The concept: To install 100 Jesus heads in public venues.
For some years now, the artist has used the emerging Jesus head as a symbol of our search for peace and self-realization.
Because of the popularity of Western thought, communion, prayer and other Western practices in mainstream culture, the Jesus image has evolved into a universal icon for peace, its cosmic dimension making it an archetypal symbol that crosses religious lines and reinforces its universality. Balancing between its secular face, popularized on T shirts, seen in garden shops, used by rock bands and trendy restaurants and its spiritual dimension the Jesus image, captures a growing societal longing for peace in an increasingly fragmented world. Thus it is not surprising to see this iconic image appearing in numerous Eastern public art venues.
Yeah, it probably wouldn’t happen. Because undoubtedly the image of decapitated Jesus heads scattered around the city would raise some opposition.
But decapitated heads of Buddha? It’s a real thing in the real world.
At first I was a little intrigued by the project. But the whole Eastern-Western exoticization really bugged me. Also, every time I heard somebody say “Buddha head” it gave me a little start. That’s a derogatory term* and I noticed I have a visceral reaction to it. Especially coming from a non-Asian or a non-Buddhist.
I also find it disturbing that the eyes are downcast and the head is cut off at the nose, has no mouth and doesn’t appear to have ears. If I were an art therapist, I’d speculate at length about the meaning: passivity? powerlessness? being voiceless? No arms, no legs, no body … just that “Buddha head.” For a piece that is supposed to stimulate dialogue, it appears mute and motionless. It doesn’t appear to be an “emerging” Buddha. I read this piece of “art” less as a statement of the artist than as a statement about how Buddhists and Buddhism are viewed in the United States.
*explanation of this would take too long. So I’ll leave it to somebody else.
It feels like cultural appropriation as well. Yeah, the image of Buddha is used on t-shirts and is treated like kitsch in gardens and home decor. The head’s desirability leads to a great deal of looting from temples. Travel in Asia and the headless Buddha is a common sight. So treating the image of Buddha’s head as a knickknack or even as an art installation (such as the Ten Thousand Somethings project) recalls continued theft of our cultural heritage.
Ultimately, I think what bothers me is the imputation of “Eastern” exoticization that supercedes and overwrites the true meaning in the majority culture. It’s about somebody creating ten thousand something elses. Or something.