The fly-fishing capital of Argentina, Junín de los Andes, is also home to a sculpture park called the Vía Christi. As the name implies, it highlights some of the events Jesus’ life as described in the Bible, although there’s a heaping dollop of purely imaginary events thrown in just to liven things up a bit, or get a point across. One main point seems to be that George W. Bush wasn’t liked much in Junín either.
In one of the newest sculptures, Jesus’ is Tempted in the Desert, the main visage on the many-faced, serpent-tailed Satan is none other than W. It’s just classic.
Now, a Christian-themed sculpture park would not usually make any must-do list of mine. But in Junín, if you aren’t baiting a hook or casting a rod, the options are limited. I’d already eaten, walked around the main plaza, window shopped in the three stores, so, why not see what Christ is up to up on the hill with the big white cross on it?
Well, as I wrote in a status update on Facebook, the Vía Christi is an odd place: it’s alternatively creepy in its depictions of violence and suffering, plus over-the-top cheesy in its naiveté and the execution and subject matter of the works. (The one of Jesus preaching to Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Gandhi (wasn’t he a Hindu?) has to take the cake.)
But then, it’s also kind of interesting in that the whole thing – which is on a rather pleasant wooded hillside – is an amalgam of native Mapuche history and iconography with Christian stories and symbolism.
The Mapuche are the region’s primary indigenous group. They’re mostly in Chile, but there is also a good number in this part of Argentina, a stone’s throw from the Chilean border. Many live in Junín, and you can see the native influence in just how people look — facial characteristics and statures that are very different from those in Buenos Aires.
So, in the park, while you’ve got the basics going on — tempting, scourging, nailing — there’s a bit of a political tinge to it all. Bush is Lucifer, as we’ve seen. The guy nailing Jesus to the cross is decked out like a conquistador – those Spanish baddies who wiped out much of the indigenous population in South and Central America.
Among the Jesus scenes, there are big plaques with reliefs on them that compare Jesus’ suffering with that of the Mapuche people. Plus a little liberation theology is thrown in, talking about the Church helping the poor, wiping out debt, etc. Pope Benedict would not be happy, I predict. Also, mosaic artwork and traditional design of the Mapuche surround all the sculptures.
And, the Mapuche seem a little less prudish than your general Vatican Monsignor commissioning a religious work of art. No loin cloths or fig leafs on this Jesus undergoing his tribulation. Perhaps a people who were traditionally close to nature prefer their God-men au naturel.