I’ve got an exciting commission coming up for the Evangelical Lutheran Association for Youth in Finland, Nuorten Keskus: colouring-in pictures for young people based on biblical stories, to form part of a multimedia activity book called “Painiva Jumala”, “The wrestling God”. The book will come out in 2017 on Kirjapaja but they already needed the image for the cover: Jacob wrestling the Angel.
This is a pretty inconclusive and ambiguous story of how an anonymous person challenges Jacob to wrestle as Jacob’s on his way home to reconcile himself with his brother Esau, after making his fortune in the world… His two wives and two slave concubines and eleven children have already crossed the river and then this dude challenges Jacob to wrestle. They fight all night and in the end the only way the stranger can win is by kneeing Jacob in the groin, well, top of the thigh. When they finally introduce themselves, the stranger doesn’t say who he is but tells Jacob that his name should no longer be Jacob, but Israel, ‘he who has struggled with God’. – The theologians have an interpretation about this story representing humankind’s conflicted relationship with the deity, but I found it pretty unsatisfying, thin on motivation.
Nonetheless it presented an interesting compositional challenge: how to depict a wrestling moment where one party has the other by the neck (this is in the book’s title) but neither is obviously winning. And it couldn’t look gay, as I’m assuming that teenage boys are still one of the most gigglingly homophobic groups of people in existence, and the Youth Centre does want them involved too. And it couldn’t just be a mess of limbs writhing on the ground. Many historical paintings of this scene show a pretty boring Graeco-Roman stance with the angel and Jacob grabbing each other by the shoulders, although Gauguin´s angel in “Vision after the Sermon” has Jacob in a headlock. I wanted something with verve and action. A few hours of wrestling videos later (Finnish Olympic wrestling; aikido vs jiujitsu; Californians doing Brazilian jujitsu) I settled for a kind of theolgical MMA: the angel has Jacob in a Brazilian vale-tudo headlock, but Jacob is countering with a vingativa from capoeira.
This, in turn, reminded me of the capoeira song “Foi no clarao da lua“, a showoff song crowing about how capoeira won over jujitsu in a moonlit bout, and goes into the details of the moves used: “No vale-tudo con jujitsu… a capoeira venceu!”.