(Details of the painting can be found in the end of the article)
Racism has been a structural problem in societies worldwide since the European conquestadors invaded "The New World" of Africa and South America in the 1500s. Endless suffering was brought onto the people of these continents by their white invadors.
In 1998 Kolby wanted to address the disturbing topic, and he sought a motif expressing racism. He looked for 'the unthinkable image'.
In 1619 the first slave ship arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia. As the Dutch ship delivered its first 20 slaves to the British colony at the American mainland it started a history of suppression and racism that is fully ongoing today. , with As the slave traffic emerged the problem and nature of of racism was brought back to the invadors' home countries in Europe and in the US. With no civil rights in their new homeland the abuse and suffering of the enslaved black people continued.
The end of the US Civil War in 1865 brought the abolition of slavery but failed to bring civil rights to the country's black people.
Not until the Civil Rights Movement in the mid 1950s a successful and widespread political force arose.
The 1990s brought the world a remarkable change on the international scene. The fall of the Apartheid system in South Africa was one of the greatest events, and lifted human rights and the question of skin colour and race to a final "breakthrough". The free election of Nelson Mandela to presidency in 1994 was one of the most symbolic happenings in decades, and signalled a victory for human rights and dignity.
Later came another signal, when Kofi Annan in 1997 was elected Secretary General of the UN, a post he held until the end of 2006. A new era had indeed begun.
Being the spiritual leader of more than a billion people, the Pope is a symbol known all over the world. In the nearly 2000 year history of Papacy there have been 264 Popes - and they have the latest 1,600 years all been white. With 100 million Catholics on the African continent and some 15 cardinals, there is no longer an impossible thought that the Pope could be elected among these African cardinals. Neither is it an impossible thought that the president of the United States could be coloured. Both possibilities would have been a most important signal that the international society values people of all colours as equal.
Kolby could find no other symbol that so visually explained the thought of human equality than painting a portrait of the first coloured Pope in modern history. The artist regards "Arrangement in black, white and red" not as a painting dealing only with the Papacy, but as an archetype of all positions where a persons colour would appear problematic. On this future Pope’s letter is written; "TERTIUM MILLENNIUM ADVENIENS", (The coming of the 3rd millennium).
The election of US President Barack Obama in November 2008 was a new milestone in the fight for equal rights and possibilities for all races, and indicated that Kolby's vision could be next.
The question is when will the Vatican and the Red Princes of the Catholic Church be ready to elect a leader from an African or a South-American country? Since 1998 Kolby's painted image has spread out the world over in various media, gaining the name "The Black Pope".
The Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs displayed the painting in various embassies in Europe. For two years Kolby's Pope hung in the Norwegian embassy in Rome, being a topic of discussion amongst diplomatic guests.
Despite being the dream of millions of people - will the Catholic Church continue hesitating to elect a Pope from an African or South American country? After 1,600 years; when will it be time for yet another black Pope?