Guy Reid presents us with the face of the Christ at his most vulnerable and defenceless moment, when he confronts us in the starkness of his death. For me, this image speaks poignantly of Pilate's words "Behold the man!" when he presents Jesus before the baying crowds (John 19.5). Here is the starkness of our humanity, confronting us, humanity in deathly silence, yet also in the strange beauty of our first form - "And they were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2.25).
This sculpture hangs in the Church of St Peter ad Vincula ("in chains"). With his back turned toward the nave, it reminds me of that moment when Peter himself could not bring himself to stand with the suffering Christ and thus three times denied him. "And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out and wept bitterly" (Luke 22.61f). For Peter, it was only when confronted with his own failures, and his rediscovery that he could look upon his suffering Lord, that his renewal could come.
For Christians, this stark image of Christ is of the one who, in the prophet's words, is "despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" - one from whom, indeed, "we hid as it were our faces from him" (Isaiah 53.3). For all people, this is an image upon which we should look, fully, eyes wide upon, hiding neither our faces nor his, ashamed not of our nakedness nor of his.
The Revd Dr K G Riglin
Chaplain, King's College London
St Thomas' campus
Can a victim find resurrection?
Jesus stands condemned upon the Strand
Bereft of protection.
Enough is enough, we cry
Taking up His cross he stumbles, humbly
From Parliament Square
Watched by passerby
Truth, kindness contained in downcast eyes
In a Methodist chapel
He falls, quiet
Despair and hope intermingled
He shoulders his torment anew
Entering Westminster Cathedral
He looks toward his mother
Giving comfort, taking little
Onward still, taking leave of love
From Simon of Cyrene he finds relief
Compelled yet willed
From a newcomer, unschooled in cruelty
Struggling towards leafy relief in Cavendish Square
Veronica wipes away his trauma
Like Madonna tending to a scraped knee
Leaving behind an impression of grace
He falls again in Trafalgar Square
Tugged by rope to a distant cross
While fists and mouths clamour for nails
Grimy degradation, glimpses of transcendence
Women offer prayers, veils, solace
Tears transforming into petals
Softly falling into place
In Cocteau’s mystical vision
The brutal concrete of the Barbican surrounds him
An unforgiving island
His holy blood runs in rivulets, pooling in the cracks
Annointing the pavement
Salvation Army hand-me-downs
Cannot swab away humiliation
Or still his naked shivers
A refugee exiled upon the earth
St Paul’s Cathedral he stands crucified
In the bodies of his followers
His sacrifice steeling their determination
His pain inspiriting their bodies
A Chapel Royal fitting for a king
But not a place for simpering praise
Or vainglorious parades
But criminals' demise
Taken down from the cross in the round of St Stephen’s
He receives his shroud
His frail form looking ahead
To the suffering of his children
At last his final station, the tomb at Temple Church
A final descent twisting to ascent
To the depths of hell, then rising again
For His and our resurrection
In September 2015, a photograph made global headlines: Aylan Kurdi, a three year-old Syrian boy, drowned in an attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Kobanî to the Greek island of Kos with his family. His body was found washed up on the shore of Bodrum in Turkey. Artist Guler Ates was deeply affected by the photograph. Guler has always had sympathy for children of disadvantaged backgrounds, but she felt a particularly close connection to Aylan as her parents are also refugees from Turkey. She has often visited Bodrum, and she is mother to a newborn baby. Prompted by these memories and experiences, Guler chose to make an artwork for the Stations of the Cross project which raised awareness of the plight of refugee children.
Her intention was to stitch individual clothes of babies and toddlers onto a large piece of fabric. She personally sourced and gathered secondhand clothes from people of diverse backgrounds specially for this project. She and her volunteers then stitched the clothes onto a large piece of cloth (450 x 780 cm). She also invited people to write or draw on the clothes to reflect on the work and the tragic current events it recalls. The work is entitled Sea of Colour.
I partook in the making of the work from the second day onwards. It took ten days to complete. My main tasks included separating the donated clothes by gender and age, selecting lightweight and colourful children’s clothes, and stitching the chosen clothes onto the fabric. The fabric was laid on the floor of a large open space in the Salvation Army International Headquarters. Each volunteer was given a pair of Kurdish knitted slippers called Patik to wear when working on the cloth.
I asked Guler why she wanted secondhand clothes for her creation, and she replied that such used objects carry with them a history. I felt that the connection between the clothes and the babies who wore them was similar to my relation to the slippers I was wearing. The slippers were a bit too tight when I put them on, but I was told that after I put them on my feet, the slippers would stretch to fit me and remain in the shape of my feet. Guler was emphasising that each piece of clothing bears the physical imprint of the wearer.
A volunteer suggested that it would be much more efficient to secure the clothes to the quilt using a stapler. However, we soon felt it would be too violent to have staples piecing through the clothes. Perhaps it was because the history of the clothes affected us that we felt that we would be piercing not just the clothes, but also the wearers. Instead, we chose to use strips of hemming tape (a tape that will temporarily glue the clothes to the cloth) to secure the clothes to the brown back cloth first, and then stitch the corners of the clothes to the brown cloth to give it extra support. Although it was laborious work, the process of stitching lent a powerful, appropriately meditative sense of mending to the endeavor.
There was a turning point in our stitching. When we tried to lift the clothes up to check if the clothes were firmly stitched to the cloth, we saw some the sleeves and trousers of the clothes hanging in the air. All volunteers were shocked by the view. Although the colours were purposefully chosen to present a colourful, cheery image that is often associated with childhood, the sleeves and trousers hanging in the air conveyed a deadly ‘emptiness’ and ‘soul-lessness’. The work became so emotional that it was a haunting experience to create and contemplate. We therefore decided to rework the stitching and freed all sleeves, trousers and skirts.
An art performance using this piece of garment was realised on Tuesday 2 February 2016. Guler invited an artist to ‘wear’ this piece walking across the Millennium Bridge towards Tate Modern, and back across the Thames towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was reminded of the mysterious figures that walked with veils sweeping the floor in her previous photographic works. However, in this instance, the heavy garment made up of hundreds of baby clothes replaced the lightweight silky veils of Guler’s photographs. The heaviness of the garment can be seen as a visualisation of our responsibility to take care of refugees, or of the exhausting burden of failing to take this responsibility.
The colourful clothes are arranged in a way that conjures the dynamics and rhythm of the sea waves. During the performance on the Millennium Bridge, the unexpected strong wind flipped and tossed the garment about. Volunteers steadfastly clung to the edges of the garment, as it billowed in the wind. The waves of the clothes were strangely reminiscent of waves on the sea, the sea in which Aylan Kurdi lost his life.
Known as “Uncle Jean” in my family, Jean Cocteau was not only a talented artist but also a good person with great affection. My great-great grandfather the Admiral George Durand Viel, used to take care of the artist when he was seeking inspiration through opium. At this time in the 1920s, he was a member of the Parisian surrealistic group, which had an influence on much of his artistic output. When he recovered from the drugs, his artistic production increased a lot. My grandmother still owned a drawing from him, filled with gratitude for this part of his family, which helped him during difficult times while some of his closest family did not wish to be affiliated to this young homosexual and drugged artist. He was consummately multidisciplinary, working in films, art and literature. One could say at his core he was a poet, bringing a fundamentally poetic vision to every endeavour. He hinted at these crossovers when he said, “when I draw, I’m writing, and perhaps I’m drawing when I write.”
Connu sous l’appellation affectueuse de « Oncle Jean » dans ma famille, Jean Cocteau était un artiste très talentueux mais également un homme très généreux. Mon arrière-arrière-grand-père l’Amiral George Durand Viel s’occupa de ce cousin finissant souvent dans des endroits mal fréquentés, en quête d’inspiration sous l’influence de l’opium. Dans ces années d’entre deux guerres, Jean Cocteau était membre du mouvement surréaliste parisien, ce qui eu une grande influence sur sa production artistique. Lorsque qu’il se remit de ses jeunes années sous l’emprise de drogues, Cocteau augmenta considérablement son travail. Ma grand mère détient toujours auprès d’elle un dessin qu’il lui avait fait lorsqu’elle vint le visiter chez lui. Ce dessin est empreint de tendresse, notamment parce que cette partie de la famille l’avait soutenue alors que d’autres avaient méprisé ce jeune artiste homosexuel et drogué. Jean Cocteau fut talentueux aussi bien à travers l’écriture de romans que dans la production de pièces de théâtre, de films et d’œuvres plastiques. Cependant la poésie reste l’expression artistique dans laquelle il restera le meilleur sachant qu’elle imprégnait chacune de ces œuvres. Il laisse d’ailleurs bien entendre ce mélange des genres qu’il manipulait si bien à travers cette phrase : « Quand j’écris, je dessine et lorsque je dessine, j’écris. ».
Cocteau worked mainly in Paris and the South of France; some cities are still marked by his passage and by memories that he left. I remember visiting the museum dedicated to him in Menton that gathered photos of his drawings scattered in chapels such as in Villefranche, as well as in his friend’s vacation homes or in his own Mediterranean villa. He came to London in 1959 when the French cultural advisor, René Varin, asked him to come to the Notre Dame de France chapel. His mission was to beautify the new building as the church had been bombed during the Second World War. Even if Cocteau was not particularly religious, he was very committed to the spiritual aspect of his fresco. Every morning during one week of November 1959, he lit a candle in front of an image of the Virgin Mary. In fact, his fresco is mainly devoted to the Virgin figure and he declared that he wanted to make it his “best piece of work”. As he said to the congregation, “I shall never forget that wide open heart of Notre Dame de France, and the place you allowed me to take within it.”
Cocteau travailla principalement à Paris et sur la Côte d’Azur où certaines villes sont encore marquées par son passage et les souvenirs laissés. Je me souviens avoir visité le musée qui lui est dédié à Menton qui rassemble notamment des photos de dessins réalisés dans certaines chapelles du sud comme celle de Villefranche, ou encore chez ses amis ou dans sa propre maison méditerranéenne. En 1959, Jean Cocteau vint à Londres car René Varin, conseiller culturel à Londres, lui demanda d’embellir la chapelle Notre Dame de France qui avait été bombardée durant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Cocteau n’était pas croyant mais très admiratif des croyances religieuses, il entreprit la réalisation de sa fresque pour la chapelle en respectant la portée transcendante de son oeuvre. Qui plus est, tous les matins durant sa semaine de travail en novembre 1959, Jean Cocteau allumait une bougie destinée à la Vierge Marie. En effet, sa fresque est principalement tournée autour de la figure divine de la Vierge et qu’il voulait être “sa plus belle oeuvre”. Il exprima sa gratitude à la congrégation de Notre Dame de France en ces termes: “Je n’oublierai jamais la générosité de Notre Dame de France et la place qu’elle m’a autorisée.”
In the fresco there are three scenes from left to right: the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption.
The Annunciation, on the very left part of the triptych, demonstrates a famous scene from Luke’s Gospel. Gabriel appears in order to announce to Mary that she will give birth to the son of the “Most High”. The angel is quite severe in comparison to the elegant Mary and the beautiful white lilies between them. Through emphasizing the stamens of the lilies, which are the male reproductive organs, upon the white pure petals of the lilies, a traditional sign of purity, Cocteau remembers the paradox of Mary as she gave birth while remaining a virgin.
At the centre is the Crucifixion, the most impressive part of the fresco. The sun above Jesus is dark as Luke explains in the gospel that there was an eclipse when Jesus was crucified. This leaves the spectator to imagine the drama of the scene. Jesus is usually fully represented on the cross but Cocteau chose to draw only his legs, which are bleeding. Mary’s red tears join the blood drops in a voluptuous red rose, next to the holy women crying with her. Around them are the Roman soldiers and one of them will pierce Jesus with his lance. St John and Joseph of Arimathaea, who will bury Jesus, are visible and Cocteau represented his own expressive figure through that of Joseph of Arimathaea. He seems enigmatic and displeased. And opposed to him on the same scene is his signature with his famous little star, but also three D’s for Delineavit (drawn), Dedicavit (consecrated) and Donavit (given). The whole scene is very dramatic, accentuated by Cocteau’s artistic choices and metaphors. Yet, the scene is also full of compassion and love for Jesus. Even though not a believer, Cocteau identified with the anxiety for human suffering.
The final scene on the right wall recalls the Assumption of Mary. She does not experience death as she has been conceived without any sins. Therefore, her body and soul are raised up to the glory of God and heaven. This event became a Catholic dogma in 1950 under Pope Pius XII and is celebrated every 15th of August. Mary’s veil is floating in the air around her, Cocteau’s traits are bold and delicate which contributes to the pureness of the atmosphere. A choir of angels with trumpets accompanies the Virgin to God’s world.
Trois scènes connues issues de la Bible sont représentées dans la fresque de gauche à droite; l’Annonciation, la Crucifixion et l’Assomption.
L’Annonciation de la partie gauche du triptyque représente une histoire connue de l’Evangile selon Luc. L’ange Gabriel annonce à Marie qu’elle attend un enfant de Dieu. Il est représenté de manière très sévère et impressionnante par Cocteau, en contraste avec les doux traits de Marie et les lys blancs entre eux. Cocteau dessine ces lys blancs qui représentent la pureté avec des épistèmes grands et noirs qui sont les organes reproducteurs males des lys. Il souligne ainsi le paradoxe de Marie qui restera vierge même après avoir donné naissance au fils de Dieu.
Au centre de la fresque, la partie la plus spacieuse est réservée à la scène de la Crucifixion. Au dessus de tous se trouve un soleil noir qui serait en état d’éclipse selon l’évangile de Luc car Jésus est en train d’être crucifié. Ceci laisse le spectateur interpréter par lui même l’aspect dramatique de cette scène. Jésus qui est généralement représenté de manière intégrale sur la croix est ici seulement présent par la fin de ses jambes et ses pieds en sang. Les gouttes du sang de Jésus se mêlent aux larmes de Marie avant de tomber en union dans une voluptueuse rose rouge. Les soldats Romains sont autour de la croix de Jésus et l’un d’eux percera Jésus avec une lance. Saint Jean and Joseph d’Arimatie, qui enterreront Jésus, sont également présents. Jean Cocteau s’est lui même personnifié dans les traits de Joseph de manière très contrariée et énigmatique, la face tournée à l’opposée de Jésus. La signature de l’artiste fait partie de la scène de la Crucifixion avec son nom accompagné de sa fameuse petite étoile ainsi que trois D signifiant respectivement Delineavit (dessiné), Dedicavit (consacré) et Donavit (donné). La scène entière est accentuée dans le registre du dramatique par les choix artistiques de Cocteau et les métaphores. Mais elle est également pleine d’amour pour Jésus car même Cocteau qui n’est pas croyant s’est dessiné empreint d’une certaine anxiété face à la souffrance d’autrui.
La dernière scène sur la droite rappelle l’Assomption de la Vierge Marie. Dans la Bible est expliqué qu’elle ne fera pas l’expérience de la mort car son corps et son âme ont été conçu sans péchés. Elle sera donc élevée au paradis auprès de Dieu. Cet évènement devint un dogme catholique en 1950 par décret du Pape Pius XII et est célébré chaque année le 15 août. Le voile de Marie est très vaporeux, flotte dans les airs, les traits sont très courbés et doux. Une chorale d’ange avec trompettes l’accompagne dans son accession au paradis.
Jean Cocteau always admired religious beliefs, even when he found them challenging to maintain himself. He was buried in the chapel of St Blaise of the Simple Ones near Fontainebleau in 1963, not long after his visit to London. The fresco he made for Notre Dame de France recalls the last days of Jesus, celebrated through Cocteau’s artistic lens. ‘It is excruciating to be an unbeliever with a spirit that is deeply religious,’ Cocteau once said. He might have been a non-believer, or at least an unorthodox one, but his artistic work related to Christian history and tradition with deep generosity of spirit.
Jean Cocteau a toujours admiré l’esprit des chapelles et les croyances religieuses bien que lui même n’arrive à s’y résoudre. Il fut enterré dans la chapelle de Saint Blaise Des Simples à Milly La Forêt près de Fontainebleau en 1963, quelques années après sa visite à Londres. « Il est atroce d’être non croyant mais d’avoir un esprit qui est profondément religieux. », dit il un jour. Malgré le fait que Cocteau ne soit pas croyant, du moins peu orthodoxe, sa fresque reste très respectueuse de l’histoire chrétienne et a été effectué avec un profond esprit de générosité.
I first had the idea for the Stations of the Cross exhibition when I was preparing my book Art and Religion in the 21st Century. During my research into contemporary images of Jesus, I came across fascinating works from artists from a wide range of backgrounds. In addition to works by practicing Christians, I found numerous pieces by atheists, such as Wim Delvoye, who reenacted the Stations of the Cross using X-rays of dead rodents! There were also a number of Jewish artists, including Leni Diner Dothan, who created a series of sensitive self-portraits of herself with her young son as Christ. And perhaps even more surprising were artists like Zhang Huan and Lachlan Warner, who found ways to blend the symbolism of Christianity with Buddhist concepts and iconography.
My interest in the theme of the Stations of the Cross crystallized over Lent last year. My wife, Dr. Carolyn Rosen, now an ordinand at Westcott House, Cambridge, was then in the discernment process to become an Anglican priest, and religion was unsurprisingly a big topic at the dinner table. In fact, even our adorable Newfoundland got drafted into our dinner debates. I, of course, insisted Ramsey was a Jew like me and would be celebrating Passover with a little matzoh crumbled into his dog food. Carolyn had the strong suspicion Ramsey (named after her favorite Archbishop, Michael Ramsey) was actually a Christian. Out of this joking around, we got to discussing the opportunities and problems that arise when Christians celebrate Passover, and what sensitivities this brings up. We co-wrote an article for The Church Times about this issue, and started thinking about how it might be possible, especially using creative tools, to bring interfaith dimensions into the contemplative season of Lent. As an academic who focuses on religion and the arts, I naturally began to think of the Stations as a chance to visualize and stimulate interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
My first ideas about how to do a Stations of the Cross exhibition varied at first. Inspired by the layout of the original Stations in Jerusalem—which I’ve visited several times—I gradually settled on the idea of placing fourteen stations around London. The idea immediately clicked with associations of London as a sort of new Jerusalem, something which had become a sub-theme in a book I was editing with Prof. Ben Quash and Dr. Chloe Reddaway. After all, medieval Londoners created Temple Church in memory of the Holy Sepulchre, in which Jesus was buried, literally mapping the Holy Land onto English soil. And much later, the poet William Blake famously hoped to see “Jerusalem builded here.”
All of these ideas—a stations trail, London as new Jerusalem, and the importance of inter-faith dialogue—were percolating, but still in rough form, when I received a serendipitous email from the artist Terry Duffy. Terry shared with me an exciting project he already had underway, in which he was touring his towering painting, ‘Victim, no resurrection?’ (1981) across the world. It was exciting to hear about the different reactions the work had received in places ranging from Cape Town to Dresden, and how the imagery of the Crucifixion had served as a successful tool for focusing discussions about social justice in the communities which exhibited the work. As the refugee crisis deepened and spread from the Middle East to Europe, Terry and I began to see the potential to use art—including his existing Crucifixion—as a way to contribute to discussions about what it means to experience the shattering trauma of displacement.
It was clear that Terry and I had shared interests—he as an artist and me as a scholar—and that together we could draw on our areas of expertise to conjure a compelling exhibition. I believed it might take another a year or more to organize but Terry, in his indomitable way, insisted it was possible to put this exhibition together within six months. It meant a crazy amount of work, but he was right! There has been something feverish but exciting about staging an exhibition in what, by art world standards, constitutes light speed.
Of course none of this would have come together without fantastic artists who shared this creative drive. I was immediately encouraged speaking to Michael Takeo Magruder and G. Roland Biermann early on, as the project coalesced. I had worked with Michael and Roland before on an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London, and I knew they both had very sophisticated and nuanced approaches to religion. They made it clear right away that the Stations represented an almost inexhaustible trove of inspiration for the right group of contemporary artists, and in the ensuing months we approached many others. Amazingly, everyone we approached said yes! This could be testimony to Terry and my amazing powers of research and investigation, but I think it’s more likely a sign of these artists’ talent, energy, and generosity of spirit.
As we had discussions with artists, we also began investigating sites. This was much more complicated, presenting a puzzle that was at times fun and at others frankly a bit mind-boggling. The problem was how to make a trail through London that was entirely within walking distance, followed a logical and compelling route, and touched important works and sites coinciding with the correct station. We began to draw up a list of possible sites that once numbered in the dozens, and started to try out each one, often by walking around London together.
The more sites we examined the more we realized how important it was not just to incorporate new works of art responding to the Stations, but to find ways of activating new meanings in existing works. To tell the Stations of the Cross as a London story didn’t just involve placing that story onto the city’s landscape, but finding ways in which that story was already being told in existing locations. We began to catch glimpses of the suffering Christ all around London—from paintings in the National Gallery to Cathedral altarpieces and public statues. We felt our job was to connect these images with works by the artists we were meeting.
One of my great hopes for this exhibition is that visitors experience the same sense of delightful discovery that we had as we looked for the perfect place to situate each of the stations. London is a wonderfully illogical place, with far more nooks and crannies than most modern capitals. It hasn’t been shaped by the domineering presence of a Baron Haussmann, for instance, who plowed out grand avenues across the face of 19th century Paris. It’s a city perfectly suited to eccentric wanderings. And I hope this exhibition proves a new way to discover and experience London. Along the way, I hope that visitors also allow their minds to wander, making connections that we as curators may never have imagined.
Stories behind the Stations