Yesterday I picked up The Evening Standard and found within a double spread feature with the headline ‘Jesus and an unholy union Jack’. The article covered the latest piece of controversial iconography from pop artists Gilbert and George. This time they’ve taken a crucified Christ and put him in a union jack lion cloth and halo, and instead of being flanked by thieves, Gilbert and George are featured clad from head to toe in the Union Jack. The piece is entitled Christian England. Describing the inspiration for the work Gilbert says: “We think Christian England is a wonderful title for a picture, a term that has been forgotten about…we are not Christians we are battling against it…it has caused too many deaths..we don’t believe in damnation.”
It’s hard to know what to make of this exploration of religion and patriotism and, striking though it is, I wonder what impact it will have. It was interesting to note that the anti- religious Gilbert and George pointed out their commitment to what I would describe as a central Christian principle. “We belive in our neighbour. That’s about it.”, although in typical ironic G&G form they added, “The main rule is not to beat up your neighbour, unless of course, he likes it.”
So is Jerusalem builded here in England’s green and pleasant land?I don’t think the irony of a Palestinian Jew living out values that we have adopted as Anglo Christian has escaped some of us.
Christian England is part of a new exhibition of the work of Gilbert and George on show at London’s White Cube Galleries in Hoxton and Mayfair.