A Depiction of the Survival of the Jehovah’s Witness Religion

In 2012 Jess Black released an entire art collection about his experience in and eventually abandoning the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  An art collection of this kind had never been done before.  The live streaming exhibition with a 3-hour live chat resulted in people signing on from six continents, 25 countries, and 312 cities. The title of the collection was Leather Bound in Black or Red, which Black states is a reference to the color choice every time he was given a New World Translation Bible.  Black is now offering an affordable limited edition print to collectors from the Leather Bound in Black or Red collection.

One of the things that became evident is that the the price point of the paintings was out of reach for most of the people to whom the paintings meant the most.  People asked for prints or posters of some of the paintings, but offering any type of print program was not part of the business plan, at least at the time.  This changed when Leigh & Luca – New York contacted Jess Black to do a line of fashion scarves that featured his art work.  Some of the advance sales were to people who could not afford a $5000 paintings, but could afford a $300 scarf.  Black was sent several pictures of framed scarves that adorned people’s walls.  It was at this moment that the decision to make low quantity prints occurred.

The painting selected was Running From Grace.  This painting encapsulates 10 years of Black’s life, the two years leading up to him leaving the JW faith and the eight years in Running From GraceNew York living on his own.  He explains, “This paintings is not about religious oppression. It’s about freedom and truth.  Not “The Truth,” but the real truth that they don’t want you to know. It was difficult at first.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness means you are not given the tools to deal with or navigate the world outside that cultish bubble.  But once you figure it out there is no better life.”

Running From Grace is filled with subtleties and viewers of the piece will continue to see something new to which they will personally relate.  It is a 20×16 on archival paper.  Each piece is hand signed and numbered by the artist with a maximum edition of 25.  Each includes a certificate of authenticity and sells for $425.  For more details or to purchase a print please visit Jess Black’s website.

So You’re a Disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness. Now What?

Promotion for the "Leather Bound in Black or Red" CollectionSince August of 2011, I, Jeff Steck, have been planning an art exhibition with an artist who is a former Jehovah’s Witness.  Artist Jess Black, who abandoned the JW religion when he was 17, wanted to do a collection based on what he believes are manipulations, oppression, and inconsistencies within the JW religion.  After careful consideration Jess decided to call the collection, Leather Bound in Black or Red.  He explained, “Every time we were issued new bibles we were asked if we wanted them leather bound in black or red.”

Personally, I thought this would be an interesting direction for his career.  I had no idea this collection would receive international attention and produce fear in those who are both practicing and those who have left the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  This is not like rebeling against Catholicism.  You abandon the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they will ruin you.

Alright, many of you will believe that last sentence is an exaggeration.  Let’s explore.  If you decide to abandon or reject the JW faith (usually something that develops over years) you will experience the common practice of shunning.  Big deal you think, so people in the church will not talk to me, who cares?  What needs to be understood is that for a follower’s entire life he has only associated with people within the church.  A Jehovah’s Witness is not permitted to have casual association within anyone outside the religion and this includes family.  So, if you want to leave you must be prepared to lose everybody.  You will lose your entire support system.  Parents, siblings, and best friends will all shun you.  Many find a parent abandoning her child unlikely, but they do because their fear is stronger than their family bonds.  The belief is that by shunning the deserter he or she will eventually return.  We have received countless emails from people who have told us that their mothers and siblings will no longer speak with them and that they do not have a home.  At the age of 30 it is as if they have just been born.  They are lonely and scared.

Jess Black is releasing an entire collection of art on January 18, 2012, that explores his relationship with the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  While some of his experiences were positive, overall he believes the religion is cultish and uses fear and manipulation to keep its followers.  He is releasing this collection without fear.  It is not only cathartic for him, but he also wants to demonstrate to others how life can become wonderful once you leave the dogma behind.  This collection will debut at 5:00pm pst on January 18, 2012 and remain live through January 31, 2012, at http://www.boundinblack.com.

He encourage emails from those of you who need support.  We have found quite a few websites and Facebook pages dedicated to helping disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Simply by doing a web search “Jess+Black+Jehovah’s+Witness” you will find all types of information about Black’s forthcoming collection.

For more information on Jess Black please visit his website at www.jessblackart.com

Is Jess Black an Apostate?

For most people the idea of an art collection that challenges religious doctrine is not particularly ground breaking.  However, after multiple failed attempts at reaching out to several support groups for former Jehovah’s Witnesses I began scratching my head.  I realized that it is quite possible that no one has ever openly challenged the practices taught within this religion out of fear of losing even more than what they have already lost.

When we distributed a press release in August about the theme of this collection it was immediately picked up by Jehovah’s Witness groups as well as anti-Jehovah’s Witness groups.  Our website (jessblackart.com) experienced over a 1000% increase in unique hits.  I checked it three times.  The JW groups shared it with their followers but essentially had no comment.  However, we received several private messages about apostacy.  You take the good with the bad.  The anti-JW groups commented on Jess Black’s bravery in actually calling the religion a cult.  Still others would comment how nice it was that a former JW has made something of his life.  For someone like me who was raised very loosely as a Presbyterian (so loosely I had to verify spelling) the controversy of someone leaving a religion or speaking out against it did not resonate.  I mean, haven’t celebrities made careers of rebelling against Catholicism?

Jess has repeatedly told me, and I believe him, that I will not completely understand because I was raised very differently.  He explains, “When you are part of this religion it becomes your entire life, it’s not just a Sunday thing.  There are definitely good things about it, but overall I wasn’t buying what they were selling.   Because you are not allowed to socialize with others outside of the religion you become somewhat sheltered.  When one wants to leave the religion the church teaches all the others to shun you.  This shunning includes your parents and sibling and all of your friends.  It is believed that the fear shunning instills will bring you back into the religion.  Otherwise, you can find yourself suddenly cut off.   No one ever really says that they are shunning someone but instead would describe people who question their faith or leave the religion as having the wrong or bad heart condition.  As a child I never understood why God would choose to afflict one person over another with a good or bad heart.  Early in my teen years I realized that most of this was bullshit.  I faked it for years.  At age 17 I told my parents just that.  Oh, I also told them I was gay.  I was scared, but staying and living a lie was scarier to me.  I dealt with about six months of hell and moved to New York on my own before my 18th birthday.  I have no idea how I had the guts to do that.  I left the religion before I was formally labeled an apostate or anything like that.   I too have opinions about what is right and what is wrong.”

Heart Condition is the name of Jess’ latest painting, which explores the struggle of deciding to stay within the religion or breaking free and becoming your own person.  This is all part of the “Leather Bound in Black or Red” collection.

As the collection grows it can be viewed at http://www.jessblackart.com.   Exhibition plans in Los Angeles are tentatively scheduled for November 2011.