Always on the alert for "offensive" art work, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has once more found a target: the work of Spanish artist Antoni Miralda exhibited at Copia, Napa Valley's new food, wine and arts museum. The exhibition, "Active Ingredients," which runs through April 22, features specially commissioned food-related works by seven contemporary artists. Miralda, a Catalonian artist based in Miami, filled 11 refrigerated soda cases with found objects as part of his continuing project "Food Culture Museum." Among the objects are 35 figurines, each about the size of a chess piece, of different characters sitting on potties (among them several nuns, the pope, Fidel Castro, and Santa Claus). These figures are called "caganers" and are part of a Catalonian peasant tradition.

This time the Catholic League's unfortunate practice of sensationalizing art they haven't even seen, let alone attempted to understand, has led them to demonstrate their lack of knowledge of cultural history. The "caganer," euphemistically known as "the guy who is doing his business," is a traditional nativity scene figure in popular Catalonian tradition. Most frequently the caganer is a peasant in a red beret, but caganers also include nuns, soldiers, contemporary characters, etc. Caganers are present in private, as well as museum collections. They serve to introduce an element of down-to-earth humor into the solemnity of ritual. Laughter, of course, was condemned as a subversive and heretical force in Mediaeval Christianity. But haven't we moved on?

The $55-million nonprofit museum is in large part funded by private donations, including $20 million from Mondavi. The Catholic League wrongly claimed that the museum received $75 million in public funding.

Objectionable figurines part of holiday fun in Catalonia
SARAH ANDREWS, Associated Press Writer
Monday, January 7, 2002
©2002 Associated Press


(01-07) 14:52 PST BARCELONA, Spain (AP)

Placing statuettes of defecating people in Christmas Nativity scenes is a tradition so old, so strong and so widely enjoyed in the Catalonian region of Spain that even the Roman Catholic Church doesn't dare try to ban it.

So it perhaps should be no surprise that while an exhibit of the figurines in a Napa, Calif., museum sparked angry denunciations from Roman Catholics in the United States, Catalonians couldn't understand why critics couldn't appreciate a little irreverent fun.

"Unfortunately, there are intolerant people who are offended by any little thing," said Josep Maria Joan, director of the Toy Museum of Catalonia. His museum has a permanent collection of the figurines, known as "caganers."

The caganers causing offense are part of Spanish artist Antoni Miralda's exposition "Poetical Gut," at the Copia food, wine and arts museum in Napa. The exhibit features ceramic figurines of the pope, nuns and angels with their pants down, squatting over their bowel movements.

Although the traditional caganer is a red-capped peasant from the eastern Catalonian region, Miralda is not alone in his creative interpretations. Since the 1940s, Catalonians have been making modern renditions of the caganer, the most recent being a defecating Osama bin Laden.

Most Catalonians hide the caganers in their Nativity scenes and invite friends over to try to find them. The tradition, which dates back to the 18th century, symbolizes fertilization and the hope for prosperity in the coming year, according to Joan.

"It's really only a game," he said. "The caganer is not supposed to steal Jesus' spotlight in the manger scene. But it's logical that when traditions like this are exported they can be misunderstood."

An official with the Cultural Heritage department of the Barcelona Roman Catholic diocese described the tradition as a harmless game for children and said the church wasn't about to start a "second Inquisition" because of it.

But for Marti Torrent, 89, founder of the 70-member Association of Friends of the Caganer, the meaning goes deeper than child's play.

To him, the act of defecating symbolizes "the fertilization of the earth" and pride in the land of Catalonia, whose inhabitants won the right to speak their own language and govern themselves after the 1939-75 Spanish dictatorship.

"I know that American society is more strict with its religious ideas than we are in Catalonia," said Torrent, who has 600 caganers in his private collection.

But, he added, what the caganer does "is natural. Even the king has to do it every day, or at least every other day."

©2002 Associated Press