A “Eucharist to honor the body, Eros and queer experience” will conclude an art exhibit on sexuality and spirituality Jan. 29 at a former convent in Melbourne, Australia.
Gay spirituality author Michael Bernard Kelly will lead the creative ritual as a liturgical performance weaving together the themes of “Scarlatta,” an art exhibit by gay artist Eureka (Michael O’Hanlon).
The events are part of Mebourne’s Midsumma festival for the LGBTQI community. The exhibit is on display at Abbotsford Convent, a former Roman Catholic convent that has been converted into Australia’s largest arts and cultural center.
“We will begin in the courtyard with a rite of cleansing that will symbolically dissolve energies of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and fear of the body and the erotic. We will then celebrate a contemplative, radically inclusive Christian Eucharist in the exhibition space, surrounded by the imagery of ‘Scarlatta,” and using text, music, poetry and sacrament to reclaim and re-imagine the sacred meal,” says the description at the Facebook page for the re-imagined form of Catholic Mass.
In his “Scarlatta” exhibit, O’Hanlon uses posed photographs and installations of unclothed male figures to explore tensions between the carnal and the unearthly, veiling and unveiling, exclusion and acceptance and male and female identities. “Scarlet, the color of the heart, interrogates notions of both shaming and religious authority,” he explains. The images were conceived during the artist’s recent residency at Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice.
For example, an image of Christ was projected on a semi-draped man at his exhibition opening on Jan. 19. The classic image of Christ crowned with thorns in his installation “Ecce Homo,” the Latin phrase for “Behold the man.” Governor Pilate spoke the phrase when he presented the scourged Jesus to a hostile crowd.
Images reveal “Christianity’s complex dance between desire and repression”
O’Hanlon has said that some of his work, including “Scarlatta,” was inspired by Kelly’s writings. In turn, Kelly is unusually eloquent in describing the queer Christian themes in the exhibit:
In his series of sensually rich and spiritually profound images he (O’Hanlon) explores tension and interweaving between the carnal and the unearthly, between reverence and shame, between the spiritual and the sexual, between exclusion and acceptance. He uses the unclothed male figure, biblical themes and religious imagery in this exploration, and in doing so he invites the viewer into reflections on Christianity’s complex dance between desire and repression, between the adoration of the body of Christ, and the condemnation of queer desire, of erotic delight and of the “pleasures of the flesh”. The images themselves express reverence and depth. Please be advised that some of them include full male nudity; however, all of the images are profoundly respectful, quietly challenging, thought-provoking and artistically rich.
Much of O’Hanlon’s artwork focuses on the unclothed male, often set in a religious context, and he has faced censorship because of it.
“Being the Apostle of the male nude is not an easy role,” he said. “I get a lot of pushback when I try to exhibit my work or to express myself as a gay artist. I have had printers refuse to print my work, models withdrawing permission to use images we have shot and queer art competitions and community galleries all admonish me to be more family friendly. By the way I have three children – they love my work. There is a real fear of the unclothed male body deeply embedded in our culture.”
O’Hanlon has completed artist’s residencies in Berlin in 2014 and Venice in 2016. He says that as an altar boy he managed to have a gothic childhood while growing up in suburban Melbourne during the 1960s.
Kelly is an author, activist and educator known internationally for his ministry in spirituality, sexuality and human integration. He was raised in a Roman Catholic family and dreamed of becoming a priest. He was a religious education specialist and campus minister in Catholic schools and universities in both Australia and the United States, but let go of his career in the Catholic church when he came out as gay in 1993. Kelly is the author of “The Erotic Contemplative” video/lecture series and “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience and Christian Faith.” He has a Ph.D. in Christian mysticism and contemporary gay experience from Monash University in Melbourne.
Midsumma 2017 exhibition Scarlatta official opening tonight
Top image credit: Opening night performance at “Scarlatta” exhibit by Eureka (Michael O’Hanlon)
This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.
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