The Picture (click for full size):
Image (c) Natalie Eldred and Sam Norton, 2013
The Thousand Words:
The roots of this image lie in the experience I had at the Sunday morning worship at Greenbelt in 2009 and in much that has been spoken about Israel at Greenbelt since then. It seemed to me that those in authority at Greenbelt were only focussing in upon one aspect of the tragic situation in the Middle East. That is, the viewpoint that was being put across was a binary one – Israel is an aggressive occupying state, whereas the Palestinian community is the martyred innocent. This seemed to me to be incredibly shallow, and it continued to vex me.
I wanted to explain how I saw the situation, and an image formed in my mind. Not being in any sense a capable artist, it remained there, unspoken for several years, until a chance conversation with my artist friend Natalie Eldred at the Dark Mountain Festival provoked the possibility that it might take shape, that there was a potential collaboration here. So, over the last few weeks, we have been chatting about this image, working out how to get what was in my head in some more communicable form – and now here it is (and I feel like a child who has woken up on Christmas morning).
Simply put, there is a cascade of terror – a pecking order – whereby each state and actor is reacting in fear to something bigger than them, and through their reactions, they in turn cause those smaller than them to cower in fear. The idea that it made any sort of sense to separate out one of the actors in the complexity as especially worthy of blame seemed not just impractical but impious. There is a paradox here. At one and the same time I wish to affirm both an innocence in all the actors involved, and a comprehensively shared guilt. In other words, what I most want to do is remove the possibility of a scapegoat. All are implicated.
The sequence could be extended, especially the left. The first shadow is that cast by the United States. Uncle Sam could be shown reacting in horror to “the Islamic World”, then they in turn could be shown reacting in horror to “scientific modernity and the Enlightenment” – and that in turn could be shown reacting in horror to “untamed nature” (thinking of the Baconian programme to ‘rape’ the natural world and master it). An alternative would be to show the scientists reacting against the Inquisition, and then a papacy reacting against – what? Their own shadow?
The other side occasioned some thought and conversation. I originally wanted to have a homosexual man on the right hand side but we agreed that it would be visually easier to convey the same point by showing a woman. In any case, the point that I wanted to make was that there are minorities in the Middle East – women, gays, Christians – whose only safe haven in the area lies in Israel. I do not wish to say that Israel is an entirely virtuous place – it isn’t – but it does have some very important virtues, that are worth affirming, and the overall picture is much more complicated than the Greenbelt analysis seems to allow.
Put simply, the Greenbelt analysis only seems to show this:
and I want to insist that we Christians must have a wider focus – a focus wide enough to include our own fears, and the shadows that they cause to fall.
Natalie has described the process of working up the cartoon over on her blog. It has been a real education and privilege for me to see this happen, to see the artistic process up close, and a source of great joy to see one of the things that had seemed trapped inside my head come to life on the page. Humbling too, to see some awesome talent at work.
(Yes, I know this isn’t a thousand words. It’s a figure of speech…)