Stairway to Heaven

A friend in Spain called my attention to an interesting sculpture which has raised quite a bit of polemics.

The sculpture, by Spanish artist Eugenio Merino (Madrid, 1975),  represents a Muslim worshipper, a Catholic priest and a Rabbi. The three of them are immortalized in the act of praying, each one in his own fashion: the Muslim bending, the Catholic kneeling and the Jew standing. The piece comes with the controversial title “Stairway to Heaven”. To a closer look, we see that the books of the three religions are inverted: the Jew prays with a Koran, the Christian with a Torah, and the Muslim with a Bible. How should we read this piece?

The artist obviously defends his work:  “It is not a work of art meant to offend. My idea is the coexistence of the three religions, joint in a common effort to reach God, in a literally way. I think the message is positive.”

Of different opinion, the Israeli Embassy in Spain, which has publicly protested.  “The piece contains elements which are offensive for the Jews, the Israelis, and, of course, for others“. It condemned the work of Merino as “pure provocation for the sake of provocation“.

Is the sculpture anti-Semitic, because it suggests once again the stereotype of the Jewish people ruling the world, standing on top of the column, closer to God? Or should that be taken as a compliment?

Maybe the sculpture is anti-Islamic, since the Muslim is crushed at the end of the pile. Or should that be taken as a compliment, meaning that Islam is at the base of world religions?

And what about poor old Catholicism, squeezed in the middle, the eyes closed? Or maybe the column is not meant to suggest a hierarchy?

We can easily see that every interpretation is exactly what it is: an interpretation. Ask different people, they will give you different interpretation. Isn’t that what art is all about? Polysemy?

The sculpture was exhibited in the recent Spanish contemporary art fair, ARCO 2010, where it drew a crowd of curious visitors, deign of the Louvre. Susanna Corchia, who works for the gallery which represents the work of Merino (Galeria ADN), comments: “The column effect is visually needed to respect the different ways of praying. In order to create a Stairway to Heaven, this was the only way to resolve it figuratively. The intention was to show how the three monotheistic religions share the same roots and the same movement towards God. To me, this is a piece about the brotherhood of men, about dialogue. Unfortunately, we have lost the capacity to read symbols, because we are too busy looking for the scoop“.

The sculpture of Merino was presented with other thematic pieces, all by the same artist: “This is not a Philip Stark“, a piece which mocks Philip Stark’s design piece “Table Gun Lamp“, turning into a more heavily connoted Uzi-with-menorah; “In God we trust“, a bronze cast of hands joint in prayer holding a 20$ bill; “The call of God“, a blinking neon wall cross, normally associated with pharmacology, whose lower section was elongated to resemble a Christian cross (suggesting religion as a panacea for all our pain?). The last work of the section is “All we need is love“, a window displaying a copy of the Koran, a Bible and a Torah book, whose hardcovers have been equally carved out with the word “Love”.

Can these works be dismissed as pure provocation? I think they are vibrant, visually powerful and very iconic. If something, the polemics they raised and continue to raise demonstrate their capacity to impact, to stimulate a debate. This is what good art should do, when it is not relegated to mere decoration. Yet, they also prove how difficult is to talk about religion, a subject which, despite the proudly liberal attitude of contemporary western societies, seems to be still untouchable. At least in art.

The sculpture “Stairway to Heaven” was sold for 45.000 euros to a Belgian art collector, herself a Jewess.

I wonder how it is going to look in her living room.



©All pictures courtesy of ADN gallery, Barcelona

http://www.adngaleria.com/

Thanks to Susanna Corchia

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61 thoughts on “Stairway to Heaven

  1. I’m a Christian. I’m an artist. Although I like the sculpture itself, and I can understand where he’s coming from, it saddens me to see again the whole “each person has their own way to heaven”. Like I said, I’m a Christian. And the Bible says that Jesus is the only way, so it does sadden me a bit. But the artwork is impecable. He’s got a true gift, and I don’t think he means to do any of it as a means of provacation.

    • @Sketch – No where in the Bible is it stated that “Jesus is the only way”. I wish Christians would stop “parroting” these “buzz” phrases that simply do not exist. There is text, however, in the Bible that states Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light, or where Jesus states no person comes to the Father except through him – but the way in which these scriptures have been interpreted by some Christians are based upon what they have been taught and is in error. And of course I can’t leave out the scripture that states that there is no other name given under heaven by which men are saved. This simply means that salvation was made through no other except Christ – this verse is not speaking about a “personal” salvation–a notion that didn’t even exist in Early Christian history (“personal salvation” and Jesus Christ as one’s “personal” Savior is a very modern day, man-made concept), but instead, this verse is about The Sacrificial Lamb who died for all of humanity as an atonement for the sins of the world. Yet, some Christians interpret the latter scripture to mean that “Jesus is the only way” – no, Jesus was the final, permanent Sacrifice. BTW, I am a Christian also.

      • Hey chaigirl66,
        Of course it is written! please read carefully John 14.6 (that you cite), in its context. This is one of the pivotal claims of Jesus. He is the only one who resurrected and he is the first fruits of New Creation. That’s our faith as well. It is a matter of good exegesis and good hermeneutics to interpret in the original context first (plain meaning), to get what was the point made by the author, and then try to apply that to our own context. It is dangerous to try interpreting the Bible according only to your own cultural prejudice.
        I would agree with you if your meaning is that the concept of salvation is more holistic, and includes something about the here and now, the advance of God’s Kingdom in all areas of life (arts, sports, culture, science, morals, etc.), the solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, and so on.

  2. Great post.
    I didn’t think much about who was place where then that they are building blocks for the same purpose.

  3. kinda like it – not personally – but I like that it provokes and causes controversies – that’s what “good” art (if there is something like this) should do – isn’t it?

    also go to my new blog and leave a comment guys (www.pradateufelchen.wordpress.com)

  4. I think this is brilliant. We are all one and part of this world, lets stop thinking separately, and free of judgement.

  5. OK – the symbolism is all in the mind. To my mind, therefore, the self-satisfied and arrogant Jewish Rabbi is at the top of the heap, weighing down the poor Muslim Palestinian, crushed at the bottom of the heap, who is rendered incapable of standing up and being able to speak for himself, while the Christian in the middle hasn’t a clue about what to do about the situation, just letting the zionists take away the birthright of the Palestinians without any checks.

    As I say, it’s all in the mind.

    • Yes, the arrogant self-righteous Rabbi is keeping the poor Muslim Palestinian down to the point that he cannot express himself through any other means but extreme Jihad; sending his own young offspring to commit suicide terror attacks and kill the innocent youths of the self-righteous Jews and the clueless Christians.

      Get over yourself you anti-semetic scum, and realize that “Judaism,” “Christianity,” and “Islam” are nothing more than a means to divide and conquer a stupid populous that is far too busy putting blame on different theologies than realizing that all faiths, all people, are doomed to a fate of hunger and poverty that is to come down on us very soon if we do not unite as one species, as one people, under the one multi-named deity that all religions proclaim as the source of peace and goodness.

      Bend over, kneel, or stand when you pray…but realize that we are all human. We are all entitled to life. Fight for a just cause, and not some stupid hate-fueled religious propaganda. Your pathetic feeble lot lives only once…forget salvation; with your foolish concepts of a heaven and your hopes for an afterlife full of seductive virgins and an eternal bliss… You were born naked and such you will return to dust…eaten by earthworms. You are not special.

      As for birthrights and zionism…it is not Israel or the Jews that plague the Muslims with poverty…it is the Islamic closed mindedness to progress, to evolution. Times are changing. All must adapt. All must evolve. If you mist have an outlet to blame for your ill fortunes in life; blame the world banking institutions and their greed, blame your governments and their susceptibility to economic corruption; blame your puppet religious authorities for taking advantage of your gullible nature.

  6. I hope they have good security on the second piece.

    Regarding Stairway To Heaven: Your comments regarding placement – top, middle and bottom – are insightful. No doubt the piece has the ability to offend different people in different ways.

  7. to me the sculpture looks like a meditation or study of the similarities of the three religions. I mean, Judaism and Christianity has the same roots. All three praise one God, but with different names.

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  9. Although this is a very polemic topic, the author could write a very interesting article without offending others; congratulations. We need more writers like that.
    PD: I´m Catholic, and I didn´t feel offended by the sculpture.

  10. What I think is interesting about this is that the whole concept of the way to Jesus that is presented is all wrong. In that respect it is actually a quite interesting work of art. This though isn’t the artist’s intent as was mentioned, this would be a positive way to interpret the artwork’s meaning.

    But, since of course the artist has final say as to what this piece means, I think it is ridiculous that he is trying to promote ecumenicism. He is wrong.

    One thing the artist is right about.. These are many ways to the same place. Unfortunately, when relying on works, that place is Hell.

    What a sad reality to think that so many are so steeped in their works that they miss the basics of Scripture.

  11. Nice post, beautiful art work (for art’s sake).

    As for religion, I’m not. I was raised catholic (dad), my mom was a jew (i know i’m not capitalizing – it’s cause i’m sitting at a weird angle at my laptop. Here’s my question:

    If Jesus had a mailbox, did it say ‘Christ’ on it? Serious question, people.

    Was Christ his last name, or a title? I’ve always wondered.

    Peace on Earth.

    Max
    badflasher.com

    • Hey max,

      Has anyone answered this? I think the term ‘Christ’ is a title (for example, sometime people use Christ Jesus to mix things up a bit) often attributed to a Greek root meaning ‘Anointed One’ which is itself a sort of translation of the Hebrew “Messiah”.

      Fun with linguistics.

      I’m not sure if either the Greek word or the Hebrew word were originally meant to to be so exclusive that one man alone could claim a monopoly on their use.

      But, I thought the same thing about Darth Vader at first (Who is Darth Vader? A dark lord of the Sith. What is a Sith? Darth Vader is a Sith. [ad cyclum infinitum])
      Apparently the title Darth can be used by many. It just took more episodes to come out for me to learn that….

      Hope this helps, or at least distracts for a few moments…

  12. Has “sketch” ever thought about what an arrogant point of view it is to proclaim “I’m a Christian?”

    How many “Christians” have you ever known who LIVE as if they believe what Christ taught?

    Webster says that the word Christian means “Christ like.” Going to church every Sunday just doesn’t hack it.

  13. While I can see how various groups could choose to take offense, I do not not believe that was the artist’s intention. The Muslim faith acknowledges the holiness of the Christian prophet, Jesus, and the Jewish prophet, Moses, in addition to Mohammad. The Christian faith acknowledges, Moses, in addition to Jesus. The Jewish faith is founded on the teachings of only Moses. A hierarchy is not necessarily implied. Frankly, if everyone lived up to the ideals of their chosen faith, or even the non-religious morality an atheist, we would all be better off. Thanks for sharing this thought provoking sculpture.

  14. I’ve got to be honest, I like the piece, but what I don’t like is everyone’s reaction to it. Why are we all so quick to look for trouble? The first thing in everyone’s mind when they look at this piece is “who will it offend?”

    Sadly, in this day and age, it will offend everyone (in one form or another)! And I find it so soul destroying. Was there this kind of outcry at Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”? No, people enjoyed it for what it was, not “oh look, a parody on the crucifiction, lets burn John Cleese!”

    Lets face facts, people will never agree on religion and will continue to argue about who’s deity is the True One. But when will we all realise that Muslims, Christians and Jews all worship THE SAME GOD!

      • Actually, Muslims do not believe in the same God as the Christians do. In fact, they believe that Jesus (or Essa) was a prophet.

    • Muslims and Christians are pretty much on the same page .yes they believe Jesus is a profit but it’s mentioned in the holy Koran that god has blown from his own soul in him ,so yes Jesus is not god but more of a medium in wish god has resembled
      so it’s the same thing
      Muslims also believe god is one AND believe in Christianity ,as a matter of fact it’s stated in Koran that one is never really a Muslim until one believes in Jewish ,Christianity ,and all of gad’s SAME messages with different profits.
      we all worth ship the same god and have the same message of peace and love
      but for some reason people are using the holiness of religions for justifying their narrow minds

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    • Well, do come and tell me if you find our before I do, then we can spread the message to everyone who’s right and everyone who’s wrong can say we’re lying.

  16. I truly love how heart and thought provoking these art pieces are. It’s both interesting and frustrating at times to read the comments though. Oh dear. If we can just love one another as God has loved us…we’ll be on the way!

  17. That is not actually inverted – or the Muslim would be holding the Torah.

    Hoping you update this when Muslims throw a fit over this. It usually takes them a few months to find out.

    • Everyone has the wrong idea that Muslims are terrorist.. Well I’m sorry that a few people messed up its message of peace (hence the term Salam which in Arabic is peace) and turned it into something opposite.. So don’t start having this stereotype that Muslims are terrorists or you will be showing yourself as closed-minded! And everyone has an opinion, and here’s mine: in this picture, I, personally, see tht Islam is the basis of all religions and that’s why it’s put on the bottom, and if the Muslim stood back up all the other religions will fall and he will be the last one standing.. As I said it’s how I first saw it but there are many opinions about it…

  18. dear dane, i must correct you. Muslims worship God where as Jews & christians worship his prophets, citing them as sons of God.

    • How much you know about the “True”? “I must correct you” Don’t simply say the thing that you not sure or don’t know. Or you just heard from someone or somewhere.

      • truth?? read the “workerscol” comment below where he quoted christ as “i m the only way to father” Can God be a father!!! :)

        if yes why he stop giving birth after christ

        dear think about it, do not just take dictations.

    • Dear Adeel,

      Where in the Jewish scriptures did you find a backing for your claim? None of the prophets are worshiped as “sons of god.” in Judaism all humanity are considered the children of God.

      When Jews pray, they pray to the god of their ancestors: Abraham, Issac, and Jacob…in the Islamic case I guess that would mean Ismael or Essau…

      Only Christianity and Islam place their prophets, Jesus/Mohamad, to a god-like stature.

      • Moslems do not place Mohammad to a god-like stature… Moslem place prophets (from Adam to Mohammad) as humann being.. well-guided human being….. Even Jesus is really honored by Moslems… Moslems are considered as unbelievers if they do not believe that Jesus is Messenger of God…

  19. Interesting post, I loved the picture of Merino.

    The truth I am a Christian (South American Colombia), and I truly believe that the issue of access to heaven remains controversial, many religions believe they have the absolute truth, but without any intention of offending anyone, I believe that only Christianity was the only that exalt Christ is the only way to reach the eternal father, hau no other way, no other before or after Christ said “I am the way truth and life, no one comes to the Father except through me” and I believe in my personal opininión that means a lot.

    (forgive my bad translation)
    Interesting blog.
    Bye!!

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  23. i agree bout the first art, its trully provokes and making some controvertion to us…

    about who is the most perfect god or religion or else, why dont we wait and see after the doom day…

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  25. No wonder, Buddy!
    The spirits “El Yahu” and “Al l’Ahu” are the same and “both” are called Satan-“The Prince of this world” as Christ once said”.
    Playing with Torrah sooner or later will make Christians musulamans(Maho-metans).

    In Stairway to Heaven is also said:
    “And as we wind on down the road
    Our shadows taller than our soul
    There walks a lady we all know
    Who shines white light and wants to show
    How everything still turns to gold..”

  26. ‘stairway to heaven’.

    Muslim: What is the source of Christian Capitalism to expoid us?
    – Torah

    Christian: Thanks God for the strong shoulders of the muslims. Without them we couldnt make the industrial revolution?
    – Mediatrix

    Jewish: Kuran is an interresting book, how can we make a movie of it ? IMDB 10 Points.

  27. i like the stairway to heaven thing but heres what i think you can do to fix the offending… its just an idea.. in a singel line formation put the muslim first then in front the christian then the jew, making it look like stairs you can put a sculpture of yourself in mid air jumping from the muslim to the christian’s head and so on, like i said its just an idea.

  28. The matter is, what if the Muslim figure stand up to complete his prayer, what will happen to the two figures setting/standing over him,

    The Jews figure who holds Quran, knows well the Quran which he is holding is the latest pure truth that supersede all previous revealed books as naturally happens when we have instructions from the same source got revealed consecutively,

    The three books at their original revealed version all ought to share the common truth, the Creater of this life is the one who has the right to be considered as God.

    All prophets including Jesus the Sun of Mariam peace be upon them all, had a start, and God is the Creater of,them,

    I recommend all dear participant to read and find the matter by themselves, read the books, and read Quran

  29. I’m a muslin, let’s speak without feeling or attraction religions. This sculpture show what happen in the real word. But I didn’t understand what the artist want by inverting the books for each religion.
    Now, I will say my opinion: In Islam, the praying finish by kneeling; in the sculpture, when Muslim kneel, the others will fall dow

  30. I’m a Muslim. Politically, the sculpture show what happens exactly in the world.
    But I didn’t understand what the artist want to say by inverting the book for each religion with the other.
    Other thing, there are many significations for this sculpture. But in Islam, our prayer finish by kneeling. Now, See! the sculpture and if the muslim kneels, what happens for the others?

  31. No comments are required the first step or stair is Islam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! which means that Islam is the religion for all mankind ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  32. Yeah that’s what think too.. when the moslem finish his praying by kneeling others will fall… and I would say that the backwardness of Moslem today is not because islam is fail to adapt but I haven’t seen any Islamic country that uses Syaria or Islamic law as their source of law after the fall of Ottoman empire..The one implemented in saudi arabia is just political..They do not really return to Islam..

  33. Funny. At the beginning of the posts everyone was so sure of their opinions on what this artwork represents. Towards the end, I guess everyone grew silent upon observations from Muslim commentators. At first I thought it was just another effort to mock Islam. The meaning of this artwork is only known by the artist to himself, but like what others said, an opinion may not be right or wrong. To me, it’s more abstract than just what meets the eye. Because it’s true, this position of prayer is precedent to the kneeling position. And when the bottom person rises from facing the ground, all atop may fall. It may cause provocation, but not as how you thought it may. Only those with knowledge of these religions would understand. Before u say anything, make sure u know what you’re talking about. I don’t comment on the Jews or Christians because I don’t earn much privilege to do so as I don’t have much knowledge on these. Maybe not yet. But this is an interesting post.

    I mean no offense and may peace be upon us all.

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