Away with thoughtless art: "Yo Mama's Last Supper"
Published: Saturday, February 2, 2008 - 7:38am
Gargoyle staff reporter
Posted Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008
DO YOU EVER get tired of looking at art that doesn’t mean anything? The type of art that has no interpretation, because it is so straightforward — art that is meant only to be pretty, meant to grace the walls of restaurant bathrooms?
We all know what Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” looks like. Most of us have seen it at least five times in history class. Cox’s piece of art is an interpretation of that painting which left many speechless, and others, like Rudy Giuliani, an inability to be quiet.
“Yo Mama’s Last Supper” is a color photograph, which is shown in five different sections. The dominating presence in this picture is the artist herself standing in the middle of the table, the spot where Jesus presides, nude with her arms outstretched and her eyes look upward. This pose is similar to that of a crucifixion. All of the disciples, besides Judas, are black men.
This is not the first or last time this has been done. Around the country there are posters of “The Last Supper” where Jesus is Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley. Recently a French fashion house made an advertisement that was modeled off of “The Last Supper.”
But the portrayal that receives the most criticism, but also recognition, is where Jesus is a naked black woman.
Besides being called anti-Catholic, this piece of art has also been called pornographic, but when looking at this picture I see none of this. Although Cox stands naked I do not think that it was meant to arouse sexual feelings as much as it was to grab the viewer's attention.
When speaking of standing nude in this photo, Cox said in a 2001 interview: “For me to represent myself in the nude is the purest way of doing things.”
Furthermore, presenting herself nude presents her body with no pretenses, no clothing to make her appear fuller or flatter in places where she isn’t. This nudeness exudes an acceptance of her body exactly as it is, not a pornographic intent.
The fact that the only disciple in the photo who is white is Judas, recognized as the betrayer of Jesus Christ, also turned some heads. This aspect of the painting may speak to the historical betrayal of black women by white men, it may speak to the betrayal of all black people by white people, but I think that considering it a categorization of white people as evil is ignoring the entire message of the painting.
A significant portion of the controversy surrounding Cox’s “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” was about its religious statement and implication. Though I think that “The Last Supper” was a motif for this piece of art, the more important issue at hand is the representation of people of color in classical art and, specifically in this work, religious art.
Many people associate Jesus with purity, holiness, kindliness, and power. When nearly all of the promoted images of him are white, then it gives little opportunity to associate people of color with those same traits.
I don’t think Cox was trying to say that Jesus was a black woman. She was saying that it is important for people of color to be portrayed in a positive, powerful manner.
All of Cox’s work contributes social commentary, from her “The Colonization of White People/The In-Laws” to “Surprise, Surprise. Stereotypes still exist.” Some of her works concern issues that are often discussed, and some deal with issues often neglected.
But there is never a piece of Cox's art that goes without a thought.