How great Thou art: Jesus statue ‘desecrated’

An installation artist is disappointed a group of traditional Catholics bought his sculpture of Jesus portrayed as an Iraqi resistance fighter, repainted it and said prayers to pay for the insult.

Traditional Catholic, Ronan Reilly, 17, explained: “The image of the Sacred Heart is sacred to us, and we believe Jesus is God, so it’s not fitting that Jesus is displayed as an Iraqi terrorist. For these reasons we repainted the statue and made reparation for what was done.”

Matthew Rochford, a Marxist and former Catholic, said he was “disappointed”. “Why did they view my work as such an obscenity that they needed to buy and destroy it? I’m sad it doesn’t exist any more.”

“Their Jesus is pale and boring. I can’t believe they painted over my dynamic and exciting Jesus.”

The sculpture was one of 33 lifesize fibreglass statues of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which were commissioned by World Youth Day organisers for an outdoor exhibition. Organisers chose artists to create works that would encourage “an interactive dialogue”. The sculptures were later auctioned, with proceeds going to Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets.

The Catholics raised $2200 and had 20 people praying at St Mary’s Cathedral while the auctions were happening, Mr Reilly said.

“We were able to purchase two – the Iraqi one for $1200 and another one that was covered in tree sap for $1000 – and restored them.”
Mr Rochford’s sculpture had been set up at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre and was wired with flickering LED lights and a battery-powered radio that played white noise.

The flag was a combination of the Iraq, Aboriginal, Afghan and Palestinian flags and it had a women’s rights symbol painted on the heart. “My Jesus was cool,” Mr Rochford said, “a fighter for the Iraqi resistance said for people in occupied lands who have no option but to resist oppressors, for Aboriginal people, women and eccentric hot-pink nailpolish-wearing people who reject gender binaries and like to cross-dress.”

Mr Reilly said that some of the Jesus Walks sculptures had “alarmed many Catholics”. “The image of the Sacred Heart was called a ‘blank canvas’.” He said this overlooked the context of the original image, which represents when Jesus appeared as an apparition to a 17-Century French nun, Sr Margaret Mary, and said: “This is the heart which has loved men so much and gets little love in return.’’

The statue is now in a Church piety store when it’s not being used at Catholic processions and events.

Mr Rochford said: “It’s sad that anything a little provocative or deviant must be wrong. Jesus challenged the status quo, while these people are just returning to blind respect for tradition.”

He said the Jesus Walks exhibition was “one of the few events of World Youth Day that challenged people”. “No one should have a monopoly on the image of Jesus. There’s enough conservatism and traditionalism in society already. Why go back?”

BEFORE: The original artwork by Matthew Rochford.
BEFORE: The original artwork by Matthew Rochford.


AFTER: Repainted by Traditional Catholics
AFTER: repainted by Traditional Catholics
AFTER: on a pilgrimage.
AFTER: on a pilgrimage.
AFTER: carried by pilgrims.
AFTER: carried by pilgrims.
AFTER: at the head of a pilgrimage.
AFTER: at the head of a pilgrimage.

One thought on “How great Thou art: Jesus statue ‘desecrated’”

  1. This brings back memories! I was the priest detained by guards and questioned for two hours by the Jesus Walks Art curator Helena McCarthy for taking the silly lights off the head of the image and switching off the radio. It was a highly offensive display and such crass treatment of this treasured image, with such disregard for other people’s culture, brought great sadness to many people. Such trampling of any other culture would be considered a hate crime.
    It was my honor to have done something about it, and I was delighted to have seen the image once again treated with respect. God bless Matthew Rochford. I hope he can open his eyes to the feelings of others.


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