, black women are shown baring at least one breast in art. Symbolically, that captures a very earthy presentation. White women are shown bare breasted as Greek or Roman goddesses, but usually in a more exalted state, or nursing their children.
This recent painting is phenomenal from an artistic standpoint. It also is cliche in that shows a bare breasted dark woman. It captures the same earthiness while showing a certain nobility to her also.
It is easy to see why LDS women of color would be annoyed by it. As a group, I am sure they would like to be portrayed — for once — with a little more clothing.
The artist stayed in an artistically safe place. Dark, earthy, noble, bare breasted. It will sell well. An equally portrayed white woman might have been too culturally controversial and could not have captured the same earthiness and nobility.
I have wondered on a very basic level of the LDS culture would commercially support “Naked and White”
Fantastic. The voices of Mica, Bryndis, and Janan should have been elevated by the Progressive Mormon community instead of silenced.
Kristine, I mostly disagree with your position. I do agree with you that rich, entitled, self-important white men (like me) need to listen more and talk less. We also need to try and learn from these outcries, rather than dismissing them outright.
You and I part ways when it comes to supporting this sort of public expression. By the way, something along these lines is happening with JK Rowling getting grief from Navajo scholars for “appropriating Navajo history”.
This kind of grandstanding has become a national pastime, and I’m tired of it. In many cases, the supposed pain feels insincere and manufactured to me. It feels like “intellectualized outrage”, not true pain. Often these expressions of hurt come from fairly privileged members of the aggrieved minority (i.e. professors) not regular folks. I think sometimes the motive is embarrassing those who are seen as more powerful. It’s a way of turning the tables and getting attention.
I wonder how many ordinary people walking through that gallery and seeing that painting would feel outrage that a white guy painted a portrait of a Black woman. I wonder how many actually think that Eve’s blurred face has anything to say about how white men view Black women.
I suspect most people who see that painting experience the kinds of highly personal intellectual and emotional responses that great art evokes.
Certainly some folks will be offended and hurt. That’s a legitimate personal response as well–just that not everybody else in the world needs to hear somebody shouting about it.
Interesting to me that the post photo doesn’t show Eve’s breasts. Are we really that prudish?
@Citychicken “I have wondered on a very basic level of the LDS culture would commercially support “Naked and White” ”
I don’t think so, and that’s largely what bothers me about this. My guess is there would be less support / higher % of LDS people off-put by the nudity.
Second (a general comment not aimed at Citychicken), while some see pushing LDS boundaries of nudity in art positively, I don’t. Sexual or not (which this is clearly not, black or white), I like the underlying belief held by many in the LDS community that covering nudity is a sign of respect and even reverence for our bodies, which are made in God’s image making them sacred and holy, representing our individual sacred and holy nature as children of God.
But even if you disagree with that belief, with a sizable portion of our community holding those beliefs, isn’t it understandable that many might react by feeling exploited when done by a member of our own community? (particularly one of the opposite gender than the one displayed in the art). That to me is totally understandable. And then throw on top of that, that because she’s black she seemingly doesn’t get that same sort of reverent treatment, nor the type of backlash that would likely occur in our community if she were white in the painting. Yes, I can definitely see why many black women in our community who share in those beliefs surrounding nudity, would in particular feel exploited and offended.
Great art? Nudity is still nudity even if it is glossy and sold at a high price. Just because someone can make a buck and then succumbs to the temptation doesn’t mean we all have to flock to it.
” the underlying belief held by many in the LDS community that covering nudity is a sign of respect and even reverence for our bodies”
Great points. I think you’ve hit on a perfect example of the author’s thesis. Within LDS culture, women covering bare shoulders and being modest is seen as positive. Outside the culture, many women find this idea highly offensive. It’s viewed as demeaning and paternalistic. In other words, despite our best intentions and desire to make a positive statement, we can become insulated within our own culture and unaware that we may offend.
Really? How do you feel about Michelangelo’s David and his creation painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?
So you think the the piece is at least partially a statement by the artist confronting our cultural attitudes towards nudity in the LDS Community?
I have no problem with opinion, statements, and/or influence through art. If this painting were of a nude white Adam (or white Adam and Eve nude as a couple), I think I’d have much less of a problem. Or if the artist were a black woman painting and making this statement, I’d also feel more comfortable with it, even if I disagree with it. While I don’t think I can articulate it, that it is a white male making this statement through use of a black female doesn’t feel right to me, something feels off. Coming from within our community, I can understand why some black women would feel exploited.
that last statement wasn’t clear, I mean with the art piece coming from within our community, I can understand why some LDS black women would feel exploited.
“So you think the the piece is at least partially a statement by the artist confronting our cultural attitudes towards nudity in the LDS Community?”
Actually, I had not thought of that. 🙂
It is an interesting idea, though.
I was really just talking about the LDS concept of female modesty in general. Within LDS culture it’s a positive thing and it’s done with the best intentions. But those within the LDS culture may be oblivious that women within and without LDS culture find it demeaning and paternalistic. It made me think to myself, “Gee. What positive attitudes and values am I immersed in that might be highly offensive to someone else?”
I wonder how some people look at the dress of the polygamist sects and feel it is very odd or even repressive, but don’t have a concept that much of the world views never bearing shoulders as very odd or even repressive.
Who is right?
Google Jana Riess modesty. She had some great conversations on her blog.
This piece didn’t show the whole piece of art with nudity because the women of color in their critique had said that the image of the nude black eve to them evoked art of black slave women and it caused them pain. I was trying to avoid that.
It’s not nudity that is the problem, it’s the context in which black female nudity has been portrayed and used historically and the implications that come along with a white man doing the same thing (although for good intentions).
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