If you get National Geographic, you saw this compelling article, which came out in the October 2020 issue. It highlighted a new art installation called “Stranger Fruit,” in which “black mothers pose with the sons they fear losing to violence.”
Here are the opening sentences of the article: “There is a demand put upon you with ‘Stranger Fruit’. That much is clear. The photographs of mothers and sons, of Black bodies–whole and unpierced, yet still Christ-like in death–do not gently plead with viewers any more than street protesters merely invite police to change….it costs you dearly to see them. But it costs more to look away.” [my emphasis]
As a theologian, particularly in light of the fact that I am teaching a class on Global Christologies this fall, I am especially struck by the intentional choice to use the classic pieta pose to depict the grief of these individuals and these communities. It is a pose that challenges Christians specifically to see in these men and these mothers the face of Christ, and accept the invitation to open ourselves up to this pain and take it on ourselves as well.
The visual artist, Jon Henry, who worked for 15 years as a sexton, says “this project was inspired by Christian iconography and memories of his mother’s incessant worry as he was growing up.” In the same way that Mary knew the pain of her son in a unique way–and experienced deeply that pain with him as well–so, too, “It is the Black mothers who know America best through the bodies of the sons they hold in their arms. It is the Black mother’s gaze that implicates the nation and demands that it change.” Here are a few more images from the article.
This exhibit explicitly connects the Christian faith to Black Lives Matter in a way that is challenging and compelling; and it reminds us all that Christians are called to see the face of Christ in the face of the suffering and oppressed. And where Christ is, we are called to be as well.