What is it?
This piece by Banksy is unlike anything he has done before. For the street artist, vandalizing an ancient statue and putting on it his personal touch drove the intended message home.
Looking at the sculpture, it is clearly the bust of a catholic priest, complete with a cross pendant and mass vestments. However, it has no face because the artist chose to chisel it out and then arrange tiles in its place.
The tiles are completely blank, giving the impression that the original stone, which is more than 200 years old, has changed its appearance over time. This is a representation of the crimes that many people have reported against the church; of particular interest is physical perversion.
The Catholic Church has been in the limelight for allegations of child misconduct in various stations around the world. As it is, the leadership has not come out to address these accusations.
For the millions who saw it at its current home in the Liverpool-based Walker Art Gallery, Cardinal Sin reminds them of the secrets that the church chooses to brush off.
Since no church clergy has been personally implicated at the Vatican level, the statue blocks out the face to illustrate the mystery that surrounds the subject.
This is the first time the sculpture has been showcased to the public. Since it is on loan from the artist, it will remain on display indefinitely.
No one has been bold enough to call out the Catholic Church leadership over the physical abuse scandal and the message of this statue is therefore daring yet commendable. The pixelation effect has been used by the artist deliberately to mimic the manner in which visual media hides the faces of victims of abuse.
Although the victim is protected from social torment by hiding their face, the fact that their rights have been violated cannot be erased. Cardinal Sin represents all the children that have suffered exploitation at the hands of Catholic priests.
Banksy does not shy away from revealing the meaning and inspiration behind the statue’s creation. When making the announcement that his artwork will be on loan in the Walker Art Gallery, he mentioned that this particular piece is a direct comment on the prevalence of harassment allegations against catholic priests. However, he shies away from singling out a specific person. Banksy consequently stated1:
I’m never sure who deserves to be put on a pedestal or crushed under one.
Since the unveiling of the statue happened around Christmas, the artist quickly connected it to the Christmas season. He is quick to add that the world has been flooded by abuse, lies and corruption, so it appears that humanity has forgotten the spirit of the season. Banksy said2:
I guess you could call it a Christmas present. At this time of year, it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.
This is by far the single most scandalous art piece produced by Banksy that speaks to the masses through satire. Christmas is a happy season for many people around the world and since it is observed by many people around the world, even those who are not Christians are unable to ignore the festivities.
It is for this reason that Banksy chose to introduce this work to the world on 24th December 2011. For that Christmas and others to date, the season had received a new message – a reminder that harassment might stay hidden, but its effects run deep.
The choice of a name for the sculpture shows a deliberate intent to communicate a pun; the word
Giving an overview of his work, Banksy used a rather harsh tone to express his sentiments; he reveals his indecisiveness when choosing who to highlight or who to cover up. For this artwork, Banksy decided to rebuild an 18th-century sculpture.
For the artist, everything about the statue has been well calculated, even the exhibition venue. He is quite fond of the Walker Gallery because of the captivating pieces hosted here. Banksy also said3:
I love everything about the Walker Gallery – the Old Masters, the contemporary art, the rude girl in the cafe. And when I found out Mr Walker built it with beer money it became my favourite gallery.
The director of art galleries housed at the Liverpool National Museums, Reyahn King, has revealed that Banksy reached out to the Walker Gallery administration and offered his artwork for display. It was Banksy’s wish that this particular piece of creativity was displayed alongside the permanent collection of the art house.
She agrees that the message of Cardinal Sin is not only clear but quite bold. As is the thought process for all those who set eyes on the bust sculpture, the pixel on the face races the mind to images of criminals and victims of various crimes as they are shown on TV.
Banksy is aware that the sculpture sends a distress signal that many will not want to identify with. This sculpture has a clear and open message and those that see it will not need to spend so much time on it. Art lovers are used to looking for hidden meanings within art, but Cardinal Sin has nothing to hide.
King admits that Cardinal Sin is controversial, but controversy is what the hosting gallery is known for. A big part of the gallery’s collection is made up of controversial pieces, art that sets off the mind on a race.
It has been an honor for the Walker Gallery to host the Cardinal Sin, a sculpture produced by one of the most renowned artists of our time. Lined up amid other works, which are creations of Poussin and Van Dyck, the artist has successfully pumped new energy into an old statue.
While it is a huge achievement, seeing the reactions of those who visited the gallery was even larger. The artist requested a special assembly, to which King and her team obliged to agree.