And lo it came to pass that yet a British court has been asked to consider the merits of a vexatious private prosecution brought by a Christian fundamentalist stooge of Nadine Dorries’ new BFF, Andrea Minichiello Williams…
Representatives for a gallery in Gateshead appeared in court yesterday charged with outraging public decency, after featuring a statue of Jesus with an erection.
The artwork was part of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art’s September 2007-January 2008 exhibition Gone, Yet Still, by the controversial Chinese artist Terence Koh, which featured dozens of plaster figures including Mickey Mouse and ET – all in some state of arousal.
And, as usual, the court will be asked to consider the same old tendentious bullshit arguments…
Lawyers for Emily Mapfuwa, a 40-year-old Christian who was offended by the artwork, launched a private prosecution against the gallery for outraging public decency and causing harassment, alarm and distress to the public. Mapfuwa, of Brentwood, Essex, argues the Baltic would not have dared depict the prophet Muhammad in such a way.
Aside from the usual ‘they wouldn’t do that to Muhammed’ bollocks, the more observant amongst you will have noted already that despite the fact that the exhibition featured dozens of plaster figures with that little something extra added to them, its only the figure of Jesus with a stiffy that our fundamentalist stooge seems to think has outraged public decency and caused harassment, alarm and distress, and that creates quite an interesting possibility.
You see, if I’m right in my understanding of the charges in this case, then the outcome will depend almost entirely on the common law ‘reasonable person‘ test – would a reasonable person’s sense of decency by outraged by the figure and/or would it cause them to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed. So, if our fundamentalist stooge ends up losing the case then, by extension, her views and opinions (and those of fundies, generally) are not those of a reasonable person at law.
All of which sounds about right to me!
But that’s not quite the end of the story – as I mentioned right at the outset, our would-be defender of public morals, Emily Mapfuwa, is nothing more than a stooge for a character we’ve encountered on a number of previous occasions; Andrea Minichiello Williams, who you can see in action here (with Nadine Dorries) in an extract from the Dispatches documentary ‘In God’s Name’ –
Williams is a key figure in string of interconnected ‘Evangelical’ Christian groups, of which the Christian Legal Centre is one, which receive support from the US Alliance Defense Fund, and its here that things get really interesting because the ADF is an arm of Christian Dominionist movement in the US, which sees its mission as being that of ‘Reclaiming America for Christ’.
Even by US standards, the Dominionist movement stands out as a bunch of extremist nutballs…
Meet the Dominionists — biblical literalists who believe God has called them to take over the U.S. government. As the far-right wing of the evangelical movement, Dominionists are pressing an agenda that makes Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America look like the Communist Manifesto. They want to rewrite schoolbooks to reflect a Christian version of American history, pack the nation’s courts with judges who follow Old Testament law, post the Ten Commandments in every courthouse and make it a felony for gay men to have sex and women to have abortions. In Florida, when the courts ordered Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube removed, it was the Dominionists who organized round-the-clock protests and issued a fiery call for Gov. Jeb Bush to defy the law and take Schiavo into state custody. Their ultimate goal is to plant the seeds of a “faith-based” government that will endure far longer than Bush’s presidency — all the way until Jesus comes back.
Yep, this is clerical fascism US-style and if they get their way America will become an Iranian-style theocratic pseudo-democracy, Jesus’s own Thousand-Year Reich.
Convinced yet? No?
Well, let’s look at how just of the leaders of the Dominionist movement, D J Kennedy, sees his ‘mission’…
“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost,” Kennedy says. “As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”
But there’s more you should be paying very careful attention to here -see if any of this sounds familiar?
To implement their sweeping agenda, the Dominionists are working to remake the federal courts in God’s image. In their view, the Founding Fathers never intended to erect a barrier between politics and religion. “The First Amendment does not say there should be a separation of church and state,” declares Alan Sears, president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a team of 750 attorneys trained by the Dominionists to fight abortion and gay marriage. Sears argues that the constitutional guarantee against state-sponsored religion is actually designed to “shield” the church from federal interference — allowing Christians to take their rightful place at the head of the government. “We have a right, indeed an obligation, to govern,” says David Limbaugh, brother of Rush and author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. Nothing gets the Dominionists to their feet faster than ringing condemnations of judicial tyranny. “Activist judges have systematically deconstructed the Constitution,” roars Rick Scarborough, author of Mixing Church and State. “A God-free society is their goal!”
Activist judges, of course, are precisely what the Dominionists want. Their model is Roy Moore, the former Alabama chief justice who installed a 5,300-pound granite memorial to the Ten Commandments, complete with an open Bible carved in its top, in the state judicial building. At Reclaiming America, Roy’s Rock sits out front, fresh off a tour of twenty-one states, perched on the flag-festooned flatbed of a diesel truck, a potent symbol of the “faith-based” justice the Dominionists are bent on imposing. Activists at the conference pose for photographs beside the rock and have circulated a petition urging President Bush to appoint Moore — who once penned an opinion calling for the state to execute “practicing homosexuals” — to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Williams doesn’t just get a bit of support from the Alliance Defense Fund, she’s actively working to pursue its core strategy, using vexatious civil litigation and private prosecutions in an effort to limit free expression or defend religious bigoty while, at the same time, quietly insinuating herself into the Conservative Party which, like the US Republican Party, dominionist see as providing their most accessible route into positions of influence.
Par of Williams’ MO, as I’ve already hinted at, is that of tracking down willing stooges to front her efforts to use the courts to pursue her agenda, and I think its fair to say that if ever there was an obvious example of a stooge its Emily Mapfuwa, in whose name the private prosecution against The Baltic Centre has been mounted.
One of the questions about this case that’s already been raised is that of whether Mapfuwa has actually ever visited the gallery, in Gateshead, let alone went to see this particular exhibition, with several news sources suggesting that she complained after reading about the statue in a newspaper and this tends to be just what it takes to get my ‘something’s not quite right’ bump itching – and you should all know what that means by now.
On the face of it, Mapfuwa is an almost perfect stooge for a case like this – if you run the name past Google then all you get are references to this case and nothing much else to go on, but…
…there is a clue that’s worth following and that clue lies in the location given for Mapfuwa’s place of residence – Brentwood in Essex.
Or to be a little more precise, Mapfuwa lives in Pilgrims Hatch, a village in the borough of Brentwood and, as I think we can safely assume that she’s the church-going type, this would make her closest options either a local Baptist ministry, which has no buildings of its own and meets at the local primary school, or the Peniel Pentecostal Church, which was founded by the now disgraced Michael Reed and has spawned rather more than its fair share of controversy in recent years.
While researching the background to this story, another intriguing and seemingly unnoticed angle has emerged… and right at the centre of it is the super, soaraway bullshitting Sun newspaper.
This is a photograph of Terence Koh’s statue of Jesus with a stiffy…
Now, without wishing to come the art critic, this looks to me very much like a crappy plaster souvenier Jesus statue with a toggle off a kids duffle coat stuck on the front – as penile representations go, in the art world, its far from being the most realistic I’ve ever seen and, girthwise, its rather out of proportion with the rest of the statue.
And here’s the picture that appeared in the Sun on the 11th January 2008, and which still appears on the Sun’s website, today, in an article headlined ‘Aroused ‘Jesus’ Statue Outrage‘.
Its just not the same photo is it folks – in fact its not even the same statue and you couldn’t even say for sure that the figure in the centre of the picture is actually Jesus, which is what the Sun claims in its caption under the photograph.
Again, I’m no art critic but this looks to me like a collection of priapic statues of the kind that were very popular with the Romans, a hell of lot of which were found during the excavation of Pompei and which Italian authorities promptly hid away in a private museum. In fact, this photograph could easily be of a set of statues from the Pompei excavation or, given their arrangement, a reproduction priapic chess set.
Thanks to MediaWatchWatch, we’ve now established the provenance of the image that appeared in the Sun and it is a piece by Terence Koh, called ‘Medusa’ and it does depict Jesus (and Mary, for that matter)…
…but it was NOT part of the exhibition that ran at The Baltic Centre.
Medusa was to have been part of an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in 2006, but was withdrawn due to limitations of space, according to an announcement made at the time by Charles Saatchi.
It does, however, appear on the gallery’s website and, in fact, but for a bit of tweaking of the brightness and contrast of the image, using Photoshop, which The Sun would have done to make it suitable for publication in the print edition of the newspaper, it would appear that the original source image is this one and that its been taken from the Saatchi Gallery’s website – the lighting appears slightly different but the composition of the image and the angle from which the piece is shown is identical.
UPDATE – 4/9
Steff, in comments, has made a very useful observation…
The 682 in the ‘christ682_417499a.jpg’ filename refers to the width of the image in pixels, the 417 matches the location of the image in The Sun’s multimedia archive (img.thesun.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00417). If you take a look at an image from any other article, of photos that clearly cannot be stock photography, you see that they all follow the same naming convention, the two variables being the name preceding the image width and the final three digits and letter.
All of which sounds very, very plausible as this would mean that the serial number relates to The Sun own image archiving/indexing system – so it’s, strictly speaking, a stock image but part of a private library – while reinforcing, at the same time, the idea that the image on the Saatchi Gallery’s website is the original source image.
Whether The Sun actually paid either the gallery or the photographer who took the photograph is, as yet, unknown.
So the problem still stands… this definitely isn’t the statue that was shown at the Baltic Centre and if it was The Sun’s coverage – in which, I might add, the ‘outrage’ was obtained by ringing up Stephen Green – then were in pretty much the same kind of territory as the Motoons saga in which it was found that the Imam doing all the shit-stirring had added a badly photocopied newspaper image of a bearded French entrant wearing a false pig-nose during a pig-calling contest to the original cartoons in order secure the reaction he was looking for.
Pretty much the first thing that the Baltic Centre’s lawyers need to be doing when this case gets to court is sorting out whether or not Mapfuwa is trying to prosecute them over the actual statute they had on display or The Sun’s fake photo, which, from what I can see, was widely reproduced by other newspapers around the world, as you can see here in The Vancouver Sun.
Its also worth noting that the filename of the image on The Sun’s website is ‘christ682_417499a.jpg’, and if you remove the ‘christ’ part you’re left with ‘682_417499a.jpg’ which looks suspiciously like the kind of serial number-based filename that is widely used by stock image libraries on and on CD/DVD based collections of stock photography. Google turns up nothing on either a web or image search but if anyone does recognise the serial number as pointing to a particular library then please do use the comments to point me in the right direction.
If I’m right in thinking that it may well have been The Sun’s coverage that prompted Mapfuwa’s original complaint then we have another first for British tabloid journalism, the first occasion on which a newspapers use of stock photography in place of a real image has resulted in a spurious private prosecution against an art gallery. At the very least, The Baltic Centre seems to have good cause for a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission if not grounds for litigation to recover its legal costs from News International should, as one would expect, this entire case prove to be baseless and without foundation.