Portrait of Pope Benedict XVI prompts discourse on religion


Facts and figures on AIDS/HIV in Africa; Pope Benedict XVI reaffirms ban on condoms during visit in Africa, which is hard hit by AIDS/HIV.

Though brief, the papacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was marked by some impressive milestones. For example, he was the oldest person to be elected pope, at 78. Arguably the most interesting milestone of Benedict’s tenure is his recent resignation. Benedict is the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415.

Obviously, it is not extraordinary for a pope to be either painted or photographed as art. Artist Igor Babilov painted exquisite portraits of both Pope John Paul II and Benedict. However, the most recent artistic rendition of the ex-pontif is the most ambitious and controversial.

On April 11th, artist Niki Johnson will open her exhibit “Eggs Benedict” at the Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The piece is the recreation of an existing photo of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made entirely of condoms.

Pardon, 17,000 brightly colored, non-lubricated latex condoms. Over three years, Johnson spent 270 hours constructed the image of the ex-pontifex. Including the case and frame, the piece’s dimension is 48″x 72″x 12.″

Obviously, Johnson could not personally buy almost 20,000 condoms. Instead, she says that she made monetary donations to health advocacy groups in exchange for condoms by the literal case load.

According to Johnson’s blog, she overheard a speech he made concerning HIV/AIDS in Africa. Specifically, she was taken aback when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI implied that condoms actually increase the spread of HIV/AID.

He actually said, “I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome if there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help the problem cannot overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.”

Well, he did essentially say condoms speed up the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa without citing any scientific evidence to this claim. The image captures the upper body of the pope including his face that flashes his bottom teeth. He is clasping his hands as if he is standing in front of millions of strict Catholic. Johnson made the decision to include some of his papal garb. Take that as extra precaution so that her audience knows that this person is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Is the piece artistically breathtaking?

Yes. She meticulously folded approximately 17,000 condoms into an essentially woven and realistic image of a human being complete with an expression. With consideration to the colors that condoms come in, she had to layer condoms to get a specific color.

Is the art piece offensive?

Oh, certainly.

Does the possibility of someone being offending detract from the piece’s political/social statement?

It better not.

The Church specifically condemns and fervently opposes any and all artificial birth control. The aforementioned statement is not a gaffe. It is the official stance of the Catholic Church.

As kooky as it is, the art piece catalyzes a discussion that needs to be had by the Catholic Church. The piece shows the incredible conflict between theory and practice.

It is scientifically proven that condoms decrease the spread of HIV/AIDS yet the Catholic Church has to morally opposed to its use because it is a major tenet of the religion.

Though it is gray, it cannot be brushed aside.

The piece should not be regarded as hateful gesture towards Catholicism. Instead, it should be considered a catalyst for discussion.