|La última cena ©León Ferraria|
I acknowledge my ignorance in the field of visual arts - it was not until a group of Catholic vandals destroyed some of his works and an Argentine Catholic association filed a request to ban his Retrospectiva (Retrospective) that I knew about the Argentine visual artist León Ferrari. Thank you, Catholic boys and girls, for introducing me to such a wonderful artist.
I had just arrived in Argentina (December 2004) when a judge went to the Centro Cultural Recoleta, where Retrospectiva was being exhibited and after looking around she determined that it offended the sensibilities of Catholics… and banned it.
Some weeks before, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, had written a letter where, among other things, he said: “Today I address you with a heavy heart over the blasphemy that is being committed in the Centro Cultural Recoleta on the occasion of a visual art exhibition. I am also distressed about the fact that this event is taking place in a cultural center which is maintained with the money of the Christian community and people of goodwill who contribute with their taxes.”
Such a statement of principles about freedom, tolerance and human rights.
As someone who occasionally thinks, I thought: where was Catholic sensibility when their representatives blessed “death flights” in which the Argentine perpetrators of genocide threw their victims alive into the Río de La Plata starting in 1976? Most probably on vacation in Miami. Or Rome, which was more chic.
As is well known, there is nothing more tempting than the forbidden, so I was dying to see León Ferrari’s work.
The authorities of the Centro Cultural Recoleta and the Buenos Aires City Government, which had organized the exhibition, quickly resorted to legal action.
I was at the subway station with my sister when, some days later, we saw on TV that the court had ordered that the previously banned Retrospectiva should reopen.
“Let’s go see it now!” I told my sister as we dove into the subway car. “It may be banned again in a few hours.”
So we went fast, together with hundreds of people who seemed to share our fears, as the line to see the exhibition was almost a block long... under the harsh rays of the summer sun.
And surprise, surprise, the doors of the room were closed and protected by private security guards who did not let anyone in. As the minutes passed, the line kept growing and the doors remained closed.
My indignation was beginning to build when suddenly I saw 4 people come out of the room. Then the guards let other 4 people from the line get in. Once inside, their bags were meticulously inspected and the bigger ones wound up in a locker in the room. To be honest, it felt like a dictatorship.
However, when we finally got inside I understood all those security measures were meant to protect us and not to intimidate us, because when those vandals had attacked the work of Mr. Ferrari, as I read in a mural in the room, they had not been very kind to the public that was there. Poor Catholic vandals - they are very sensitive but they could work on their manners and education. With all due respect, I would ask you to go a little less to the church and a little more to school. God and your Homeland shall be grateful to you. Amen.
When we came into the room, it gave me great joy to see it was full of people, so full that they had to wait in line in front of each piece to be able to see it, but I was also a little frightened. I wondered if any of these seemingly peaceful people could actually be a hidden vandal ready to smash one of those pieces on my head.
And then right there in front of me, hanging from the ceiling, imposing, enormous, moving, was Jesus crucified on a warplane.
It was astonishing. A heart-wrenching call for peace.
“Jesús en bombardero” (Jesus on bomber) by León Ferrari
The place was quiet as a tomb. As if the hundreds of people who were there felt that at any moment the plane would start dropping bombs on us.
It was a scary silence.
What was frightening, however, was not the sight of Jesus crucified on a plane, but not knowing which would be the next offensive of the Catholic vandals and their cohorts. Let’s not deceive ourselves: Catholic vandals and genocidal military forces have always walked hand in hand, like a tender couple in love with terror.
We saw hundreds of pieces. The Retrospectiva covered 50 years of Mr. Ferrari’s career, and my sister and I looked at each other confused, because that which had offended the sensibilities of… that was not there. We looked at one after the other after the other until… at last! We found the forbidden fruit.
Oh, how Mr. Ferrari made me laugh! Because his work has a great sense of humor - acid, sweet, caustic and critical at the same time. And full of sensitivity.
Yes, it was really amusing to see a bottle full of condoms with a small photo of the Pope stuck on the front. What is not amusing is the amount of people who die from AIDS because the Pope prohibits the use of condoms. It was funny to see a frying pan full of saints; a Last Supper where Jesus and the Apostles appear next to an orangutan and rats (in Argentina, genocidal military forces are called gorillas - poor gorillas, what have they done to be associated with such beasts?); and famous paintings about Hell, commissioned by the Catholic Church centuries ago, where the human beings being tortured on a grill have been replaced by saints.
Oh, this last thing greatly offended the sensibilities of…
And Mr. Ferrari, with irrefutable logic, asked: why is torture good for human beings but bad for saints?
I would like to clarify that most of the Retrospectiva made no reference to Catholicism. And many of the pieces which did refer to it had not been created by Mr. Ferrari, but by the Argentine Catholic Church itself: its support for perpetrators of genocide from the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) shown in newspaper cuttings from the time and the current “carnal” relations between the Vatican and these perpetrators of genocide. Mr. Ferrari simply displayed what newspapers here and there unashamedly published.
Mr. Ferrari, who could have created a political pamphlet with this material, instead produced a work of art urging us to Never Forget.
There is no resentment or hatred in his work. And Mr. Ferrari has more than enough reasons to have such feelings: one of his sons disappeared and he was forced to live in exile for several years. But still, at 84 years old, what Mr. Ferrari has to offer us is Love. A love that is full of truth, memory and humor. A love that is redeeming though not forgiving. Because one might forgive those who ask for forgiveness, but neither the Catholic Church nor Argentine perpetrators of genocide have done such a thing.
Videla, an Argentine dictator, and Aramburu, the archbishop of Buenos Aires
THE DAY THE CATHOLIC VANDALS AND THEIR COHORTS ATTACKED AGAIN
It was not a single day. Mr. Ferrari received death threats by phone, just like in a dictatorship, during several days and nights. All anonymous, of course. Because the vandals and their cohorts are always cowards.
So in order not to put the public at the risk of future aggressions, Mr. Ferrari decided to close the Retrospectiva earlier than expected.
The last day was both a celebration and a mourning.
A celebration because more than 70,000 people assisted to show their
support for Mr. Ferrari.
The day after, pictures showed a smiling Mr. Ferrari surrounded by a crowd that - according to the newspaper - was chanting his name as if he was a rock star: “León, León, León!”
That smile was the sign of the vandals’ defeat.
And Retrospectiva, the most visited exhibition in the history of the Centro Cultural Recoleta, was the victory of a part of the Argentinian people that refuses to forget.
Because they know that forgetting is like being left in the dark, without a lamp showing us the way out.
Being left with a lamp that the vandals and their cohorts kick from the dark to make us lose our way forever.
Note: On January 6th, 1979, persecuted by the Argentine military dictatorship for being a pacifist, I went to the Convent of Saint Michael from the Society of Jesus, whose highest authority was Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, asking for shelter for a few nights. Someone had referred me. I was received by a Jesuit whose surname, unfortunately, I cannot recall and, after listening to my story, he told me (and I quote):
-If you’re being followed and they find you here, they’ll take us all, do you understand?
- So you can’t give me shelter?
- If you’re innocent, turn yourself in; nothing will happen to you.
He did not answer. And, with that silence, he cast me out onto the street, into the darkness of the night, into the jaws of the dictatorship. I was 20 years old.
Translation: ©Luciana Valente
The Church warns Ferrari’s exhibition “is a blasphemy”
By Loreley Gaffoglio | LA NACIÓN
Yesterday, the Church strongly criticized the exhibition Retrospectiva by visual artist León Ferrari, which is on display at the Centro Cultural Recoleta, qualifying it as “a blasphemy that puts the city to shame.” Moreover, he called for “a day of fasting and prayer” next Tuesday so that “the Lord can forgive our sins and those of the City”, in reference to the Government of the City of Buenos Aires promoting the controversial exhibition.
The archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was the voice of the Catholic faith that rose up against the exposition, in which works combine religious symbols with erotic imagery, while Christs, virgins and saints “burn” in Ferrari’s representation of hell.
“For some time now, there have been some public displays of mockery and offenses against the persons of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the City, as well as various expressions against the religious and moral values we profess,” said Bergoglio in a pastoral letter to the priests, the consecrated faithful of the archdiocese, which was passed on to the press.
“Today I address you with a heavy heart over the blasphemy that is being committed in the Centro Cultural Recoleta on the occasion of a visual art exhibition. I am also distressed about the fact that this event is taking place in a cultural center which is maintained with the money of the Christian community and people of goodwill who contribute with their taxes,” added the cardinal. And he urged that “in the face of this blasphemy that puts the city to shame, let us all come together to perform an act of reparation and seek forgiveness on December 7th,” the eve of the Immaculate Conception Day.
The artist’s lament
Speaking to LA NACIÓN, Ferrari responded to the archbishop: “I’m even more distressed by the fact that the religion Bergoglio practices punishes those who think differently,” snapped the artist, who had to go into exile in San Paulo in 1976 and returned to the country in 1991. “If anything puts the city to shame, it’s not this exhibition, but claiming that others should be tortured in hell,” he said.
Source: La Nación, Argentina