Several artworks by artist Russell Haines were stolen or vandalized in an exhibition called 'Faith' installed at Gloucester Cathedral as part of an exhibition celebrating religious diversity. The Guardian reports that besides the artwork, light projectors and sound systems used in the show were also stolen.
Christian groups slammed the use of Islamic images inside the 11th-century cathedral after it opened January 24, 2017. Anonymous online accusations of blasphemy and death threats to Haines and members of the clergy involved with the show have escalated tension around the exhibit.
“The point of this project was to show and to emphasise what we all have in common, precisely not to tell people what they ought to think,” said Haines. “I never thought this would happen, although I knew some people would not like it.”
Both Haines and organisers at the 11th-century Gloucester Cathedral, the resting place of Edward II, intended the Faith art show to highlight Gloucester’s identity as a contented multicultural community. “The cathedral agreed to put it on because I wanted to celebrate this city,” Haines told The Guardian. “Gloucester is often thought not to be such a great place, as the poorer neighbour of Cheltenham. But the one thing we have is a hugely diverse community and no conflict. We were the place with the first woman bishop and other major positions in the church here are held by women.”
The Dean of Gloucester, The Very Revd Stephen Lake said; "Being a place of hospitality is important to us, especially in our local multi-cultural context. This art exhibition and its opening meeting is an important expression of the need to come together with people different from ourselves. That said, the cathedral as sacred space and common ground is daily living out its vocation as a distinctive place of Christian witness and worship, confident in the love and uniqueness of Jesus Christ. "
Towards that end, Haines' exhibition included subjects and artworks drawn from a variety of faiths, including Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Christians. For good measure the artist even included a witch. All subjects of his artworks live in the Gloucester area. “It was thinking about my art, and about the idea that it was now all I needed, that made me realise faith is quite a similar thing. I did this show to find out more about the people around me in this city.”
Of the four films stolen, two focused on Islam. Also vandalized was a provocative portrait of Jesus with a raised finger.
Haines came to painting after having a stroke in his mid-forties. Simply stated, the former builder and electrician found himself feeling worthless and severely depressed. "I found myself with nothing," Haines said in a March 2016 interview. His relationships with his partner and children completely broke down, leaving him with "no house or job or home or family or anything else. "
It was his introduction to art therapy in a Gloucestershire program called Art Lift, that changed his life. Ironically, Haines has made not much money on his artworks, but all the controversy around his 'Faith' show have broadcast his artistic vision onto the global stage.