An artwork depicting Ronald McDonald as a crucified Jesus has sparked violence in Haifa and ironically united the country’s Christian minority, its populist culture minister and the pro-Palestinian artist, Jani Leinonen, against the Haifa Museum of Art.
McJesus, the name of the life-sized sculpture had been at the center of an exhibition at the museum about consumerism and religion. The work, along with other pieces like Jesus and the Virgin Mary depicted as Ken and Barbie children dolls, sparked protests that turned violent last week.
The mayor of Haifa, Einat Kalisch-Rotem, announced today that the sculpture will be removed from the exhibition following discussions with church leaders and after police arrested one man on suspicion of assault and searched for two other people who had thrown molotov’s at the museum. “The sculpture will be removed and returned as soon as possible,” Kalisch-Rotem tweeted. “We regret the aggravation the Christian community experienced, and the physical injury and violence that surrounded it.”
Three police officers have so far been injured as dozens of protesters attempted to enter the museum by force, smashing glass some panes.
Leinonen, the Finnish artist behind the controversy, said that his work should not even be on display in the first place. “The news about the demonstrations came to me as an upsetting surprise particularly because my work is in the exhibition against my wishes,” he told The Art Newspaper. “In 2018, I asked the curator Shaked Shamir to remove my work because I joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The curator replied that she was sorry about my decision and that my message was forwarded to the management and I assumed that the artwork had been taken out. When I heard that it is still in the exhibition, and that there were violent demonstrations around it, I immediately sent the curator another request to remove it.”
The Sacred Goods exhibition features several contemporary artists and their responses to issues of religion and faith in consumer society.
Miri Regev, Israel’s culture minister, wrote a letter last week to the museum’s director, Nissim Tal, demanding the removal of the sculpture. “Disrespect of religious symbols sacred to many worshippers in the world as an act of artistic protest is illegitimate and cannot serve as art at a cultural institution supported by state funds.”
While the protests turned violent and sparked a public outcry, many saw the final verdict as a chance for reconciliation. “The winner today is the people of Haifa,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, an advisor to local church leaders.