This series began with an image in my mind of a praying mantis on a crucifix. Without any real understanding of its provenance, I got to work. I spent countless hours poring through every feature of the mantis, both anatomical and behavioral, meanwhile developing a deep affinity for this curious creature. To then put my creation into such a hostile context was a jarring experience. What compelled me to focus on this particular insect, spend painstaking hours breathing life into it, only to then subject it to scrutiny, judgment, and ultimately, the staging of its execution?
The mantis is seen to some as a majestic creature; to others, they appear as nefarious decapitators. And at first glance, this is not surprising given their alien appearance and behavior. Yet the more time I spent studying mantises, doing my best to accurately represent them, the more affection I felt for these ambiguous creatures. It was then that I began to grasp my intuitive attraction to the mantis. Like them, I have been misunderstood and subjected to unfair judgment, which is an experience shared by virtually all of us.
Being misunderstood has caused me pain. Fortunately, I have the benefit of being able to process a lot of my grief through the process of sculpting. But it never escapes me that I come from a place of privilege. I’m acutely aware that the suffering I’ve incurred pales in comparison to that of others. And this self-awareness, coupled with a heightened sense of empathy, may begin to explain what drove me towards the secondary element in this series: the imagery of executions – and the related concepts of guilt, condemnation, and punishment.
As part of my research, I looked at various forms of capital punishment that have been used throughout the ages. I was astonished – and horrified - at the amount of energy and creativity expended into this practice, across cultures, centuries, and through the present. Yet I was captivated by the imagery associated with Roman crucifixion, mafia-style cement shoes, the medieval breaking wheel, the guillotine, and the practice of stoning which continues to this day. Our ancestors used to attend public executions as a form of entertainment. They were eager to humiliate their fellow citizens for being different, gleefully spectating, and sometimes participating.
I believe that the reasons motivating our ancestors to alienate with violence are the same as they are today. Whether framed in terms of the “Other,” racism, religious intolerance, hyper-partisanship, or otherwise, the phenomenon involves regarding that which is (literally) natural as alien and threatening. We have, as a species, a compulsion to draw these lines between “us” and “them” – even when the victims are fundamentally harmless. And when that compulsion is allowed to override our desires to be good, empathetic, and tolerant, the consequences are tragic.