Exhibition Celebrating Religious Diversity at Gloucester Cathedral Vandalized

Russell Haines, the artist behind the exhibition ‘Faith,’ received death threats.

Russell Haines finishing one of the works for “Faith.” Courtesy the artist.

Several artworks by the artist Russell Haines installed at Gloucester Cathedral as part of an exhibition celebrating religious diversity were stolen or vandalized.

The Observer reports that Haines’ exhibition, titled “Faith,” caused a stir last month when it first opened, with Christian groups slamming the use of Islamic images inside the 11th-century cathedral, and the reciting of a Muslim prayer in the show.

But now, a number of paintings out of the 37 that were on display, alongside video projectors and sound systems, have been stolen.

“The point of this project was to show and to emphasize what we all have in common, precisely not to tell people what they ought to think,” Haines told the Observer. “I never thought this would happen, although I knew some people would not like it.”

But it’s not just the artworks that were targeted. According to the Observer, Haines and members of the clergy who were involved with the show have been accused of blasphemy in anonymous online comments and even received death threats.

“The cathedral agreed to put [the show] on because I wanted to celebrate this city,” said Haines. “Gloucester is often thought not to be such a great place, as the poorer neighbor of Cheltenham. But the one thing we have is a hugely diverse community and no conflict. We were the place with the first woman bishop and other major positions in the church here are held by women.”

Two of Russell Haines’ “Faith” portraits at Gloucester Cathedral. Courtesy the artist.

Two of Russell Haines’ “Faith” portraits at Gloucester Cathedral. Courtesy the artist.

The show features expressionist portraits of subjects of different religions, including Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians. Alongside the paintings, there are four films with interviews with the sitters, displayed around the cathedral’s vaulted cloisters.

“I have no proof. But it is strange that of the four films we made, the ones that were taken were the two with a lot of Islamic content. I can’t prove it, but I know there are a lot of people who don’t like it. It is pure Islamophobia and racism at work,” Haines told the Observer.

At the exhibition’s opening, Imam Hassan from Gloucester’s Masjid-e-Noor mosque sang the Muslim call to prayer, a Jewish prayer was said, and a white witch spoke on behalf of minority faiths.

“It was a big event around here and it was wonderfully surreal. Then about two days afterwards, all the fuss started. It wasn’t handled very well, I think the cathedral would now agree,” Haines said.

“They decided not to say anything and just took everything offline,” he added, referring to the removal of clip of a Muslim prayer in the cathedral that had been posted on its Facebook page, sparking a tide of criticism.

The exhibition is on view until February 26, 2017.

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