There’s this cartoonist in Denmark who was marked for death by Islamics because he offended their prophet with a cartoon depicting Mohammed wearing a bomb. It was all over the news. What wasn’t so well known was the cartoonist’s response that he didn’t really care about offending a religious figure – he was just trying to make a point that there is no image that is so holy you can’t offend it.
I can’t say I understand the part about being offended by art – it’s just so trivial. I mean if your god is really god don’t you think he really doesn’t give a crap what a bunch of monkeys do? I’ll admit god is mostly just a projection of man’s own vanity and pride – god “takes offense” because men are petty, indignant and self absorbed creatures.
Which got me thinking about the holy symbols here at TAI. Yknow? Cuz even if you put a huge pair of melons up next to the Tetractys, it doesn’t seem to diminish it. Actually it kind of elevates anything it comes in contact with, especially human beings.
Could you ever imagine offending the TwinStar and by proxy the Tetractys? I don’t think so. But there are things which it diminishes rather than exalts. It doesn’t appreciate disease, failure, restriction or anything which puts stars out of order. It is the symbol of untoucheable purity, undiminished by anything you put it next to or embellish it with. If you make it tiny, it only underlines its essence as the heart of the monad, the eternal mystery that beckons from realms lost to us.
So I wanted to talk about this and I’m open to anyone’s religious ideas. Christian,Witch, Jewish, whatever….my focus is just my own
I’m a Tantricist so I’m particularily interested in attacking orthodox Brahmanic ideas – the “Fundoos” as Khushwant Singh called them in “The End of India”. I love to attack the status quo in India any chance I can get. I am a very devout Vaishnavite and was raised that way. I think religion is important in many ways because it allows humans to take the edge off our crazy side – tribal rites were bred into our evolution and are poorly understood. So even if you’re an atheist you have a biological need for a strict and rigid ordering of sort of irrational beliefs – even if it doesn’t involve the G word.
Ironically the conversation about the oppressiveness of art in Indian religion was spearheaded by a Muslim man, Maqbool Fida Husain, who championed multi-spirituality and nude Indian goddesses.
Too much emphasis in religious art today is focused on offending the religious iconography rather than redeeming it. I think this is alright – Piss Christ and other intentionally “offensive” images are important to art and religious discussion, but there’s another side to religious iconography that gets missed – that is, returning sexuality to god.
There is actually a movement amongst Indian religion of a return to the primordial principles of Sanatana Dharma instead of the British imposed Victorian morality. This stunted sexuality has stuck like a disease in India long after it has already been mostly shelved by Britain herself. Ravi Varma’s rediculously prim and overclothed goddesses, like White Indian Barbie princesses are particularily loathsome in their intent, if not their oh-so-sincere reverence.
Can artists challenge the bleached morality in religion without intending to be offensive? Are there any emerging artists coming up with an alternative version of religion and its relationship to sexuality?
I will discuss a few images I did with m1thr0s for The Mutational Alchemy Tarot – a pan global effort that reached for the stars when it came to multiculturalism.
This image below is an illustration of the traditional story of Balarama Ananta-deva chastising the river Yamuna. In this story there’s an essential element of BDSM and sexuality. Balarama who is called the “original Krsna” by Sri Prahbupad is the older brother of Krsna in the story. His unextended form is Sesa Ananta, the serpent with the many hoods you see in the most popular images of Vishnu.
In the story this image is about he has taken the River Yamuna and scattered her with his plow because she won’t come to him on command. As the absolute creator and ruler of the universe, it’s akin to you or I smashing a printer or computer because the OS or firmware won’t respond.
ISCKON provides one of the best versions of the story, although there are older folk versions which are a little rapey and connected with the irrigation history of the region.
“While Balarama was in that happy mood, He desired to enjoy the company of the gopis in the water of the Yamuna. Therefore He called the Yamuna to come nearby. But the Yamuna neglected the order of Balaramaji, considering Him intoxicated. Lord Balarama became very much displeased at the Yamuna’s neglecting His order. He immediately wanted to scratch the land near the river with His plowshare. Lord Balarama has two weapons, a plow and a club, from which He takes service when they are required. This time He wanted to bring the Yamuna by force, and He took the help of His plow. He wanted to punish the Yamuna because she did not come in obedience to His order. ”
Taking these sources literally and treating them literally has a profound effect on my view of the world. It somehow allows me to put up with all of the shit that goes on in life. I’m not going to say it’s all psychological because there are elements unknown and unpredictable, even in religion which science has mostly sidelined. (Rightfully…but that’s another topic altogether)
Below is another image from The Mutational Alchemy Tarot – from the Pacific Islands tale of Sina and the Eel, larger than life. I have a great fondness for syncreticism and have always sought after another culture’s point of view on any archetype, from Iktomi and Anansi to Hello Kitty and the wife of Bes. Darkly sexual, this was indeed a tribute to my own personal god, called iṣṭa-deva(tā in Sanskrit, that is, Ananta Sesa, Ningishzidda – essentially Balarama in his unextended form.
Although it seems scary it’s a very personally devout image for me, and the nudity is meant as a sidenote – it isn’t the main attraction, or was not intended to be. The demoniac nature will find their own angle as it will, but this is not the essential effect nudity or sexuality should automatically have. In the lilas of both Krsna and Balarama – sex is glorified, ideal and completely sacred.
India has been under the magnifying glass much closer than a few decades ago because the violence against women has escalated sharply. I believe all of the propaganda about what is proper that goes against the grain of true Indian religion from a thousand years ago is the source of this misogyny. To start with we should begin treating these stories with the human dignity they deserve – acknowledging sexuality and the full gamut of color that was once a part of the culture instead of the white washed and genital-slashed censored version that abounds today.