Jesus Christ is often depicted as a white man, but most scholars can agree that Jesus was anything but Caucasian. Despite the inaccuracies, Jesus has been portrayed this way for a very long time.
One man, an artist from South Africa who was prepared to make a statement at nearly any cost, decided to make a statement and show Jesus Christ in a whole new light. Ronald Harrison, a South African artist who was greatly influenced by South Africa’s apartheid era, decided to tell the story of racial segregation in that area using Jesus Christ.
A documentary, The Black Christ Documentary Film, is currently being shown to audiences over television to explain the true story of Harrison’s suffering to tell the world what was really happening during the apartheid era in the 1960s.
According to City Press, in 1962, Harrison boldly painted Jesus Christ as a black man. Specifically, Jesus was portrayed by African National Congress leader Chief Albert Luthuli. Luthuli was Christ crucified, surrounded by the National Party prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, and justice minister John Vorster serving as two Roman centurions.
In the controversial portrait, Christ’s mother, Mary, was also black. St. John was depicted as Asian.
In those troubling times, the political statement was loud and threatening to the National Party-led government. Verwoerd and Vorster were seen as victims by the government.
Harrison was subsequently arrested for his political painting, The Black Christ. The painting was banned, and Harrison was harshly interrogated and tortured for expressing his sentiment through the painting.
Jesus Christ painted as a black man insulted some, but it raised protest of the times in a peaceful way.
The Black Christ became a symbol of the times. Although it was thought of as blasphemous on religious grounds and abhorrent on political grounds, it gained international attention to the overwhelming contradiction of a racist Christian government, namely the National Party, in power in South Africa.
The documentary made about Jesus Christ painted as a black man and its resulting significance in raising awareness and creating some change in South Africa commemorates a widely unknown artist who contributed so much through his oil painting. It also acknowledges other artists who raised awareness during those times.
Harrison’s painting depicting Jesus Christ as a black man now has a home in the South African National Gallery, and a replica is proudly on display at the offices of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.