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McJesus in Palestine: Using bad art to whitewash Israel's crimes

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Hundreds of Palestinian Muslims and Christians descended on the Haifa Museum of Art last Friday to protest the display of various artworks that use mass culture merchandise and corporate mascots to depict Christian icons. An online petition has also been launched to demand the removal of Finnish artist Jani Leinonen's artworks, which included a crucified Ronald McDonald and Mattel dolls - Ken and Barbie - representing Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary.

Although Leinonen made a name for himself as a subversive anti-capitalist protest artist, the artworks he chose to put on display in the Haifa Museum's "Sacred Goods" exhibition missed the mark.

In irreverent creations such as "McJesus", the artist offered little more than an uninspiring rehash of the centuries-old critique of the relationship between religion and capitalism. More importantly, he completely ignored the political context in which these artworks are displayed, allowing the Israeli establishment to use the local population's anger about the offensive exhibition to whitewash the oppression and threats the Palestinian Christians are currently facing.

Leinonen's McJesus, like other artwork in the exhibition, seeks to show how consumer products have become "sacred goods," merchandise invested with the authority of religious power and symbolism.

However, there is nothing provocative or refreshing about this critique. The criticism of the sacralisation of capitalism and its obverse notion, the commercialisation of religion, has been ongoing for quite a few centuries now. Already in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith had used the "invisible hand" metaphor to draw this analogy between capitalism and religion. Ironically, the anachronistic nature of Leinonen's artwork was also highlighted in the curator's comment on the exhibition, where it was noted that "Already in the late nineteenth century, writer Emile Zola crowned consumption as the new religion, in which religious rituals in a church have been replaced by purchasing ceremonies at a department store."

Recycling the age-old critique of the complicity between religion and capitalism - as banal as it may be - could have still made an impact if Leinonen bothered to take........

© Al Jazeera