Photo exhibition creates debate – 1998

📝 From my Inner Depository Archive, Fall of 1998. Translation made October 2012.

Between the years 1998 to 2002 I had a website called “Jonathan’s website on Racism/Hate Hurts.” It was in the infancy of Internet long before blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. My intentions back then was to be a resource for schools and other interested in topics concerning human rights, discrimination, racism, bullying and anti-homosexual tendencies among others.

Here is the promised article with a historical retrospective. As I wrote in an earlier article about the photo exhibition, it was to be exhibited in Belgrade, and it did! It aroused strong emotions, like when it premiered in Sweden in 1998. So, let us go 14 years back in time to get a glimpse of the situation at that time. At the end, links to some updates of the events in Belgrade Pride 2012.

LGBT flags in the Media Center Terazijama in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Tanjug)

The controversial photo exhibition “Ecce Homo” was first shown during EuroPride Festival held in Stockholm July 18-26, 1998, and criticism came instantly. The exhibition was even reported to the police. A few weeks earlier another photo-exhibition, “Soft Core,” were subjected to vandalism by a group of right-wing extremists (neo-Nazis.) That exhibition in the National Historical Museum was strongly criticized by certain cultural circles as to contain pornographic images of underage boys. What is interesting in this context, is to see that we turn a blind eye to sabotage and harassments when they serve “good purposes.” Linking homosexuality with pedophilia is just very offensive!

This photo exhibition, as well as “Ecce Homo” was included when Stockholm hosted the European Capital of Culture that year. The remarkable thing is that no one responded when a gang of neo-Nazis “slipped” in and managed to destroy the entire exhibition, no one noticed it, it was as if all went around and hoped that it would happen. No one could imagine that prayers would be answered so quickly! I can understand the reactions, but it is strange, however, that this sabotage may take place without anyone responds! “Bah, it was pornographic images, remove the trash,” perhaps someone says. We must be allowed to have opinions about art and porn and more. It is our democratic right to express our views and values. But having democratic rights does not mean that we should vandalize a museum. It is in all circumstances just as criminal as vandalism of Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, refugee camps or premises for LGBT associations! Or perhaps the end justifies the means?

The photo exhibition was closed down following the incident and the decision not to re-open it, was criticized by various groups as a concession to violence. But no one stood up and condemned the vandalism. Then you might wonder; has it gone so far that our silence has become as big a threat as violence and abuse? Naturally, EuroPride organizers were afraid that the photo exhibition Ecce Homo also would be subject to sabotage. This time it ended with a police report, but more to come!


No sooner had the ink from the summer’s gay headlines dried, and the waves of the battle in the media calmed down, until it was time again;
“Dean challenging classical belief,” “Bomb threats against the Ecce Homo exhibition in Uppsala,” “Dean faces death threats,” are some headlines from news papers this fall. The exhibition was displayed again, now in a crowded cathedral in Uppsala in September 19, 1998 under the direction of Dean Tuulikki Koivunen Bylund. The exhibition, which was also sanctioned by Archbishop K.G. Hammar, led to a strained relationship within the ecumenical cooperation among the churches, while our Archbishop was denied an audience with the Blessed John Paul II (Karol Józef Wojtyła) which was to take place shortly after the exhibition.
[Note: The meeting between Archbishop K.G. Hammar and the Pope took place instead in May 1999.]

The photographer Elisabeth Ohlson was interviewed in a paper by RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights);
– “The price of that I have made my homosexuality visible and demanded equal values on a sacred place is that I am exposed to threats of violence.”
She has among other things been told that she should burn in hell. At one point, she had police escort after being threatened. But she will not give in to the threatening manifestations she encountered, she says herself:
– “I am thinking of threats when I lecture. It feels unreal. But I do not want to stop just because they scare me.”

Excerpt from a conversation between the photographer Elisabeth Ohlson and Pastor Stanley Sjöberg, July 21, 1998.

The photographer (Elisabeth Ohlson) and Pastor (Stanley Sjöberg) met in the Swedish TV news programme “Summer morning” of 21st July 1998. Both would, in a limited time, argue for and against the exhibition. I have taken the liberty to write down a portion of this interview.

– Reporter: The controversial element in the homo cultural festival EuroPride, which is taking place throughout the week in Stockholm, Sweden, is so far the exhibition “Ecce Homo” even though it is pretty tucked in an underground shelter. After all, it has gained publicity, and it has aroused angry feelings, right?
– Elisabeth: Yes, it has been a lot of writings about it.
– Reporter: Were you surprised?
– Elisabeth: I didn’t think it would be so much, but perhaps it was the police thing who pulled it all up.
[Police protection after threats against Elisabeth, generated in a huge amount of news articles.]
– Reporter: But you haven’t taken a risk? You have arranged an exhibition that is so provocative, so you have opened yourself to attacks?
– Elisabeth: No, I think I have the right as a homosexual, to show these pictures, so we can take our place in history, making people happy, that they may know that God’s love is with us.
– Reporter: With all respect, but you must have observed that Pastor Sjöberg genuinely feels offended?
– Elisabeth: No one has done this in two thousand years. When Jesus lived, he provoked immensely. So much that they crucified him. Now, these images provoke again, and I think it’s good that they do, to show that Jesus actually protects the small. And I feel so small when I hear the pastor, that’s what is dangerous with the pastor.
– Pastor Stanley: If we from our side would accuse you of something that is totally alien to your personality, let’s say, that “you are one of those who use young children for your sexual experiences,” then, you would get upset, right? But to place Jesus as a gay man, sick of AIDS, who dies in the arms of a gay-mom and starts supper with a group of transvestites, himself sitting there in high-heeled shoes? You must surely agree that you have betrayed, or distorted what Christian faith is all about when it comes to our image of God, who Jesus is?
– Elisabeth: No, I don’t experience Jesus so. My image of Jesus is that he was an incredibly special person.
– Pastor Stanley: He was pure, holy, he had integrity. I can’t believe that you… I don’t want to be harsh to you because I understand that you also have an inner pain in your life. The most stupid thing we could do is to become enemies. But you have hurt deeply, you hurt…
The reporter interrupts:
– But don’t you also, if you equate homosexuality with pedophilia?
– Pastor: I say, if you give in to the desires of your ego, then it can end up almost anywhere. I mean, it’s capitalism and neoliberalism in its selfishness. This is a great existential question.
– Reporter: But a man and a woman who are married and love each other, may have an incredibly intense love and affirm their passions fully. What is the difference?
– Pastor: The Bible says that this causes errors. Often the Bible is right, or rather, the Bible always get it right. Therefore, it will be a culture of pleasure that becomes sick. It is even the case in a marriage; that life must be more, otherwise it creates a burnout.
– Reporter: But there are also many examples of gay couples who live extremely bourgeois lives and in peaceful relationships, right?
– Elisabeth: Everyone is different. We gays are like the rest of society. We are always compared with others to become classic examples. Everyone has different lifestyles. Then I think that you are getting provoked a lot of what you are afraid of and what you don’t know anything about.
I think when we are seen to much, many people want us to calm down. This is perhaps why some get annoyed now when we are seen too much during the EuroPride. “It’s okay to be gay, just don’t make a fuss of you, it’s okay only if you cannot be seen, only if you don’t act out.”
– Reporter: And is that what attracts you, to be seen so much, just as you do with this exhibition?
– Elisabeth: For me it’s very important that all in the gay community who are believers, get a Bible they can look in without feeling guilt, balm for the soul, reading a word from the Bible and know that Jesus loves us. God is love.

This was largely the content of my article from 1998, truly a memorable year!

Update Belgrade Pride 2012, with a hope of a more peaceful Pride Belgrade September 2013!

• Balkan Insight, Oct. 4, 2012: Exhibition held behind police walls
• Politika, Oct. 6, 2012: Pride completed behind four walls
• Associated Press, Oct. 6, 2012: Serbian gay activists hold indoor pride event

© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955)
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One Response to Photo exhibition creates debate – 1998

  1. Thank you for sharing this…sometimes (such as today for instance) I am ready to shut down and never even try to defend myself about anything again. I am somewhat a strange mixture of liberal and conservative, strong on LGBT rights but spent years trying to reconcile it with a Faith who is simply not open to it, and the temptation has been to give up.

    It has been suggested at times that I am going to hell, but at least I have never had a death threat over it. This woman did and still kept onward. You Jonathan have had your own sufferings, which you have indicated at times from your other postings and I can only guess how much you must hurt at times. But just know I needed to hear this today. If you can go on maybe I can also. Blessings.

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