Inside many ancient myths, monsters are not created, but born. King Minos of Crete disobeyed Poseidon by failing to slaughter a bull in his name. As is customary when dealing with vain gods, this king was punished severely for his lack of fervor. Spitefully, the god of the sea vexed Pasiphae, Minos’ wife, to fall in love with a bull, spawning an unholy cross between man and beast: the minotaur. To spare the world from its gaze and lust for human flesh, the minotaur was cast into the vast labyrinth to imprison the creature, stopping it from terrorizing the people of Crete.
Classically, the minotaur is viewed, as the myth presents, as a monster—a being rightfully ostracized and displaced for its horrid, tortuous construction. In the exhibit, Minos: Tribulations of a Fantastical (or Not) Creature, by Sammy Chong, S.J., of the fine arts department, interjects the minotaur into modern scenarios to examine large societal paradigms related to grouping and exclusion. Minos explores ideas of alienation and what it means to be a monster through the lens of one mythic beast.
“The Minotaur’s alienation is rooted in the fact that he is reviled by others,” the exhibit’s description stated. “To be a monster is not the essence of the Minotaur’s being rather, it is imposed on him by the mainstream.”
In other words, though some monsters are born, others are merely fabricated.
The exhibit catalogues various moments in the life of the minotaur. From its onset the exhibit makes clear that the emotional isolation of the minotaur is unfettered by time, as each snapshot of this misunderstood beasts life wades deeper into the waters of sequestration and abandonment. Each picture is an attempt to escape the labyrinth of isolation.
The first picture, “Nativity,” depicts a minotaur as a baby, left on the doorstep of a fire station in a box. Given the mythic origins of the minotaur and his subsequent removal from his mother, this image details the isolation from family. The minotaur does not belong to the family of men, but neither does he belong in the realm of beasts. As such, he is put away. Orphaned, the minotaur is without home from birth.
The next, “Breaking Bread,” depicts a lively cafeteria scene which children sipping juice boxes and relishing in the collective liberties of lunchtime. But off at the end of a table, alone, a minotaur eats his lunch. His alienation from peers, due to his appearance sets him apart, unaccepted by even the kinder eyes of children.
Onward into high school years, “Friends Forever” finds a minotaur opening his locker as other look on and stare with unempathetic eyes. He is rejected, solemnly keeping his head down, hiding from others, and possibly, from himself. Pushed away from all and rejected by mainstream grounds of success and fulfillment, another minotaur turns to drugs, in “Dropped Out.”
The next portion of the exhibit sees different types of minotaurs working for subsistence. They survive on through methods outside the mainstream making them denizens—monsters of one sort or another. One collects cans in “Green,” another sells her body in “Profession.”
One recurring element in all these distinct pieces is the inclusion of a maze. When a simple swirl or a more elaborate depiction of a medieval labyrinth, the image haunts every picture. It looms on the bed sheets. It adorns the clothes of the minotaur, or tattooed on the skin. It is on a lunchbox and a napkin. It is an invasive element that seems to challenge the minotaur, confining the minotaur in one way or another. This image in the pictures brings a deeper sense of the alienation of pervasive isolation into light. The maze is physically present, but also metaphorically sewn into the fabric of the minotaur’s life throughout drugs, homelessness, jail, and the unsympathetic eyes of others.
The only picture that does not contain the maze is the last, “Epilogue.” Stylized like a classic desert image, a bull skull is scene amid tumbleweeds and cacti. But behind it are the bones of a human body. The resting place of the minotaur. In death, there is no maze to traverse. Though a melancholy note, it is a powerful reminder of the end of all hardships.
Minos is a stunning display that challenges viewers to look deeper into the consequences of social convention and their ultimate end. The picture are beautiful, but seeing the unsettling combination of man and beast set in our world truly brings Chong’s message to the forefront of thought. Though founded in a mythic perspective, the reality of the minotaur is sorely felt in this world. The nature of monsters is tied to the nature of men as one truly cannot exist without the other to contrast, separate, and relegate to a maze of social desolation.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Minos was a photo exhibit. The works of art by Sammy Chong, S.J., are actually graphite illustrations.
Featured Image By Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff