A Polish artist is making headlines for an exhibition that draws attention to LGBTQ discrimination in the Catholic Church.
Daniel Rycharski’s art display, set to open on November 14 in Nice, France, comes on the heels of a widely praised spring 2019 solo exhibit at Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art. Rycharski’s work features a series of crosses “draped in LGBTQ clothing and prayer beads made with a gay man’s blood,” according to Kittredge Cherry of QSpirit.
The show will include a large sculpture of Rycharski’s own head which will gradually erode due to a steady drip of holy water. Titled La goutte creuse la pierre, or Drops of water wear away the stone, it is one in a long line of projects that Rycharski has made to connect LGBTQ suffering due to the influence of negative Catholic attitudes and actions. The exhibit in Nice will run from November 14, 2019 to January 12, 2020 at Villa Arson.
Rycharski is well known in Poland for his impressive political art. At age 26, he was the youngest person to earn the country’s prestigious Kulturysta Roku award. Rycharki’s other projects have included an image of Saint Expeditus on a rainbow banner, and “a metal plaque with a quote from the catechism urging respect for persons with homosexual tendencies.” When all churches refused to show the latter project, Rycharski stood in the old town of Warsaw holding it aloft. The project was praised by curators at the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, whose website describes the work:
“The pieces…tell the story of an artist who has shifted from a desire to organize a grassroots revolution and achieve equal rights for LGBT+ individual within the Church to the determination to practice his faith according to his own rules.”
Across international media, Rycharski has brought attention to the challenges that LGBTQ people face in Catholic institutions. He was praised in The New York Times for having “confidence to explore his gay identity in art…with crusading works that put the church’s rejection of gay Catholics in the spotlight.” During a PBS News Hour profile about a Pride march in a so-called ‘LGBTQ-free’ zone in Bialystok, Poland, Rycharski connected the country’s political discrimination to the teaching of the Catholic Church, saying:
“What is going on around the LGBT community appalls me, the fact that the governing party uses us as electoral fuel, because of the fact that the government works closely with the church, and the church is its authority. The Catholic Church’s teaching says it explicitly. You could say it has incited hatred against LGBT people.”
Rycharski’s work strives to intentionally draw parallels between LGBTQ oppression and stories of biblical suffering. In his critically acclaimed Fears, crosses are at the center of the piece. QSpirit explains the work:
“The Romans used crucifixions to scare and dominate people, much as farmers use scarecrows to protect their crops—and as the church uses its power to terrorize LGBTQ people into self-hatred and submission.”
The first exhibition of Fears was displayed in fields and were effectively serving the same purpose as scarecrows in Rycharski’s hometown, Kurówek. Cherry observes that the project also recalls the death of Matthew Shepard.
Further strengthening the impact of the crosses, Fears uses the colorful clothing from real LGTBQ people who have faced discrimination in religious or secular contexts. The fabric is wrapped around barbed wire on the crosses, indicating both a ‘crown of thorns’ and the torture of movement involved in a crucifixion. In a rosary project, Rycharski mixed resin with the blood of a gay friend to create the rosary beads. The symbolism here is again layered: blood shed on the cross and the fact that this blood comes from a gay person rejected by the church. QSpirit notes that the piece is “deeply spiritual, critiquing the church’s oppression of LGBTQ people while calling for Catholic courage.”
Other Polish artists have also faced criticism and legal troubles for their LGBTQ activism. In early May 2019, Elzbieta Podlesna was arrested on charges of ‘offending religious sentiments’ for posting images of Mary and Jesus with rainbow halos, Rycharski’s work is a stark reminder that Catholic institutions are deeply entwined with the suffering of LGBTQ people in Poland and around the world.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, November 13, 2019