On a still Easter Sunday evening I sat in silence, looking out at a full moon sky and hearing pissed neighbours boofing and doof-doofing their way through to the morning. Clearly, the spirit of Easter is lost on some. To be assailed by boorish 9-to-5 drones cutting loose on a no-work-tomorrow Sunday night seems so Australian.
Easter is, of course, meant to be a time of joy. The Biblical rebirth of Jesus. I’m not a God botherer myself, but I can appreciate the man and his work and can tap into the profound symbolism of the Easter days. The powerful dichotomies of existence; the cycle of life and death, the depths of human suffering and ultimate victory, injustice and justice, sin and redemption, sacrifice and cowardliness. Where piss-ups and images of overweight people buying chocolate eggs in gold tinfoil in Coles – like the very baubles shunned by Jesus – come into all that, is a mystery.
The Church, in all its poncy outfits and stuffy hierarchy, attempted to regain the garments of its former glory, that these days lie tattered and soiled on society’s proverbial footpath. But, the words of the Church’s fancy-dressed pulpit pontificators are rather lost amid the stark reality of that very institutions hypocrisy.
Easy with power, vain in its vestments, the Church’s pompous finger wagging in the preened faces of the country’s banking and mining spivs ends right there. Less a crisis of faith, about which the Church constantly warns us, Western society is mired in a crisis of institutional credibility, a crisis which the church has been at the forefront in creating.
The positive socio-political influence of a state religion, when it takes on a nefarious and untenable establishment, has been proven in, say communist Poland and, more recently, in Burma. But Church dissent has rarely surfaced here to any great impact (one worthy exception that comes to mind is the Irish Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix).
For all its equalising potential, the Church will settle easily back into its own establishment dependency.
And that’s not to go hard only on the church. The high-theatre of the recent Q&A with Cardinal George Pell and serial atheist Richard Dawkins confirms the belief that both religion and science are forms of dogma in that they purport to either know all the answers or believe they can at some point. I still don’t quite understand why we can’t accept that in relation to the God Question, we don’t know, we may never know, and thus we are compelled to revel in the mystery: to be creative with Creation.
Perhaps, rather than the traditional Church sermon headlines, we need more nuanced and meaningful statements at Easter, the kind that move us to consider the wonderful Easter narrative and its meaning.
Two very creative approaches in two highly oppressive regimes have caught my eye this Easter and symbolise the wrenching of life from death far more than some old men in dresses and funny hats making faces at the powers that be or, indeed, of sparkling Easter eggs and hot cross buns.
Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist who was “disappeared” in his homeland last year during a Chinese government crackdown and was not heard from for some time. His art is a kind of kinetic, explosive comment on materialism, possession and China’s capitalist boom. He carries an imposing character, with a face that looks like it could wilt flowers. Since he re-emerged , he has been under a form of house arrest and his every movement has been tracked. His response has been to set up a network of closed-circuit cameras inside his house which were broadcast online. In his own words, it’s a negotiation between private space, the public nature of security, and the power of the state” Snatching life, live to air, from figurative death.
While breaking no laws and actually aiding the government’s surveillance, Ai Wei Wei has been ordered by the state to shut down the project. Ai Weiwei: 1-CCP: 0
Dissident Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has similarly been subjected to house arrest as he awaits trial for sedition in Iran. Recently, he made a documentary called “This is Not a Film” which tracks his attempts to maintain an examined and creative life trapped inside the four walls of his home, interspersed with phone discussions with his lawyer in relation to his case, and the looming possibility of prison time.
These expressions, I think, give the lie to the common complaint from some that artists are less political than they used to be. That may be so in the west, where artists grown fat on grants and subsidies may have fallen into lethargy, but not everywhere. While I don’t feel there’s necessarily any obligation for artists to be political, I do feel that many do engage with the issues of the day, not in obvious, prosaic or structured ways but in more subtle, elliptical and perhaps mysterious ways.
Others have waded into the art and political statement continuum and not all have hit the mark. Gunther Grass ham-fisted attempt to comment on the nuclear insanities of Iran and Israel via a clunky, awkwardly shaped poem is a big miss. Timed (purposefully?) to land just before the Jewish Passover, Grass comes across as ill-informed and very much past his artistic prime.
Ai Weiwei, Jafar Panahi and Gunther Grass have all made an attempt to say something useful. Levels of success may vary, but art is nothing if not hit-and-miss. While neither the Chinese nor the Iranian artist aimed his efforts to coincide with Easter (both in fact were carried out some time ago), their message positions itself within the context of Easter and its universal message. For me, coming across them by chance over the Easter break (via this article in The Guardian) I was moved to hanker for more such comments, statements, actions and outputs at this time of year.
When I get to take some time, have a break, ponder, I don’t need empty preachings from hollow old men on a pulpit. I want insights, not insults. Perhaps Easter presents a great time for a major creative arts festival, whereby the many deaths we all experience regularly – both real and figurative – are gathered, held up, danced to, painted, written about, sculpted into the words and shapes of redemption and the life to be lived. That might be the kind of Easter Jesus himself might turn up for.