Update: The image below is Man Ray’s Venus Restored. This is the original image used by Pontifical Council of Culture which has apparently been changed since this post.
Aside from the smoke of Satan (really is there anything more), I’m really not sure what is going on at the Vatican. Books are being stolen, synods manipulated (okay, that’s par for the course), confusion among bishops and cardinals about things there just shouldn’t be any confusion about, and… the Pontifical Council for Culture. I am really beginning to wonder how out of touch with reality the members of this council are. First, their was the embarrassing video (here) asking women to send in videos or photos of themselves to potentially be used at the Pontifical Council’s plenary assembly. There was so much backlash from the anglo world that the video was taken down. And now from the same council we have this:
This is the image which accompanies the outline document for the Council’s Plenary Assembly – Women’s Culture: Equality and Difference. The Vatican webpage is here with a link to an English translation of the document. There is a note on the page regarding the use of this image:
Some complaints have reached the Dicastery concerning the image above. While acknowledging the anger, Cardinal Ravasi has chosen not to remove the image as it speaks clearly for one of the central points of the document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless).
Okay, I get it. Here’s the thing (well, really things). An image that needs to be explained shouldn’t be used. I get the whole artsy thing of limblessness and being bound, but the Pontifical Council for Culture held an assembly on women’s culture and the image they use doesn’t give women a face. It doesn’t show the beauty of women’s culture. It doesn’t proclaim to the world the good news of women. I could understand the image if the assembly had been about the plight of women who are suffering the horrors and atrocities of human trafficking. I could understand the image if the assembly had been about raising awareness of and calling to take action against the brutality and shamefulness of domestic violence and the great need of a restoration of the family in love. But this isn’t what the assembly was about. It was about “Women’s Culture: Equality and Difference“. This is suppose to be a celebration of womanhood: it’s gifts, distinctiveness, vital importance within society, and advancement. The image shouldn’t simply “speak clearly for one of the central points of the document.” It should speak clearly for all the points of the document. It should represent the whole, not a part. Images are powerful tools. Surely Cardinal Ravasi must know this. The image should visualize the text. So powerful is the image that even after reading that the assembly was on women’s culture I kept thinking the assembly was on human trafficking. Consciousness of the text had to overcome the impact of the image.
There is also the question of what the image of a nude torso bound in rope often brings to mind in the Western world – more specifically, the Western world at this particular time when 50 Shades of Grey is an international bestseller and the movie just recently released as an international blockbuster hit. In a hyper-sexualized world in which bondage is now becoming less taboo, the image for many people immediately translates as just that. When asked to say the very first thing that popped into their heads when they saw the image, the young women in my class said: naked, rope, S&M, slavery, trapped. One young man, jokester that he is, said, “a shade of grey.”
I truly wonder if anyone takes the Pontifical Council for Culture seriously. At the moment, they have been doing a good job of reinforcing the perception that the Vatican is just a bunch of old men who are out of touch with reality.