Rina Oh’s Babylon
When first struck by the image of Rina Oh's Babylon I was hit by a wave of repulsion. The white, naked bodies seeping and sharing blood in front of a sea of unrecognisable faces. It appears as some unfathomably grotesque family portrait never intended for outside eyes.
Amid the faces, there are two immediately recognisable. Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, of the British royal family, adorn the lower portion of the frame, stark naked. Prince Charles also bares female sexual organs. The other faces are less recognisable; with suggestive tones of Elizabeth I — “the virgin queen” — in the centre (top) and George Washington in the top right. The rest of the faces to both me, and general reportage on the painting, remain much a mystery.
Digging into the painting itself, it appears to at once lay itself bare while being wholly impenetrable. Up to now, seven weeks since it was revealed online, Oh has said little, publicly, on the piece. And, in a bizarre turn of events, has in fact retracted statements on the piece as were previously recorded in the comments of the Instagram post. Fortunately, some of these comments were relayed to the public by user KirbySommers which see Oh asked “who did this?”, and responding “it’s my paining. it’s all true”—to this bizarre response the commenter quickly asked “what do you mean it’s all true?”, however Oh presented no concrete information in return. The only other, later, comment by oh exclaims “Alien virgin births and cannibals”, without much context provided. As such, we are left to piece together the scattered factoids, in order to grasp at some greater meaning—if there is any.
With a mixed bag of yet-to-be-verified evidence, Rina Oh’s relationship to the painting’s subjects is currently relatively ambiguous. However, as was recently revealed, Oh does have existing ties to the deplorable Jeffery Epstein, which she has discussed herself.
It has come to light that Oh may have dated Epstein in the early 2000s, during which time she acted as a recruiter, bringing young women to his Upper East Side Mansion, while also having close contact with Virginia Giuffre.
Yet, on the flip side, Oh was quick to denounce this relationship by exclaiming “I was tricked, from beginning to end. Everybody is tricked [by Epstein]…you are shown a bunch of different cards throughout the process … it’s like a recruitment process”
The information here is certainly concerning, but given the information only comes from unreliable sources it must be properly, justly, exposed, clarified and addressed by the relevant powers before any agendas or allegations are fully committed to.
Furthermore, as an art blog, our task here isn’t to defame Oh, but address the complexities and suggestive nature of her divisive work—as such, let us turn our gaze back to Babylon.
With the added context of Oh’s uncertain, but clearly problematic history, the artwork’s inclusion of Prince Andrew—and Prince Charles—becomes clearer in their relationship to Epstein’s deplorable acts. Considering the image as a wider image of the lineage of British Royalty (George Washington is tenuously related to the current queen of England) Oh’s exclamations of virgin births and cannibalism could be somewhat understood.
First, if the woman who sits at the helm of the painting is Queen Elizabeth I, she was widely known as the Virgin Queen. But virginity has been a widely discussed topic regarding young brides-to-be within the royal family—as evidenced by the tabloids’ obsession with the idea of Diana’s virginity. Similarly there is evidence of the British royal family having taken part in cannibalistic traditions—albeit over 300 years ago. But that said, Oh’s foregrounding of virginity and cannibalism seem to amount to little.
Looking to the piece’s title Babylon, perhaps we find an ounce of an answer, with the word being defined in contemporary parlance as “a contemptuous or dismissive term for aspects of white culture seen as degenerate or oppressive, especially the police.” This definition, matched with the all-white bodies painted by South Korean Born Rina Oh, may provide some answers. That the painting is a resounding denouncement of royalty and ruling establishment which, in light of Epstein and like events, is clearly not suitable for sitting at the front-and-centre of society. Oh’s painting instead calls for defamation, but on somewhat just grounds. Prince Andrew’s association with Epstein, somewhat publicly remedied by him resigning from royal service, is clearly not serving justice for a man who has countless allegations against him. Similarly, Charles’ representation as a man with female reproductive organs brings on the common slang of ‘pussy’ to denote someone too scared to act—in this case, perhaps too scared to sound the alarm knowing what was happening.
It is difficult to draw any finite conclusions from the painting, beyond this outright call for defamation and drawing back the curtain on society’s most protected and shielded individuals.
A number of Oh’s other recent works also focus on Epstein-related individuals, with a fresco of Prince Andrew and a deconstruction of the original image connecting Andrew to Epstein and drawing two other faces into the fore. This painting, more recently released, entitled The Architect, The Recruiter, and the Programmer of Babylon paints victim Virginia Giuffre in a new light—but one which clearly cannot yet be used as any evidence of any kind.
Missing Puzzle Pieces
Rina Oh’s sudden public reveal of her relationship and history with Jeffery Epstein is certainly noteworthy given the inconsistent, unreliable language and questionable ethics voiced in her sole interview on the topic. That, paired with her sudden creation (or reveal) of numerous Epstein-related artworks shows a clear intention to reveal, defame or throw something out into the public eye.
Thinking back to the title of the grotesque piece once more, we could reframe Babylon from the phrase of defamation to include the biblical mention of the ‘Whore of Babylon’—one perhaps justified given Oh’s use of biblical quotes in relation to The Architect, The Recruiter, and the Programmer of Babylon. Here, the Whore of Babylon, is a symbolic figure who is associated with the Beast of Revelation and the evil kingdom of Babylon. Here, the whore is seen as the mother of prostitutes and abominations of the earth.
Of course, to tied prostitution solely to evil and abomination is an extremely archaic understanding of the profession, however in reframing Epstein, or the existence of a protected royal family as such an untouchable and all-powerful individual may provide some fruit.
Oh’s Babylon is a mystery, much like her very questionable involvement with Epstein and sudden reveal of information. These all require far more journalistic and judicial inquiry however, for now, we only have her art and a few words of her own—providing some, but not quite all, the pieces of the twisted puzzle.