Emmanuel Garibay

Emmaus, 2012, Oil on canvas, 91 x 91 cm, Private Collection; © Emmanuel Garibay

Neither Male nor Female

Commentary by Rod Pattenden

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Read by Chloë Reddaway

Emmanuel Garibay is an artist from the Philippines who is known for striking images that critique the conventions of his country’s European colonial past. This work is his surprising portrayal of the events of Luke 24:13–35 in which the newly-risen Christ, unrecognized, walks to the village of Emmaus with two of his disciples. Upon arrival, he agrees to eat with them, and is finally seen and acknowledged at the breaking of the bread.

In Garibay’s work the disciples break into laughter at this recognition of Christ, and their own previous blindness. But what they see is a woman, with dark skin, in a slim red dress, eating among the ordinary workers in the village.

This work is shocking for the way it upends what those familiar with mainstream Western Art might expect. Theologically the Christian tradition would affirm that the spirit of Christ is not bound by differences of sex or gender, but is alive in the world in creative and diverse ways. Yet we had really expected a man—and probably white.

Western audiences recognize their shock at this female depiction and yet, though androgynous, we know that this is Christ: her face is haloed, and her hands bear the marks of crucifixion. The hilarity of the disciples becomes the humour, the shock, the recognition of a divine joke that has been played on the viewer’s theological and cultural expectations. Here is the embodied shock of Paul’s affirmation, ’neither male nor female’, for all are one in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28).

There is more. The context is not a church or holy place, but somewhere where ordinary people gather, have simple food, and drink beer. This Christ is female and—perhaps as shockingly—has dark skin. She is an indigenous Filipino, utterly different from any colonial Spanish or contemporary North American representation of power and authority. The Christ figure also wears a red café dress, a cultural convention that presents a woman who may not be considered respectable company.

Where else should we look for the living Christ, if not among the poor and marginalized? New possibilities for hope emerge as traditional icons of power are overturned. Freedom is let loose in the laughter of disciples shocked out of their conventional forms of seeing. This image laughs at the oppressive apparatus of both church and state, and locates freedom in the places where ordinary people break bread.

See full exhibition for Galatians 3:23–4:7

Galatians 3:23–4:7

Revised Standard Version

Galatians 3

23 Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. 24So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

4 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; 2but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. 4But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.