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William Blake

Behemoth and Leviathan, from Illustrations of the Book of Job, 1825–26, Engraving, 411 x 275 mm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Edward Bement 1917, 17.17.1–15, www.metmuseum.org

Anish Kapoor

Leviathan, 2011, PVC, 33.6 x 99.89 x 72.23 m, Monumenta 2011, Grand Palais, Paris, ©Anish Kapoor / All rights reserved DACS / Artimage, London and ARS, NY 2019. Photo: Dave Morgan

Trevor Makhoba

God Wants His People, c.2001, Linoleum cut, 418 x 302 mm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1110.2007.14, © Courtesy of Mrs. G. Makhoba © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

‘Whatever Is Under the Whole Heaven Is Mine’

Comparative Commentary by

These three images offer us different ways of apprehending Job 40 and 41.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the wild unpredictability of much of the book of Job, William Blake offers us a clear sense of God’s order within each of his three ‘spheres’ or frames. Here animals, humans, and the divine each have their appointed place. What connects them is God. Blake reads the book of Job as a confirmation of God’s order and control. Behemoth and Leviathan are awe-full but constrained.

Not so for Trevor Makhoba. He experiences Behemoth and Leviathan unbound, prowling through his province and preying on African bodies. His image unleashes Behemoth and Leviathan, confronting us with the terror of their textual power made ‘flesh’. Makhoba’s beast is all mouth, the body hidden from view, just as the hippopotami and crocodiles of the rural areas of his homeland lie submerged below the surface of the waters, waiting, with only their nostrils visible. Like the HIV and AIDS pandemic, the danger of this beast is invisible. Behemoth and Leviathan lurk just below the surface of normal life, as HIV inhabits the blood beneath the skin.

Both artists invite us to be attentive; to ‘behold’. Just as Blake’s image has human watchers, so too does Makhoba’s, with silhouetted humans looking down into the gaping mouth. But the beholding differs dramatically. One is a visionary insight into cosmic order; the other a vigilance against a crouching and virulent threat.

Anish Kapoor shifts the focus from seeing to touching. His Leviathan consists of flesh-like fabric. While Makhoba’s image seemed too terrifying to touch, Kapoor’s Leviathan invites tactile encounter. But it cannot be tamed. Though drawn into and around the pulsating body of God’s ‘king’ of creation (Job 41:34), we remain dwarfed by it. Experiencing this Leviathan with our whole bodies, we are also vulnerable to the creature’s disorientating immensity. Thus Kapoor and Makhoba disturb us in different ways. Kapoor’s Leviathan swallows us up within its body, but we feel the potential presence of Makhoba’s Behemoth–Leviathan, unseen and terrible, within ours.

The palette of these artworks ranges from the sharp black and whites of Makhoba’s linocut, through the grayscale of Blake’s engraving (and the pastel colours of his watercolours), to the vibrant intense red (from the inside) and earthy-ochre (from the outside) of Kapoor’s installation. Makhoba is an accomplished oil painter, preferring bright colours in his paintings, so his choice of black and white for this work seems significant: funereal perhaps. Kapoor’s red interior allows a more life-enhancing role for Leviathan: like a womb the enveloping environment might be a place of new beginning, as the whirlwind was for Job.

The Behemoths and Leviathans of these artists demand our attention in different ways, compelling us to look carefully, unsettling us, while in important ways also incorporating us. Each work brings particular details within the biblical text to life, and each offers resources for theological reflection. God’s presence is overt in Blake, entertained in Kapoor, and hoped for in Makhoba. But each of these images, in their respective intersections with the book of Job, may help us explore not only the presence but also the nature of God. Blake assures us that God’s control is absolute; Makhoba is not so sure in the face of the terrible spectre of mass death; Kapoor wonders whether a close encounter with even the most sublimely terrible of God’s creatures may also be the occasion of both personal and collective remaking.

 

References

Menezes, Caroline. 2013. ‘Anish Kapoor: Leviathan’, Studio International: Visual Arts, Design and Architecture, https://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/anish-kapoor-leviathan [accessed 31 May 2018]

Schoenherr, Douglas E. (ed.). 1997. Lines of Enquiry: British Prints from the David Lemon Collection (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada)

West, Gerald. 2010. ‘“God Wants His People”: Between Retribution and Redemption in Trevor Makhoba’s Engagement with HIV and AIDS’, De Arte, 45.81: 42–52

Next exhibition: Job 42