Roman Catholic

Pope Benedict Portrait in Condoms Surprisingly Realistic


courtesy Vandalay Industries

Here's a portrait of Pope Benedict, who recently stepped down as the Roman Catholic Church's Vicar of Christ on Earth.

It's made entirely out of condoms and reportedly took artist Niki Johnson a total of three years and 270 hours (split evenly between taking condoms out of their wrappers and then weaving them into a metal mesh).

According to the U.K. Sun, Johnson means it as a critique of church policy toward contraception, especially in Africa, where the 25 year old Wisconsin artist thinks condom use would slow the spread of AIDS:

"I find people's anger toward it very interesting. Someone said that if I'd made a portrait of Muhammad, I'd have been stoned or something.

"I just thought, 'But the great thing about this country is that we have a freedom of expression and we can stand up for what we believe in."

She also told a newspaper: "I see it as an inclusive piece. Yes, it says something about the church's position on sexuality but it also embraces diversity with humour and irony."

More here.

Beyond the sheer insanity of it, one of the things I find interesting about the piece involves Catholic policy on contraception. Growing up Catholic as I did, the church's position on contraception was a given—indeed, it was one of the things that defined Catholics against Protestants or Jews (Muslims, Hindus, and most other religions weren't really in the mix back in the day). Yet that total ban on all forms of "artificial" contraception is hardly set in stone. After the birth-control pill appeared, Pope John XXIII put together a theological commission which delivered a report to the pope (by then Paul VI) in which a majority suggested that some forms of contraception be allowed. Paul VI waved that aside and issued a 1968 encyclical condemning the use of contraception.

As it turns out, Pope Benedict was a bit squishy on the use of condoms as a means of suppressing infection and there is a robust debate going on regarding new Pope Francis's take on the matter. As a non-Catholic these days, I'm not particularly interested by intra-church squabbles but I always find it genuinely fascinating when seemingly bedrock truths for a given organization are opened up for potentially massive change. Few organizations are more adept at making major changes and then incorporating them into a nearly seamless revisionist genealogy than the Catholic Church. Whether it's shifting doctrines regarding the liturgy, democracy, the status of Mary, or countless other issues, the church is excellent in making it seem as if it is an unchanging rock in a sea of transition. There's an interesting lesson in that, both for organizations that want to inspire loyalty and continuity across the ages and for people who want to deconstruct how tradition and authority are created.

Speaking of Pope Francis, check out why Americans should be grateful that Congress doesn't work as smoothly as the College of Cardinals:

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  1. Well, many do consider him a dick.

  2. I would think the ideological implications of this work of art depends on whether the condoms were used or not…

  3. It’s made entirely out of condoms and reportedly took artist Niki Johnson a total of three years and 270 hours…

    Time well spent.

    1. You don’t know the half of it. She had to test and re-pack each one.

    2. I’m guessing this portrait thing was a part-time gig. Very part-time. Like, “I’ll work on that next month for an hour, maybe,” part-time.

  4. All that hard work…and then Pope Benedict retires? I guess it’s back to Square One to do a condom-portrait of Francis. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

    And while we can’t expect artists to be up on every last technical detail of scientific research, I wonder how she missed the courageous 2009 Washington Post op-ed by Harvard School of Public Health researcher Edward C. Green:

    “When Pope Benedict XVI commented this month that condom distribution isn’t helping, and may be worsening, the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, he set off a firestorm of protest….

    “Yet, in truth, current empirical evidence supports him.

    “We liberals who work in the fields of global HIV/AIDS and family planning take terrible professional risks if we side with the pope on a divisive topic such as this….”…..02825.html

  5. “Someone said that if I’d made a portrait of Muhammad, I’d have been stoned or something.”

    No, that’s paranoid, you would simply have been threatened with beheading and advised to go into hiding.

    1. Unless she had any outstanding warrants or producing the portrait somehow violated her probabtion for a previous offense. Then she would have been arrested immediately. But not for blaspheming against the prophet Mohammad, for those other things… because cops totally have time to go out and bust someone for a petty probation violation.

      1. I mean, it’s not as if she did a *movie* criticizing Islam, in which case she would fully deserve to have a pro-tolerance manifesto pinned to her chest with a knife. Or as if she drew a cartoon with pen and ink portraying Mohammad, in which case she would have required constant police alertness to the various assassination plots against her.

        No, she would have encountered no problem whatsoever if she’d done a portrait of Mohammed made out of condoms, or if she’d made a Koran out of condoms and immersed it in urine, entitling the result “Piss Be Upon Him.”

        1. Making a portrait of the Pope out of condoms is “edgy”. Making a portrait of Mohammad out of condoms is “bigotted”. Two totally different things.

  6. She also told a newspaper: “I see it as an inclusive piece.

    Inclusive? “[People] keep using that word; I do not think it mean what [they] think it means.”

    How is thie “inclusive”? Is she refering to the variety of colored condoms she used? Any resident art experts here who can shed some light on this? Seriously, this is going to bug the hell out of for the next 2 seconds.

    1. It’s inclusive because everyone ought to agree with her. If they don’t, they’re being exclusive and intolerant.

      1. It’s includive because it’s so low-brow and mass-market that absolutely everyone will “get it”.

        It’s like the Thomas Kinkaide of shock-art.

        1. You’re on a roll! Keep going!

  7. and reportedly took artist Niki Johnson a total of three years and 270 hours

    But don’t dare calling her a slut.

  8. As it turns out, Pope Benedict was a bit squishy on the use of condoms as a means of suppressing infection and there is a robust debate going on regarding new Pope Francis’s take on the matter.

    Why would anyone need to worry about disease if they only have sex with one partner ever?

    1. Blood transfusions, public toilet seats, etc.

      1. After 150+ blood donations, I practically know the questions by heart.

        1. My daughter has had 27 blood transfusions. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you so much for donating blood.

  9. Why do non-catholics give a whit as to what the pope has to say?

    1. Well, considering 1 billion people are supposed to follow what he deems to be moral, what they believe is going to have an effect on the rest of us.

      1. It’s the Church which is expected to follow what the U.S. department of Health and Human Services deems to be moral – that is, providing birth control, abortifacients and sterilization to its employees.

        1. Because not giving your employees free birth control amounts to controlling what they do with their bodies.

          1. I know, right?

      2. You’re just pissed because no one except Dick Gear cares what the Dalai Lama says.

  10. Lame.

    Not only has this type of collage art been done and redone until it’s become kitch, so has the shock value that comes from sacrelidge.

    It’s boring and derivative in every single aspect, despite what I’m sure are the arf-clapping legions of internet seals that feel the need to signal their moral disapproval of the Catholoc church.

    1. Well said.

  11. To quote Lilly von Stumpf “Oh how ordinahwee”

  12. It wasn’t always a uniquely Catholic position. Protestants and Jews were also mostly against contraception until the 1930s.

    Part of the reason for the John 23 commission was that the church had never actually explicitly spoken out on the issue, largely because nothing resembling modern contraception existed until the early 20th century, and at that time officials thought it better not to even mention the existence of such things to their parishioners. So they were putting their feet in wet clay so to speak.

  13. Another milwaukee artist’s take on the papal portrait…great to see a local artist getting attention for socially driven work……..hrone.html

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