This is the last piece in a series of posts on images of Christ and evangelical culture. If you are new to the series you may want to go back to The Introduction (Part 1) and catch up.
Emmanuel Garibay is different than the other artists in this series in several ways. First, he is a Filipino artist whose work engages the western tradition but to an extent functions from outside that tradition. This is most evident in the fact that this “Christ” is an Asian Christ. I first met Garibay when we both participated in the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity‘s inaugural seminar which took art professors from North American institutions and connected us with Asian artists and theorists for a two week experience in Indonesia. There was a great deal of discussion during the seminar about how the images of Christ used in Asian churches were typically Western. The lack of an eastern Christian visual culture was troubling to some of our Asian counterparts.
However, this image is not merely a depiction of an Asian Christ. There is an ambiguity about the identity of of this powerful figure. The body bears the wounds of Christ which imply the identity of Jesus. But, it is not clear. The beardless face and the lack of a Cross separate the image from typical western images of Christ. The question of identity is further complicated because Garibay’s only written comment about this painting is, “The Oblation represents a fundamental contrast with life, human life asserting itself against a dark and empty space.” Nothing in this statement identifies the image as Christ and, in fact, seems to indicate that the figure is an ordinary human.
Art historian Rachel Smith sees this image as both an image that is “a silent cry that calls us to our stewardship of this world” and through the identification that the wounds of Christ offer “as the model of how we too should live offering our lives in his service.” Garibay is correct that the tension between humanity and the “dark and empty space” is at the core of the human experience but it is the ambiguity of the figure which engenders the power in this image. The figure is both that of human and divine referencing the incarnation but lacking in specificity which allows the figure to function both as Jesus Christ and “Everyman.” This personal identification with Jesus is very powerful for the evangelical mind. Through His pain and sacrifice he can identify with our pain and sacrifice and through our pain and sacrifice we can identify with His. Here Christ is not merely the friend with whom we talk in Kinkade’s Walk of Faith he is a figure with which we identify on a visceral corporeal level who like us faced the “dark and empty space.” But, unlike us he was victorious despite his oblation and because of it we are free to in turn as Smith said, “offer our lives in his service.”
This Christ is not a trite sentimental western Christ but a profoundly human Christ whose identity and struggle we share.
For other pieces in this series please read: