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First Stone, John 8:7

2017 Competition entry

Mandi-Anne Bezuidenhout

Concrete, wood, stone
200 cm x 200 cm

First Stone: John 8:7 (2016) is a reflection on the weight that is embedded not only in the social criticism and judgment of homosexuals, but also in the deep, painful shame and disgust that is associated with the abomination of being a homosexual individual in the Christian faith.

The title of the artwork First Stone, John 8:7 (2016) is from the very well known Bible verse, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her," in John 8:7. In this verse the teachers of the law who sought punishment for an adulterous woman, confronted Jesus in a test of his teachings. As adultery was considered a sin and punishable by death, the teachers of the law tested Jesus’s response, while not expecting him to respond in the way that is referred to in the title. They contemplated his response and walked away without condemning the adulterous woman. Condemnation is a key issue in my work as it is an interactive sculptural piece where the spectator is encouraged to lift up the individual rocks or stones embedded in each of the six concrete blocks on wooden pulpits, in a circular installation. While the spectator or participant is physically holding the mildly heavy, hand-sized rock or stone in one hand, they are enlightened by a text or verse from the Bible (New International Version), which is carved away or written in the indentation that the rock has left within the concrete. This is inscribed backward, similar to Hebrew that is written from right to left. The inversion of the text as well as the indentation of the text in concrete which is a very hard and heavy material, seems out of place, and somewhat unlikely. The engravings within the six concrete indentations read as follows:

1. Leviticus 18:22: "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”
2. Leviticus 20:13: “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
3. Romans 1: 26: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural."
4. Romans 1:27: “And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.”
5. 1 Corinthians 6: 9: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals."
6. 1 Timothy 1:10: “...for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.”

This artwork is a powerful statement on the judgment of sin and the tolerance of homosexuals within the church structure in South Africa. The Bible has been interpreted from varying perspectives from ancient times until today and there are many versions of the original text that have been written under strong influence of that time. Religion is a fundamental structure within the culture of most South Africans and this view of homosexuality and the Bible has been used as a powerful weapon against the opposing construct of a healthy lesbian relationship or lifestyle.

Emotional abuse and hate crimes against homosexual individuals have been firmly based on the rules and regulations of specific religious groups which have instilled a ‘corrective’ stance in individuals who have a problem with the unknown or the fear of what homosexuality threatens. Most homosexuals who have come out of the closet or come out to their families have been faced with the very powerful wrath of religion and Bible bashing. This has forced most homosexual believers into a silenced communion or hidden fellowship and has led to the creation of this artwork. Not only does one read a Bible verse that has been embedded within the concrete of First Stone, John 8:7 (2016) backwards, but one becomes involved in the struggle to decipher the illegible writing in the concrete. When the spectator lifts the rock and holds it in his/her hand, he/she is left guessing or wondering what it all means until the spectator takes the time to look under the rock/stone in his/her hand and then only can he/she read the Bible verse from right to left, in legible writing. However the enlightenment in this process of interaction is significant when one realizes the weight of the words one holds in one’s hand. Rocks/stones/bricks are used as a basic tool of violence and defence in many cultures around the world. Because they are so accessible and universal, historically and biblically, a stone has the power to do major damage, to cause injury or even death.

This power has then been placed in the hand of the spectator or participant. Is it possible that the weight of this power that has been given to the spectator or participant could subtly or slowly begin to make him/her reflect and shift points of view on homosexuality? Most people don’t enjoy being confronted with the heaviness of this decision even without having a weapon placed in their hands and asking them to contemplate their judgment or criticism.