I don't often like Damien Hirst, but his front cover for yesterday's (Independent) RED was very clever and played - as he has done before - with Christian imagery (see his Luke here). (Product) RED is, by the way, a brainwave of Bono to get corporate capitalism involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa - companies donate some of the profits from their (Product) RED branded products: mobile phones, shoes, clothes etc.
On the front page of the paper, various symbols form a cross-shape: the skull, tablets and needle tell the AIDS story and the fight against it. Combined with them are the clasped hands in prayer and the dove with the leaf in its mouth: a nod both to the Ark story in Genesis 8 (v.11), but also to U2's song Beautiful Day).
There is, then, death and enslavement to tortuous routines of treatment; there is an allusion to the destruction of the world by flood/disease; but there is also prayer and hope...
Putting the skull at the base of the cross is a nice trick - it picks up the placing of Adam's skull at the foot of Christ's cross in Orthodox Icons - a way to make the story of the cross relate to every(wo)man.
Placing the Bible reference at the top is also very perceptive. When Christ was crucified a titulus (a charge-sheet) was placed above his head ("this is the King of the Jews"). The titulus here is from Genesis 1:27: "God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God they were created: male and female God created them".
In other words the image means (to me) that ordinary Africans, God's children and bearing God's image, are being crucified by the AIDS pandemic. We are invited to feel as outraged at this scandal as at the murder of the Innocent One. The death of millions of people with AIDS is a scandal since AIDS is, as the footnote at the bottom of the page puts it, "a preventable, treatable disease".
The bottom line would seem to be: just as Pilate washed his hands of Christ's death - do we wealthy Westeners do the same of Africa's? Indeed we wash our hands daily of it - it is no longer even news to us: "no news today".
This is a fascinating take on how Christ's crucifixion relates to the present day for Hirst. In the corner the figures "4.80N0" appear, i.e. "[This picture is] for Bono". Hirst's choice of religious imagery presumably picks up his understanding of what drives Bono (his faith).
It shows therefore one way of interpreting the Cross, emphasizing the way folk with AIDS suffer as Christ did. In doing this Hirst also implicitly gives Africans's lives the same value as Christ's life - and it points to his yearning for their resurrection, just as Christ has already experienced his.
I tip my hat to Hirst, and salute Bono's brave move out of church halls and student campaigning into the high street...