Advent in Art 08: Frida Kahlo's Moses (the Nucleus of Creation)
A 1945 painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo called Moses or alternatively Nucleus of Creation has been my pick for Christmas reflections within art this year. Frida Kahlo is one of my favourite artists. Not because I think her work is necessarily pleasant to look at but because she had the courage to paint her pain, sexuality and 'views' of the world in an often brutally honest way. She was once famously quoted as saying, "I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration."
With that in mind let us consider her work Moses. This painting is her direct visual and personal interpretation of a Sigmund Freud essay called, Moses and Monotheism. In this essay he re-examines the Biblical Moses story and theorizes that Moses was not a Jew but in fact an Egyptian. Freud goes on the claim that the Jewish monotheistic faith had it’s origins in Egyptian religious monotheism where they worshiped the Sun god Ra as supreme creator. He argues that over time the Jewish faith evolved to 'create' Moses as a Jewish hero and they adopted the 'one god to rule them all' faith as their own. (that was the very short version.)
Kahlo had been given Freud’s book to read by a friend who then encouraged her to paint her interpretation of it after she had expressed a huge fascination with the book’s concepts. She later said of her painting, "I only read the book once and started the painting with my first impression. Later I read it again, and I must confess I found my work most inadequate and quite different from the interpretation Freud analyzes so marvelously in his [book] Moses. But now there’s no way to change it . . . "
What I think Kahlo’s painting is largely reflecting therefore, is more to do with the idea that cultures and civilizations always 'create' a hero. Someone they can look to for hope and inspiration. In his essay, Freud mentions a former student of his who claims, "that almost all important civilized peoples have woven myths around and glorified in poetry their heroes, mythical kings and princes, founders of religions, of dynasties, empires and cities . . . " He claims there is an “average myth” around these figures as their story often follows a familiar formula. This formula can still be found in most Hollywood plots today. Despite adversity the seemingly weaker man triumphs over 'evil' and/or despite desperate times leads his people into 'promised lands' and a future full of hope. To quote Kahlo again on this painting; "What I wanted to express most intensely and clearly was the reason that people need to invent or imagine heroes is because of their pure [unmitigated] fear – fear of life and fear of death."
Looking to the painting now I would like to briefly discuss it contents and what it may represent. It first glance, if you’re a South Park fan, you’ll know what I mean when I say it reminds me of the 'imagination' episodes. With the Sun at the top center, it’s rays reach out to point at a mish-mash of gods, prophets, mythical characters, historical figures and finally, at the bottom, the great masses of various civilizations. The postcard reproduction has cropped the image on the right for printing purposes but in the original the baby within the womb is center of the painting framed by all of humanity and the various figures. Under the womb, the waters have broken and thus a hero is born . . . Lying vulnerably afloat in a woven basket. (Much like the familiar, biblical Moses.)
Christmas: The time of year when those of us identifying ourselves as Christians, remember the birth of our hero. Like Kahlo’s painting, Christmas celebrations are a bit of a mixture of all sorts of cultures and traditions. Just 'Google' the word 'Christmas' and you get a very colourful history which mixes a lot of ideas resulting in the observances we make today around this time of year. Christmas is a cultural construction, where within, we remember Jesus and his birth.
I’m highlighting this point because I think in order to embrace something, you need to know what you are embracing. That way, you can 'throw out' the stuff you don’t value. For example I don’t value the way someone yells at me through the TV set that I should be buying my 'loved one' a bigger, better TV this Christmas. I also don’t value dangly Christmas earrings. (But that’s a whole other discussion.) Conversely, I prefer to celebrate Christmas in a more contemporary 'kiwi' tradition. Like a BBQ picnic at the beach for example. And I do like to give presents . . . Not because I’m copying the wise men or because I value consumerism, but because I believe it communicates a small act of humility and thought. I am well aware of the fact that I have crated my own traditions surrounding Christmas. It’s the way I like it. I hate being told what to do, how to worship my God, remember his birth etc, etc. Still, I do want to be part of it because I do value community and relationship with God and his creation - humanity.
So why have I chosen this particular God to worship and remember? Why do I believe in Jesus? Why do I believe that Jesus is the Son of Man, Son of God? Clearly, I have many differing choices so why should I believe that the birth of Christ all those years ago was different or more special then any other historical figure or created god?
Obviously the answers to those questions are vast, at times complex and indeed personal. Furthermore, I feel that these are the questions that God has been asking me Him/Herself. And instead of me attempting to come up with some tangible answer I would instead like to read out a couple of things I have been mulling over for sometime from the Bible. After I have read them, I will play a track. During this time I would like to encourage you to perhaps ponder on what they mean to you or if they don’t particularly mean anything, perhaps you could reflect on what is important to you and your faith values during this advent season.
John 1v1 ….
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."
John 1v32…[John the Baptist giving testimony to Jesus]
John clinched his witness with this: "I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, 'The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' That's exactly what I saw happen, and I'm telling you, there's no question about it: This is the Son of God."
Matthew 17v14…[A frustrated Jesus sternly rebukes his disciples lack of faith]…
“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him."
"O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"
He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
…I guess you should consider yourself lucky if you even have the tiniest whisper of faith.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"