Like many of the great masters, LaChapelle has been inspired by the classic nativity scene. While the artwork of Western religious narratives often glorified the church and portrayed Jesus in a more European mien, LaChapelle reimagines that tradition in this image, set in Africa.
Here, the Virgin Mary holds the baby Jesus, sitting on the sand, surrounded by symbolism. In lieu of an ox, which represented patience in the Old Testament, LaChapelle features a man in an ox mask, nodding to the use of masks in religious and cultural ceremonies around the world. A bird replaces the traditional depiction of an angel on the scene, representing fertility, freedom, and the human soul. A leopard, considered to be the animal of a ruler, is represented, too, in the man drumming over the newborn, painted in spots.
LaChapelle combines these images with traditional Western biblical interpretations: His shepherd is also cloaked in red—the color of the Holy Spirit—and in the background, there’s a tree, symbolizing the Tree of Life, whose fruits offer life eternal. Like his “Jesus is My Homeboy” series, in this work, LaChapelle altered traditional religious iconography, blending with it symbols that transcend traditional narratives.