art intervention in Gemäldegalerie in Berlin
At this intervention, the artist swaps the roles of the “white” and “black”, changes the position of the leading and supporting roles, and questions the stereotype that we could still have today.
Balthazar, one of the biblical Magi, is considered in the West to be of Arab or Ethiopian origin and dark-skinned. Similarly, Melchior is believed to be from Persia and Gaspar from India. Although Christianity is a cosmopolitan religion and Christ himself is Middle Eastern, there is considerable bias in the European portrayal of these figures. Christ is portrayed as a White, and Melchior and Gaspard are depicted with lighter skin, while Balthasar's skin is painted black and he is rarely placed in the centre of religious paintings.
Western society was not yet sufficiently internationalised at the time these paintings were made, and this follower-like depiction of Balthazar as a black person might have been common at the time. The problem is that we could be still used to this ‘racial casting' today. Although coloured and oversized models are nowadays seen in advertisements, they are usually placed in the corner and the main person is often a white model with an ideal body shape.