Your average American nativity scene is basically the story of a WASP family that’s given emergency birth in a Middle Eastern barn. Maybe they were on a luxurious vacation in Dubai or something. Then on their flight home, the plane emergency lands in a field in Bethlehem. Mary, wrought with shock, makes her way to the nearest barn to give birth while three tan-skinned locals look on, alongside an angel (also white) and a small cast of farm animals.
The archetype goes unchanged no matter who manufactures these things. Which is why designer Emilie Voirin rethought the Christmas manger scene as the Minimal Nativity Set: a culturally agnostic pile of blocks.
“When I was a kid, I used to ask why baby Jesus was blonde and blue-eyed in our crèche,” Voirin tells Co.Design. “Then I started making upcycled minimal nativities out of off-cuts from workshop wood a few years ago. The idea was to show the least design features for the story’s representation.”
In other words, the blocks are a visualization, not of Jesus’s birth, but the archetype of Jesus’s birth. They’re a structural view of the story, hitting on its defining elements like the three wise men and a token “they were really in a barn!” donkey.
As a whole, the project is meant to be what Voirin calls “somewhat of a compromise,” or a tongue-in-cheek response to the mass localization and commercialization of Christian figures, a sort of, “Here, now you can picture any nationality you want for your son of God!” And in that regard, it’s like a universal crotch kick to every culture around the world guilty of ascribing their own visage onto the face of a god incarnate.
The Minimal Nativity Set can be ordered for about $40 via Voirin’s site.