All religions are the same

EPA/FILIP SINGER

Danish artist Jens Galschiot poses with his art work called ‘The Refugee ship’ at the ‘Documenta 14’ exhibition in Kassel, Germany, 09 June 2017.

Interview with the Danish visual artist Jens Galschiøt


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In spite of a ban and other obstacles artist Jens Galschiøt has finally managed to get his controversial exhibition through in the European Parliament. The 8 sculptures he placed there on 10 July show the darkest and brightest quotes from the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah. 

Galschiøt is no stranger to controversy. Now, hundreds of the darkest and brightest quotes from the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah can be seen on 8 of Galschiot’s sculptures ‘The Pillars of Scriptures’, which is exhibited centrally inside the EU Parliament’s. The sculptures’ displays present the religious quotes in 9 different languages. The sculptures are 2 meters tall and weigh circa 2 tons.

The EU exhibit is a part of the art and dialogue project The Children of Abraham, which uses visual art to build a bridge between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The project’s main sculpture, Fundamentalism, which is 3½ meters tall, 9 meters wide, and weighs 28 tons, has been exhibited publicly throughout Denmark and even outside Copenhagen’s City Hall without any kind of trouble. The exhibitions have started dialogues where people spoke to each other without prejudice about religion’s influence, cultural identity, and our personal similarities and differences. Libraries have held debates and over 100 schools and high school classrooms in Denmark have used it in their lessons.

New Europe correspondent Dan Alexe asked Jens Galschiøt why he is trying to be so provocative with every event, happening and art work.

Jens Galschiøt: Art in a public space has to provoke. In a good way, or even in a bad way.

Can’t we have art without provocation?

We can, of course, you have beautiful kitsch art, with flowers, girls, smiling children. But that is not for me.

What do you think about Jeff Koons?

I like some of his stuff. He had that sliced cow… Yes, what he does is interesting, because he is doing all this kitsch thing on a big scale.

Do you call that art?

When you make it on such a big scale, it is art. If it is small, then it’s kitsch.  But you take a little thing and blow it up ten times more, one hundred times more, then it is art. Art is what artists are making.

You the mean that it is the intention that counts.

It is the intensity. It is when you are showing reality under a new angle. When you show reality to people in a different way.

Why did you pick up on religion now? You provoked even your own compatriots with the statue of Hans Christian Andersen with female breasts. Then in Hong Kong, the monument about the Chinese upraise on the Tien An Men square, the Pillar of Shame.  Why religion now?

Because religion scares me. Every time artists are trying to do something about religion, especially about Islam and Christianity and Judaism, people go completely mad. You publish some cartoons and then you see embassies burning. Many right wing people tell me: Oh you don’t touch Islam because you are afraid. I tell them: No, I am not afraid of Muslims. I am afraid of you, right wing people. I am afraid that the Right would use my art against Muslims.

So you are trying to keep a balance between politics and religion.

Yes, I put all religions on the same level, the Koran, the Bible and the Torah. I took out of each one of the them the most beautiful quotes, then I chose the most hateful ones. 100 of the best and 100 of the worst. And I placed them on these big constructions.

And something strange happened: the result was the very definition of fundamentalism. One pillar shows only the Jewish quotations from the Torah; another one from the New Testament etc. And people are enchanted: Oh, this is beautiful. Many are surprised that quotations from the Koran can be so lovely.  But when you go inside the circle of pillars, you can see the opposite. All the hateful quotations.

You read about pouring meting metal in the mouths of sinners. After that you see how the Bible tells us to burn women, or how homosexuals have to be stoned. Awful things in all three books. Every religion has two sides. A lovely one and a hateful one. All this discussion in Europe about religion is not about the nature of the books, it is about which side of the book you choose. This is all the meaning of my construction.

How do you position yourself vis-à-vis the initiative of Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the Muhammad and anti-Muslim cartoons that provoked so many violent protests across the world? They only picked up on Islam. How do you position yourself?

They actually asked me to be part of that. I told them I didn’t want to be part of it. For the Muslims, you simply can’t draw Muhammad. I told them we should also do the Christians and the Jews. If we do the three of them, then yes, but not only the Muslims. In the case of religion, we need knowledge. We need to discuss the intentions. So I didn’t want to be part of that.

What do you think of the prediction of Andre Malraux, the French writer and first culture minister after World War II who said that the XXI-st century will be religious or will not exist? Are you optimistic? Do you think religion is weighing heavily on us? What is your prediction?

30, 40 years ago I believed all religions will disappear. That we would be led by science, not by fundamentalism. I am surprised at what is happening. Sometimes I have the impression that my thinking is wrong.

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