God’s Children

God’s children is a two-part piece I finished in mid 2008.

Despite its simplicity, or perhaps because of it, I think that ideologically, it is my strongest piece to date.

The two pieces are cast bronze, about eighteen inches long. Part one is a young caucasian boy, levitating placidly above his bed, in his pajamas, with his stuffed bunny rabbit laying across his chest. Part one is also a self-portrait of sorts. When I was a child, I had an orange bunny rabbit, with a music box stuffed in its belly. It was my most prized possession at the time, and I can remember how comforting it could be to curl up with it, and let the soft, muffled plinking of the music box send me off.

view more images here

The second part is a young african boy, about the same age, but he floats above the dirt, with an AK-47 instead of a bunny. The two boys are the same age, same build, have the same expression, and both levitate motionless above their environments.

view more of part 2 here

I am reticent to say too much about this piece, but I’ll talk about how I reached this concept, and how I interpret it.

I’ll start with a different idea that led me into this imagery. My original concept (which I might tackle soon) was a work in three pieces, a triptych meditation on the different manifestations of death. the pieces would be seen as the following:

  1. A young child (probably younger than these two) levitating above his bed, with a peaceful expression on his face. I would want the viewer to read calm and serenity into the first part, but still be somewhat unsure if what he/she is seeing is peaceful sleep or death.
  2. A soldier (not a child soldier, but a modern, western adult soldier, with all the modern gear that comes with that role) obviously and violently dead, floating above a battlefield, with some sort of lethal and terrifying injury. Here, hopefully the viewer starts to realize that just as the soldier is a corpse, the peaceful image of the child they just saw might something other than their expectation.
  3. Finally, a very old man, joints swollen and arthritic, body compressed and drained by age, tethered to IV needles, respirators, colostomy bags and monitoring equipment, levitating above his sterile hospital bed.
I saw the triptych as the three common manifestations of death, that we are always grappling with in our effort to find meaning in life. The unexplained death of a child is a death that leads us to rage against the idea of a god, to wallow in a strained lament. We ask how any logic or love can be found in a world that permits the death of an innocent, the very definition of a tragedy. The soldier’s death is an outrage against our very nature as humans. How wretched is it that we still, after many thousands of years, throw our strongest young men upon the altar of political expediency, while old politicians and priests gather us to rationalize the countless violent deaths that inexorably follow their idealistic and cruel aims. The death of the old man is not an outrage, or a lament, but a release. If we ponder it long enough, we all find a way to live in the face of our own death. We can be content to hope that it will come later, after a long, well lived life. If we are “lucky”, and stay long enough to watch our bodies and minds fall apart, to watch our friends and family depart all around us, death is simply a deliverance. Whether you believe in anything after the event, I see these three personifications of death as the main ways we perceive and rationalize the one thing we will all share in life.
But I didn’t make that piece (yet) and instead created God’s Children. I decided that a simpler, less existential piece could make better use of the levitation trick. I’m not sure why it came into my conscience again recently, (probably news reports coming out of recent events in Kenya and Liberia) but in thinking about the relationship between the boy, the soldier, and the old man, I kept coming back to the realization that even in our modern world, there are some boys that don’t get to become men before they are thrust, against their will, into the life of a soldier. I realized I could use the same themes, juxtapose two different characters, using levitation to create a metaphorical link, and make a political statement that went beyond activist’s pet projects and preachy moralizing, hopefully revealing the dirty reality of a giant rift that exists in our concept of human equivalence.
There are still thousands of child soldiers in our world, and there will always be depraved and amoral monsters for whom the end justifies any means. As a man living in California, I (and many others) must own up to the plain fact that no matter how financially strapped I am, no matter how much I complain about a job I hate, or a bad breakup, I am still a very rich man, living in one of the richest nations in the history of human civilization, and I can eat when hungry, sleep when tired, and the ultimate destiny of my life is (mostly) under my own control.
In many parts of the world, my life would have been different. These boys are kidnapped, sold, stolen, drugged, and forced to commit crimes against humanity that can destroy the sanity of even the most hardened men. The individual politics vary, and situations can be as diverse as the geography in which they occur, but the stories of these boys are always shocking. They are recruited, (usually kidnapped or sold) and often their families have fallen victim to the war they are about to become involved in. They are trained haphazardly, in the use of weapons (the universally cheap and available AK-47) and tactics, given cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol, taught to kill, rape and steal, and sent out to fight a war against men or other boys. If they are lucky enough to survive, they are almost always in desperate need of counseling, and often there are internationally funded rehabilitation centers that try to help the boys cope with the ramifications of their actions. In some cases, they have simply committed acts that are too heinous to survive unscathed mentally, and become hollow shells, unable to be rehabilitated.
I wanted to find a way to bring home the abject tragedy of this situation, and avoiding the compassion fatigue that often accompanies subjects like this. We in the west have trouble admitting the fact that our lives, as individuals, are different from the lives of others not through our hard work and intelligence, but simply because of dumb luck. I like to use the phrase lucky sperm to describe this reality. My life, my comfort, my reality, is mostly the result of one lucky sperm a few years ago. Had i been born in Liberia, Nigeria, the Congo, or a host of other locales around the world, my life would not only be different, but could be a violent tragedy waiting to be played out. God’s children is an attempt to bring that realization into view, without too much moralizing or preachy condescension. I try not to look down my nose, and scold the viewer as a hypocrite. In stead, I put myself into the piece, to illustrate that I am as big a hypocrite as anyone here.
The relationship between the two boys is simple: They might as well be the same boy. A few quirks of fate or geography decide the difference between a life of comfort and luxury, and an appalling reality coping with the worst parts of human experience. I decided to leave death there only as a question within the piece. There are no bullet wounds on the boy in part 2, but the simple presence of the gun should be sufficient to raise the issue. As long as the question of life or death is raised as a response to the piece, I think my job is done. The point is not that they might be dead, or one of them might be alive. The point (for me) is to engender that startling sense of rage and grief at the unexpected realization that one is seeing the death, not slumber, of a child, and apply that rage to a jarring political reality that exists in our world.
I’m not usually inclined to quote bible verses, but one has been suggested to me that I think sums up the
real brunt of the piece quite nicely:
Luke 12:48
For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
If you’re curious about learning more, here are a few places to get started:

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2 Responses to “God’s Children”

  1. Steb Says:

    That’s money!

  2. Jefe Says:

    God’s Children are amazing! It is a subtle wake up call, with dual realities. When I saw these sculptures, I was blown away by the detail and intricacy of the faces.

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