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August 10, 2005

A Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God?

(Speaking of Aussies...)

A nice little 'WTF?!' story to start off your day.

Back in May, a cautionary tale apparently began making the internet rounds in the Muslim world, spreading via email and websites and eventually into the traditional media. The story was accompanied by this picture, a testimony as it were to the power of a vengeful God:

An Impious Meerkat

Sudanese journalist Nizar Usman shares a version of the tale:

The story I heard said was that a lady in Oman was reciting the Koran while her daughter is listening to an Arabic music channel known as al nojoom (meaning: stars). The mother asked the daughter to turn off the TV, furiously the girl threw the holy book, and she was immediately transferred into that creature. They said the girl is in the main hospital there, and her family refused to allow journalists to take more pics for her.
I heard about the story form my daughter (10 years of age), she heard it in her school. Then I read it in a notice board in front of the main gate of a mosque where there was a mammoth gathering. Then I read it in Alhayat daily news paper, the editor stood in between unable to believe or not. Actually what confused people here is that there are Quranic (Koran) verses saying that Allah—long ago—transferred some guilty people into monkeys and pigs.

Here's the story as found on alnilin.com (with a very rough translation via The Art Life):

This picture was a young Oman lady who was listening to music very loud, at that time her mother was there and was reading Quran Al krim and the young lady told her mother to stop reading the Quran Al Krim and told her mother you always read the Quran around me, but the mother did not listen what her daughter said. Then the young lady took the Kitab Quran Al krim from her mother and threw to the grown then the mother picked up the kitab Quran Al Krim and but in her chest and was quite. The young lady become dicey and sick at that moment after she threw it away and fail into the grown then GOD make her Animal that no one have seen in the world before "Maansha Allah."

Kinda f-ed up, huh?

And unsurprisingly, it all turns out to be a bit of a hoax, the image at the heart of it having been lifted from Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's website.

The photo is from documentation of The Leather Landscape, a work from a larger project titled We Are Family that was featured in the Aussie pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale.

Piccinini has posted a response to the hoax on her site:

Some of you might have seen this image of one of the creatures from 'The Leather Landscape' on a website or in an email.
This image was stolen from Patricia's website and used without her permission and against her wishes.
The image was accompanied a story that said that the creature was a woman who was cursed. This story is not true. It is a hoax, a fraud.
Patricia is very disturbed by this hoax. She has no connection with the person who first started the hoax. She does not know who made up the story.
Patricia is an artist. The image is a picture of an art work—a sculpture made from silicone rubber. It is about genetic engineering and our evolutionary links to animals. It is not intended to refer in any way to any religion or religious practice.
Patricia is deeply sympathetic towards anybody who has been upset or disturbed by the hoax. She is very unhappy that her work has been stolen and used in this way.

Ah, but here's the rub:

Though it would probably be reductive to view Piccinini's work solely in this light, her bizarre little creatures would seem to (by virtue of the whole Dr. Moreau monstrosity factor) offer up at least a bit of a cautionary narrative of their own. And I don't know that such a gloss on an old genre (a version as old as modernity itself) is entirely at odds with the brand of anti-modern urban legend that seems to have transported her artwork into this new milieu.

* * *


Piccinini's Nature's Little Helpers will show at Chelsea's Robert Miller Gallery this October. Roberta Fallon reviewed Piccinini's first show at Robert Miller back in 2004.

Fallon highlights the fact that Piccinini employs Ron Mueck and his technical crew to help fabricate her own hyperrealist sculptures, which is kind of interesting. I frankly find Piccinini's work far more intriguing and artful than Mueck's.

"A Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God?"
Posted by Dan at 10:44 AM


I recall Piccinini's work in Venice quite lucidly. I remember that my family and I took photos with these very lifelike monstrous sculptures. Our aim was to create that quintessential touristy family snapshot, complete with cheesy smiles and deformed bodies. If I can find one of these I will share it.

Posted by: Jason on August 10, 2005 at 11:45 AM

Halfway through the post I had the artist's name on the tip of my tongue, but all my brain would come up with was Dark Crystal! Dark Cyrstal!

Posted by: Kriston on August 10, 2005 at 12:00 PM

Jason: Looks like someone's summer chateau is wired for internet. Do share the family pics once you dig them up.

Kriston: I've never seen The Dark Crystal, but I have to imagine it helped lay the groundwork for Henson's Labyrinth four years later (which, as the Tom Moody link above points out, featured the puppetry and creature shop talents of one Ron Mueck). There's a whole generation for whom Ziggy Stardust will always look like the pale glam shadow of Jareth the Goblin King.

Posted by: Dan on August 10, 2005 at 02:34 PM

The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth share the same "conceptual designer," Brian Froud.

Posted by: piero on August 10, 2005 at 09:53 PM

Referenced in this post:

Alnilin.com Hoax
Art Life: Trout Mask Replicant
Crikey: Aussie art in Islamic morality hoax—Stephen Mayne
Iconoduel: 'Let's hope this party never ends'
Patricia Piccinini
Patricia Piccinini: Bodyguard—Artist Statement for Robert Miller Gallery, NYC
Patricia Piccinini: We Are Family—Venice Biennale 2003
Robert Miller Gallery
Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof's Artblog: Rainy day sunshine and other myths—Roberta Fallon
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery: Patricia Piccinini
Tom Moody: 12-03-2003 11:37 am
Wikipedia: Cautionary tale
Wikipedia: Frankenstein
Wikipedia: Ron Mueck
Wikipedia: The Island of Dr. Moreau