In terms of cultivating a fanbase of rabidly devoted followers, it’s hard to say whether Christianity or Star Wars™ has the edge these days. But Christianity won a point for censorship this week, when outraged churchgoers compelled the removal of a £12,000 (~$16,700) sculpture by British artist Ryan Callanan from a charity auction inside the historic St. Stephen Walbrook church in central London, because it depicted a life-sized Stormtrooper being crucified.
As reported by the London Economic, parishioners complained to the rector, Reverend Jonathan Evans, about the subject matter of the sculpture, which intended to be the centerpiece of a “Stations of the Cross” charity art auction organized by curator Ben Moore for Art Below, which also includes work by other controversial artists, such as Francis Bacon. This is the third annual crucifixion-themed charity auction organized by Moore for the Missing Tom Fund, set up to find his brother, Tom Moore, who has been missing since 2003. Moore clarified that the statue would go on sale following the exhibition’s close on March 23. The historic church, built according to designs by Christopher Wren after the Great London Fire of 1666, is home to a polished stone altar by Henry Moore.
Rev. Evans expressed disappointment in the removal of the statue, appearing to take a philosophical view on the work. He is quoted in London Economic as saying: “For me, ‘Stormtrooper Crucifixion’ raises similar questions to those which C.S. Lewis raised in his science fiction trilogy — that, were other races to exist on other planets, would Christ be incarnated among those races in order to die for their salvation?” The artist seemed not to reflect as directly on Christ as an inspiration for the work, when interviewed via email by Hyperallergic.
“This is a crucified Stormtrooper and has nothing to do with religion,” said Callanan. “It [was] not a method of capital punishment reserved for the Son of God.” Callanan’s work often remixes cultural and pop-cultural symbols — particularly from the Star Wars franchise — to create new tableaus and associations. The artist appears to be taking the effort to censor his art in stride, but raises the valid point that perhaps Christianity has image problems that require more immediate attention.
“The piece being taken down is a sign of the times. The offended few out-voice the supportive / pleased many,” he said. “I think churchgoers should be more vocal about the abuse that many children worldwide have had to go through, rather than a piece of science fiction cult art.”
Callanan is certainly not alone in his use of crucifixion imagery in art, or his concerns about greater abuses at the hands of organized religion. This sentiment is reminiscent of the work of Cuban artist Erik Ravelo, who faced issues of censorship by Facebook over his inflammatory photo series, Los Intocables, which portrayed children crucified against the backs of their oppressors — including a young boy in his underwear hanging from the back of a Catholic priest. But Callanan appears to maintain a more lighthearted view of the situation, in line with the happy-face motifs and grinning poo emojis that punctuate much of his work.
The artist added: “Maybe it will resurrect in a few days?”