Blogs

By banning religious art on the Underground, TfL misunderstands what causes offence

04 April 2014 | by Abigail Frymann Rouch

Artists, said Pope Paul VI, are masters of “rendering accessible and comprehensible to the minds and hearts of our people the things of the spirit, the invisible, the ineffable, the things of God himself.”

So I doubt he would be impressed with a decision by Transport for London to decline eight Stations of the Cross images that had been destined to adorn the walls of Tube stations in the run-up to Easter. Five were rejected outright, and in the case of the other three images, alternatives were requested, though the spokeswoman could not say whether any been submitted.

Saturday’s Guardian reported that TfL had rejected Antony Micallef's Kill Your Idol, three works showing Jesus, stripped and wearing the crown of thorns, standing before not Pontius Pilate but a panel from the television talent show X Factor. Micallef wanted to highlight the notion of public humiliation and judgement and show how this was a form of entertainment back then and continues to be today.

A TfL spokewoman said: “The adverts were rejected as they did not comply with our advertising policy.” She pointed me to these lines in their policy document: “The advertisement does not comply with the law or incites someone to break the law … The advertisement is likely to cause widespread or serious offence to members of the public on account of the nature of the product or service being advertised the wording or design of the advertisement or by way of inference.”

Another banned image, by Sebastian Horsley, is a montage of photos showing the artist, wearing only a loin-cloth, being nailed to a cross and explores the artist’s own sense of being punished by God.

Curiously, Zavier Ellis’ The Covenant was refused because its central panel includes a small amount of graffiti-style lettering, which falls foul of a policy about suggesting the use of graffiti.

Another you won't see in a Tube station is Paul Fryer’s Black Pieta, which depicts Jesus in an electric chair.

Alternative, edgy, unsettling – just as good art, and good religious art, should be. The artists are a mix of believers and non-believers. “I identified that they had something to say about the life of Jesus Christ,” Ben Moore, director of Art Below, who selected the images and submitted them to TfL, tells me. “There’s a big trend to be anti religion and quite dark; I’ve been congratulated for not being negative.” The congregation at St Mary’s, Marylebone, where the images are displayed, have no problems with them.

And there’s the irony – that Jesus’ agony isn’t simply negative and dark, because we know it was a prelude to the most hope-establishing event in history. And why would Christians be offended by portraying Jesus’ humiliating trial in contemporary language such as a talent show panel? Surely Christians are more offended, well, startled, by having the gore removed from the Passion. Such a censoring now doesn’t soften what happened.

It does suggest that TfL misunderstands what offends Christians – St Paul says that the message of the Cross is offensive, and we grow up meditating on gory images and statues depicting Jesus’ suffering. Note to TfL – this doesn’t lead us to incite Christians to break the law, but usually makes us want to repent of all sorts of sins. So rather than dance about on the side of political correctness, please ask some real Christians.

Abigail Frymann is The Tablet's Online Editor

View the Gallery of images, including those that have been rejected, here.



Article List


TABLET WORLD…
Latest Issue

Digital/PDF Version

PDF version (iPad-friendly)

Previous Issues
Latest Tweet
Most Read Articles

Archbishop of Mosul says over 600 Christian families have returned to northern Iraq to 'start again from scratch'11 August 2017 by Rose Gamble

Somaliland's only Catholic church closed days after re-opening due to 'public pressures' 10 August 2017 by Rose Gamble

Co-author of 'ecumenism of hate' article defends intervention as opening important debate 15 August 2017 by Christopher Lamb

Archbishop of Mosul says over 600 Christian families have returned to northern Iraq to 'start again from scratch'11 August 2017 by Rose Gamble

Somaliland's only Catholic church closed days after re-opening due to 'public pressures' 10 August 2017 by Rose Gamble

Co-author of 'ecumenism of hate' article defends intervention as opening important debate 15 August 2017 by Christopher Lamb

Theologian on the ropes: The integrity of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger comes under scrutinyPremium10 August 2017 by Brendan Walsh, Jacques Dupuis

Irish teenagers just don't 'do religion': Will Pope's Dublin visit bring renewal of faith to young catholicsPremium10 August 2017 by Sarah Mac Donald

Now is not the time to throw out devotion to Mary, but to reclaim a relationship with herPremium10 August 2017 by Richard Leonard

Theologian on the ropes: The integrity of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger comes under scrutinyPremium10 August 2017 by Brendan Walsh, Jacques Dupuis

Irish teenagers just don't 'do religion': Will Pope's Dublin visit bring renewal of faith to young catholicsPremium10 August 2017 by Sarah Mac Donald

Now is not the time to throw out devotion to Mary, but to reclaim a relationship with herPremium10 August 2017 by Richard Leonard

Share Us
Tablet Subscription

Manage my subcription here

Manage
Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign Up
Top