Comparative Religions 101
Artist: Ben Sakoguchi
Date of Action: Sept. 2022
Region: North America
Location: Orange County, California
Confronting Bodies: Orange County Museum of Art
Description of Artwork: Ben Sakoguchi's Comparative Religions 101, consisting of 16 painted panels, was selected for the California Biennial 2022: Pacific Gold. The centerpiece depicts a diminutive Albert Einstein dwarfed by an expansive and vibrant view of the Grad Canyon. Surrounding the central painting are 15 additional canvases, each exploring humanity's quest for power and influence through satirical juxtapositions referencing religion, geopolitics, world history, and pop culture. Three swastikas are used on a flag behind Japanese Emperor Hirohito, on a flag alongside a Sikh brigade of an Indian military unit composed of prisoners of war, and behind soldiers who fought for the Independent State of Croatia–a puppet government under Hitler's Germany.
The Incident: A few months prior to the opening, the artist was informed of concerns coming from the museum's education department that some of the imagery in his work would make some patrons "uncomfortable, upset, [or] triggered." Sakoguchi provided additional context to his work answering 17 questions and creating 10 short videos of narration.
Results of Incident: Following the submission of the contextual materials, the artist was "notified that OCMA will no longer include Comparative Religions 101 because the museum will not show any work that depicts a swastika." In days prior to the Biennial, OCMA re-invited the work, but at this point, Mr. Sakoguchi had resolved against his participation in the exhibition.