Violence committed in the name of religion stands as one of the more vexing contradictions of human existence. Atheists gleefully seize upon it, insisting that the toll exacted by religious violence far outstrips that of all other wars combined, even when history shows otherwise. Still, from the floods and plagues summoned by the Hebrew God of the Old Testament to the murderous injunctions carried out against non-believers during the Crusades to the persecution of Christians and Shiites by ISIS extremists, it’s evident that religion can be a nasty, bloody business.
Look, for example, at how assault rifles frame the aedicule of Bombed Mosque, and how in that same piece, shell casings, alternating in color between turquoise and brass, form a gleaming entryway whose patterning echoes the geometrically precise, decorative motifs of Islamic art and architecture. The verisimilitude of the structure’s brass dome, made of the same cartridges, is no less stunning. Synagogue (IV) (after Plum St. Synagogue, Cincinnati, OH) uses pistols and rifle barrels as support pillars, while bullets and shell casings stand in for brick and mortar. It radiates menace, as does a menorah built from a rifle barrel and eight pistols, all of which can hold Hanukah candles.
Rarely do we see good and evil, sacred and profane, beauty and horror so closely aligned. But by prying open this this tight-shut window – this cultural taboo against calling things by their real names – Farrow hands us an aesthetic crowbar, a way to unlock a deeper, more visceral awareness of how and why religion and violence have become intertwined. In so doing, he probes the psychosexual nature of war, an act of domination and subjugation made explicit by the artist’s use of munitions whose shapes are emphatically phallic. Their role — as building blocks for domes, cupolas, arches, windows, gables, minarets, arcades, balustrades, columns, vaults and pediments — feels like desecration. But it’s a desecration that shines light on the dark side of religion, where intolerance, masquerading as faith, mocks every value religion is supposed to uphold, the biggest being that it promotes peace, love, healing and reconciliation. Yet as Farrow reminds us, religion has long been the ideological handmaiden of imperial forces.