What do you see when you look at this image? two men kissing? two representatives of whole nations kissing? Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China and the President of the USA kissing? Does it disturb you? is it confronting? is it offensive? is it in a way a sign of peace? This ad is designed to make people feel or think anything outside their comfort zones. All interpretations depend on personal knowledge, myths and ideologies.
Images represent something, in this case, breaking barriers, love, universality, peace and the campaigns objective, “unhate”. Alessandro Benetton, the deputy head of the company this campaign was made for, said in a statement, “The central theme is the kiss, the most universal symbol of love, between world political and religious leaders,” showing that the connotations of this image can be taken as positive, promoting an attitude we can all embrace, unity and toleration.
However the connotations of this image can also be negative, a huge outburst arose from another picture from the same campaign of the Pope kissing Ahmed el Tayyeb, an Egyptian imam and a prominent figure in Sunni Islam. Many catholics claimed it was disrespectful, an offence to the feelings of believers and the Pope himself. The image connotes homosexuality, something that is historically frowned upon by the Catholic religion. Displaying the Pope himself as homosexual in this quite intimate embrace, connotes a value and belief that traditionally Catholics have fought against.
These two public figures are also on opposite ends of the political and religious scale and have had serious conflicts in the past. The Muslim world severed ties with the Catholic Church in 2006. Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned spring 2013, discussed an incident in which Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, was described as a warmonger who spread evil teachings. Obviously this would have a negative reaction from all Muslims. With the new pope, Pope Francis in late 2013, Al-Azahr has offered to renew relations by suggesting, Pope Francis should publicly declare that “Islam is a peaceful religion.”
This image is much more than just two men kissing, its a representation of beliefs, history, religion all being put aside to “make a statement of brotherhood with a kiss,” Benetton said in an interview.