Roundup: Online convos with artists Marc Padeu (from Cameroon) and Emmanuel Garibay (from the Philippines), and more

NEW PLAYLIST: October 2021 (Art & Theology): This month’s playlist includes a benediction from the book of Jude; a percussion-driven setting of Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun” by the Camaldolese monk Cyprian Consiglio; an Exodus-inspired song in Yorta Yorta, an indigenous Australian language, from the feature film The Sapphires; “Prodigal Son,” a little-known hymn by John Newton, from The Sacred Harp; a sixties gospel song by Shirley Ann Lee (famously covered by Liz Vice on her debut album); and closing out, in anticipation of All Saints’ Day on November 1, the jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” To save the playlist to your Spotify account, click the ellipsis and select “Add to Your Library.”

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IN-PERSON LECTURE: “The Works of Art in the Work of the Church” by John Skillen, October 16, 2021, Crownsville, MD: The Eliot Society, an organization I work for, is hosting our first event in over a year and a half! It’s an art talk by Dr. John Skillen [previously], director of the Studio for Art, Faith & History in Orvieto, Italy. It will be at the home of two of our board members, so if you’re in the Washington–Baltimore metropolitan area two weekends from now, consider coming by! The event starts with hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 p.m., and an RSVP is requested.

The Works of Art in the Work of the Church

In recent decades, a growing number of Christians—even those from church traditions formerly suspicious of the arts—are warming up to the idea that artworks can serve in the various practices of the life of faith, and not only in iconographic form as images of Jesus in worship. Scripturally sound and aesthetically sophisticated works of art can guide our prayer, help catechize our children, and shape the environments of our missional work. Many of us will welcome some pointers for putting art back in its place in the settings where we live and work.

To help us imagine possibilities, John Skillen will offer examples from a long period of Christian history when the arts were put to work in the collective life of the church in more places and in more ways than most of us nowadays can imagine. Not only churches but also hospitals, orphanages, the meeting rooms of parachurch organizations, baptisteries and bell towers, dining halls and cloisters in monasteries, town halls and civic fountains and public squares—all were places of serious decoration and design expected to be compatible with Christian faith.

No sphere of religious and civic life was off-limits for imagery able to instruct, to prompt memory, and to inspire emotion and action—the three functions of art most commonly cited during the Middle Ages to defend its value.

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UPCOMING ONLINE CONVERSATIONS:

Padeu, Marc_Le souper a Penja
Marc Padeu (Cameroonian, 1990–), Le souper a Penja, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 82 7/10 × 106 3/10 in. (210 × 270 cm).

>> “Caravaggio in Cameroon: Marc Padeu and Jennifer Sliwka in Conversation,” October 14, 2021, 11 a.m. EST (4 p.m. BST): I spoke about Padeu’s Le souper a Penja at a recent seminar on “Picturing Jesus,” so I’m looking forward to hearing the artist himself discuss it along with the larger body of work it’s a part of. Hosted by the National Gallery in London.

Artist Marc Padeu lives and works in Cameroon. Intriguingly, his monumental paintings – exploring tender and complex relationships between family, friends, lovers and working communities – often draw on Italian Baroque compositions and especially those of Caravaggio.

Marc Padeu joins Dr Jennifer Sliwka, specialist in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. Her research explores how 17th-century painters developed innovative approaches to religious painting, imbuing their works with an immediacy, power, and dynamism.

Together, the speakers will take Padeu’s Le Souper a Penja and its relationship to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus as a jumping-off point for conversation, exploring Padeu’s wider interest and understanding of historical works, his adoption and adaptation of the visual language of the Baroque and how these inform his evocations of contemporary life in Cameroon.

>> “In the Studio with Emmanuel Garibay,” November 11, 2021, 8:30 a.m. EST: The Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a conversation with Filipino artist Emmanuel “Manny” Garibay, a social realist painter who served as the 2010–2011 OMSC artist in residence. “It is the richness of the poor that I am drawn to and which I am a part of, that I want to impart,” he says. His paintings often portray Jesus among the marginalized and dispossessed and critique the church’s “compliance with greed, corruption, and social inequality.” Garibay’s children Alee, Nina, and Bam, who are also accomplished artists, will be present for the conversation as well. For more on Garibay, see this Q&A from the OMSC and the Image journal essay “Recognizing the Stranger: The Art of Emmanuel Garibay” by Rod Pattenden.

Garibay, Emmanuel_Kaganapan
Emmanuel Garibay (Filipino, 1962–), Kaganapan, 2006. Oil on canvas, 48 × 48 in. (122 × 122 cm).

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NEW SONGS:

>> “Keep Watch (Noelle’s Lullaby)” by Liturgical Folk, a setting of a Compline prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, on the new family album Matins & Vespers:

>> “Psalm 91” by Poor Bishop Hooper, released as part of the EveryPsalm project, through which the duo offers original weekly Psalm-based songs for free download:

Roundup: Formational films, Mary Magdalene exhibition, and more

WEBINAR: “Formational Films Round-Up: Movies That Matter,” hosted by Renovaré: Recorded August 24, this is an excellent eighty-minute conversation with film critic and professor Jeffrey Overstreet [previously], minister Catherine Barsotti, and theologian Chris Hall, led by Carolyn Arends [previously]. Each of the three guests identifies and discusses five films that have been spiritually formative to them—and what great selections! (Though there are four I have not yet seen.) Barsotti’s number one is one of my all-time favorites.

Because the movie ratings issue (that is, content like violence, sex, and/or language) is almost always raised by Christian audiences, Arends asks, “Are there some films that are bad for you to watch, and if so, why?” The question is wisely addressed from 34:52 to 49:40.

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INTERVIEW: “We must become poetry,” Still Life: For the September 13, 2021, edition of his weekly Still Life letter, Michael Wright [previously] interviewed Christian author Paul J. Pastor, having been intrigued by a recent tweet of his, which asks, “Where are the bardic preachers, wild at the eye, speaking not just to mind or heart, but to gut?” Pastor talks about the connection between the seen and the unseen; the relationality of poetry and finding shelter in the words, images, and emotions of another; holistic knowing; the disservice of reducing the Bible’s poetry to moral lessons with tidy applications; the nearness of Walt Whitman’s poetic vision to the Christian vision of sanctification; and more.

“My passion is for Christians to reclaim our way’s remarkable resources for living virtuously, beautifully, and well,” he says. Mine too!

To subscribe to Still Life, distributed for free every Monday over email, click here.

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Lecture by David Brinker for the 8th Catholic Arts Biennial, Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, PA, September 12, 2021: I mentioned the call for entries for this exhibition back in June. Of the 396 entries from artists from around the country, MOCRA director and guest juror David Brinker has selected 52. In this talk given the weekend after the exhibition’s opening (which starts at 14:47), he discusses the following three questions, pulling in artworks from the current exhibition and from his twenty-five-plus years as an art curator at a Catholic institution.

  • What identifies contemporary art as “Catholic”?
  • What contributions can Catholic art and artists offer to the broader contemporary art world?
  • What can Catholic art and artists receive from the broader art world?
8th Catholic Arts Biennial
Exhibition view, 8th Catholic Arts Biennial. From left to right are three retablos by Vicente Telles, Maternidad by Piki Mendizabal, Iesu in Utero by Rebecca Spilecki, and The Living Temple by Jesse Klassen.

8th Catholic Arts Biennial
The Heart of Man by Kristen van Diggelen Sloan; St. Laud Reliquary by James Malenda; Untitled, #33, Jersey City, NJ by Jon Henry

8th Catholic Arts Biennial
Foreground: Saintly Selfies by Annie Dixon

(The three photos above are provided courtesy of the Verostko Center for the Arts.)

Saint Vincent’s 8th Catholic Arts Biennial exhibition is on view through October 29, 2021; off-campus visitors are asked to make an appointment by emailing verostkocenter@stvincent.edu. While you’re in the area, you might also want to visit the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College, which houses artifacts from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as part of a larger permanent exhibition on his life, work, and influence. (Latrobe was Fred Rogers’s hometown.) And Pittsburgh is just an hour away!

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EXHIBITION: Maria Magdalena (Mary Magdalene), Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht, Netherlands, June 25, 2021–January 9, 2022: Curated by Lieke Wijnia. “Mary Magdalene is one of the most enigmatic women from the New Testament. Through a trans-historical display of artistic representations from the eleventh century to the present day, this exhibition explores the enduring fascination for this mysterious saint.” The catalog, Mary Magdalene: Chief Witness, Sinner, Feminist, is available in Dutch or English from the publisher Waanders. In addition to the exhibition page on the museum’s website, which hosts select images and a series of videos, resources in Dutch include an audio tour (with images), a podcast episode and accompanying article, and a video preview with commentary by Karin Haanappel.

Maria Magdalena art exhibition

I’m fascinated by Mary Magdalene, and while I won’t get to see this exhibition, it appears that it does an excellent job of exploring the many facets of her life and identity (including both before meeting Jesus and after his ascension), as told through canonical and apocryphal texts, and her complicated reception history. It addresses her role as the first witness to Jesus’s resurrection; the so-called Gnostic Gospel of Mary, which has Peter saying, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of the women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember—which you know (but) we do not, nor have we heard them”; the legacy of Pope Gregory the Great’s infamous Easter sermon of 591 CE, which, in its (many would say erroneous) conflation of the Magdalen with other New Testament women, identified her as a converted prostitute; the development of legends about her later life in southern France, as an evangelist, a miracle-worker, and a penitent, cave-dwelling ascetic; modern films and literature that cast her as a romantic lover, or even the wife, of Jesus; and Pope Francis’s elevation of her liturgical commemoration from an obligatory memorial to a feast day in 2016, in which she is to be celebrated not as a fallen woman doing penance but as the “apostle to the apostles,” a title of hers dating back to the High Middle Ages.

The poster above features Mary Magdalene Receives the Holy Spirit by American photographer David LaChapelle, Magdalena by contemporary South African artist Marlene Dumas, The Magdalen from a sixteenth-century Flemish workshop, and Mary Magdalene by nineteenth-century Belgian artist Alfred Stevens.

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ARTICLE: “700 Years of Dante’s Divine Comedy in Art”: In honor of the seven hundredth anniversary of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s death on September 14, the Public Domain Review has collected art directly inspired by his Commedia from over the last seven centuries—on the nine circles of hell, the beatific vision, and much more. Under the tutelage of literature professor Stefano Gidari, I read and studied Dante’s groundbreaking afterlife-adventure trilogy—in Italian!—in 2009 while living in Florence, where it was written, which was such an invaluable experience.

Galle I, Cornelis_Lucifer
Cornelis Galle I (Flemish, 1576–1650), Lucifer, after Stradanus, ca. 1595. Engraving, 27.5 × 20 cm.

Eagle of Justice
Giovanni di Paolo (Italian, ca. 1403–1482), Dante and Beatrice before the Eagle of Justice, ca. 1450. From Yates Thompson 36, fol. 162, British Library, London.

Roundup: Grief work, kintsugi, “The O in Hope,” and more

INTERACTIVE PERFORMANCE ART: DIG: A Hole to Put Your Grief In by Cara Levine: Last month artist Cara Levine led a weeklong collaborative project in which she invited those in and around Malibu to join her in digging a hole to visualize the depth of grief being experienced right now in response to personal losses as well as national and global crises. Carried out on a property owned by the Shalom Institute, the project was inspired in part by the Jewish ritual of shiva, the seven-day mourning period following the burial of a family member, during which the bereaved discuss their loss and accept comfort from the community.

“Whatever one is grieving is welcome—be it the loss of a loved one, or more nuanced and subtle grief—the grief that comes with aging, with watching children grow, loss of friendships, habitat, completions to other life cycles, opportunities, loves, that one won’t see flourish, and so on,” Levine wrote in an email to Hyperallergic.

Levine, Cara_Dig a Hole to Put Your Grief In
Cara Levine, DIG: A Hole to Put Your Grief In, August 14–21, 2021, Shalom Institute, Malibu, California. Photo: Nir Yaniv.

“Part of the act of inviting others to share in the digging, is an invitation for the collective to lift the burden of the individual. I think digging together, expressing the depth and weight of the grief all around us, can be a shared burden.”

At week’s end the hole was filled with water and transformed into a mikvah (ritual bath) for a ceremonial hand washing, before being refilled with the original dirt. As arts writer Matt Stromberg reported, participants were invited to write down what they were grieving on sheets of paper embedded with flower seeds, which were then buried in small pots that could be taken home, while native seeds were scattered in the hole, a symbol of renewal. Though I, living on the opposite coast, didn’t participate, it sounds like it was a meaningful time of healing and of giving and receiving support.

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VIDEO: “Mending Trauma” by Makoto Fujimura: In this video from the 2019 Theology of Making series from Fuller Studio, artist and author Makoto Fujimura describes the Japanese art of kintsugi (literally “golden seams”) and how it reflects the beauty that can emerge from our own fractured hearts and lives.

“Kintsugi theology,” he says, is the theology of the new creation, and it’s embodied by Jesus himself. His resurrection body retains the wounds of crucifixion, but there is light flowing through them, suggesting how our traumas will be carried into the new creation but wholly transformed. Like broken bowls mended with gold.

Check out the three other videos in the series:

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SONG: This video, taken in June 2015 by someone from the Free Burma Rangers humanitarian service movement, shows an Assyrian Christian woman in Kurdistan lingering behind after church let out, singing a praise song to Jesus alone in a pew. She had recently returned home after having fled an ISIS attack. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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NEW BOOKS:

>> The O in Hope by Luci Shaw, illustrated by Ned Bustard: “Combining a joyful poem from the much-celebrated poet Luci Shaw with playful cut-paper art created by Ned Bustard, The O in Hope helps us experience the goodness of God’s gifts of hope and love.” I found out about this recent release from IVP Kids at a Zoom event, where Shaw [previously] read the poem—it’s so delightful!

>> First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament: “Many First Nations tribes communicate with the cultural and linguistic thought patterns found in their original tongues. The First Nations Version (FNV) recounts the Creator’s Story—the Christian Scriptures—following the tradition of Native storytellers’ oral cultures. This way of speaking, with its simple yet profound beauty and rich cultural idioms, still resonates in the hearts of First Nations people.

“The FNV is a dynamic equivalence translation that captures the simplicity, clarity, and beauty of Native storytellers in English, while remaining faithful to the original language of the New Testament.” The project was carried out by an eleven-member council selected from a cross-section of Native North Americans (elders, pastors, young adults, and men and women from different tribes and geographic locations) and overseen by Ojibwe storyteller Terry M. Wildman. Here is Wildman reciting the FNV translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospels, accompanied by his wife, Darlene, on cedar flute:

Roundup: “De-Colonizing Christ” art exhibit, “God in the Modern Wing” book launch, and more

ART EXHIBITION: De-Colonizing Christ, Riverfront Gallery, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral, September 12–December 19, 2021 (preview: September 11): St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is hosting a juried art exhibition that highlights non-Caucasian representations of Jesus. There are twenty-eight original artworks in the show, plus a dozen on loan from private collections. An opening reception (with hors d’oeuvres) will take place Saturday, September 11, from 7 to 9 p.m., which I’ll be attending! It is open to the public, and masks are required in the sanctuary and cloister gallery.

De-Colonizing Christ exhibition poster
The poster image is Pantocrator in Black and Brown by Brian Behm from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which has been awarded Best in Show.

“Recent events have opened conversations among churches, theologians, and biblical scholars, considering in what way the western portrayal of Jesus as a European has been used to marginalize people of color,” the press release reads. “Many suggest that the pursuit of racial justice demands the exploration of ways in which we can de-colonize the Christ—releasing the image of Jesus from a legacy of White Supremacy and exploring images of Jesus as a man of color. This exhibit invites the Central Pennsylvania community into the conversation.” Read more about the impetus behind the exhibition in this opinion piece by the dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. Dr. Amy Welin.

In addition to the preview night, where many of the artists will be present, there are three related lectures scheduled:

  • September 12, 2 p.m.: “The Arts, Justice, and Faith: The Role of a Holy Imagination” by artist Steve Prince
  • October 17, 2 p.m.: “White Jesus: Mangling Christianity and the Birth of White Supremacy in the West” by Dr. Drew G.I. Hart, Assistant Professor of Theology, Messiah University
  • November 28, 2 p.m.: Discussion about the tensions inherent in inclusive worship in predominantly white congregations, led by the Rev. Dr. Catherine Williams, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship, Lancaster Theological Seminary

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BOOK LAUNCH EVENTS: God in the Modern Wing: Viewing Art with Eyes of Faith, September 17–18, 2021: In anticipation of this book’s release on October 12, Upper House in Madison, Wisconsin, is hosting a string of free events two weekends from now. The two lectures can be attended in person or virtually, but the workshop is in-person only. Coeditors Cameron J. Anderson (an artist) [previously] and G. Walter Hansen (a theologian and art collector) will be present.

God in the Modern Wing grew out of a series of lectures that Hansen organized in 2015, one of which I wrote about. The book description is as follows: “Should Christians even bother with the modern wing at the art museum? After all, modern art and artists are often caricatured as rabidly opposed to God, the church—indeed, to faith of any kind. But is that all there is to the story? In this Studies in Theology and the Arts volume, coeditors Cameron J. Anderson and G. Walter Hansen gather the reflections of artists, art historians, and theologians who collectively offer a more complicated narrative of the history of modern art and its place in the Christian life. Here, readers will find insights on the work and faith of artists including Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and more.”

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(IN-PERSON) ARTS FESTIVAL: Faith in Arts Institute, October 13–16, 2021, Asheville, North Carolina: “The inaugural Faith in Arts Institute hosted by UNC Asheville and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, intended for anyone interested in the role of art in religious and spiritual experience, will be led and facilitated by artists and  scholars. The number of participants for the institute itself will be limited to create the possibility for rich and meaningful dialogue and engagement among the participants and faculty.

“In addition to talks on religion and art in the 21st century, sacred art in secular spaces / secular art in sacred spaces, and small group discussions on topics including devotion and discipline, revelation and inspiration, faith and hope, ritual and routine, vision and imagination, the institute will also include several workshops, film screenings and more.” Registration is $60. View a schedule and find out more information here.

Faith in Arts Institute

The presenters are:

  • Julie Levin Caro, Professor of Art History, Warren Wilson College (specializes in modern American art and African American art)
  • Curt Cloninger, artist, designer, writer
  • Marie T. Cochran, Founder and Director, Affrilachian Artist Project
  • David Hinton, essayist and translator of Chinese poetry
  • Rachel Elizabeth Harding, Associate Professor of Indigenous Spiritual Traditions, University of Colorado–Denver (specializes in religions of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora)
  • Jessica Jacobs, author of the coming-of-age memoir-in-poems Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going
  • Kay Larson, author of Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists
  • Thomas Moore, pianist
  • Alicia Jo Rabins, writer, musician, composer, performer, Torah teacher (check out her Girls in Trouble, an indie-folk song cycle about the complicated lives of biblical women!)
  • Christopher-Rasheem McMillan, Assistant Professor of Dance and of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies, University of Iowa
  • Aaron Rosen, Professor of Religion and Visual Culture, Wesley Theological Seminary
  • Pamela D. Winfield, Professor of Religious Studies, Elon University (specializes in the visual/material culture of Japanese Buddhism)

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SONG FOR SUKKOT: “Whoever Is Thirsty” by Marty Goetz: Every fall Jews celebrate Sukkot, aka the Feast of Tabernacles or Festival of Booths, a seven-day commemoration of God’s provision for their people during their desert sojourn after the exodus. This year the holiday falls on September 20–27. Four Sukkots ago singer-songwriter Marty Goetz, a Jewish believer in Jesus, posted this video of a song he composed, “Whoever Is Thirsty,” from his 2010 album Sanctuary. It is an original setting of Revelation 22:17 (a book that “herald[s] the return of Yeshua the Messiah,” he says), and he performs it here with his daughter Misha Goetz.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

—Revelation 22:17

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NEW PLAYLIST: September 2021 (Art & Theology): I’m continuing to put together a short monthly Spotify playlist as a way to share great music mainly from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Per usual, it consists mostly of folk and gospel, which are my personal preferences. I realized after the fact that this month’s selection has quite a bit of banjo! (I do love that instrument . . .): a setting by bluegrass quintet Crooked Still of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things”; Béla Fleck jamming with Ugandan kalimba player Ruth Akello on “Jesus Is the Only Answer” [previously]; Rhiannon Giddens playing and singing the spiritual “I’m Gonna Tell God All of My Troubles”; Ellen Petersen and her siblings covering the Mark Bishop song “With the Spirit of the Lord Inside”; “Esa Einai,” a setting of Psalm 121:1–2 in English and Hebrew by Jewish bluegrass duo Nefesh Mountain; and an original song by the Westbound Rangers [previously], led by one of my high school friends, Graham Sherrill.

The closing song is “Kia Hora Te Marino,” a collection of Maori blessings and proverbs set to music by Christopher Tin. The first stanza goes,

Kia hora te marino,
Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana,
Kia tere te rohirohi.
Kia hora te marino,
Te marino ara
Mo ake tonu ake.

English translation:
May peace be widespread,
may the sea glisten like greenstone,
and may the shimmer of light guide you.
May peace be widespread,
be widespread
now and forever more.

Roundup: Online literary retreat (Aug. 27), Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor interview, global Marian art, and more

ONLINE LITERARY RETREAT: “The Extraordinary Possibility of Ordinary Time: Retreat with Sarah Arthur,” August 27 (this Friday!), 1–3 p.m. ET: Hosted by Paraclete Press. “Come away for an afternoon of exploration, refreshment, and celebration of Ordinary Time. Sarah Arthur invites you to join her for a deep sip at the well of poetry and literature as devotional reading. Guest poets Luci Shaw and Scott Cairns will also take part in this mini-retreat for lovers of words and Spirit.” The $50 admission price includes a copy of Sarah’s book At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time. I attended her Lent retreat earlier this year and found it very meaningful. Sorry for the short notice.

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TRIBUTE: “My Benediction to the Beloved Storyteller Walter Wangerin Jr.” by Philip Yancey: Walter Wangerin Jr. died of cancer on August 5. He was a pastor; a storyteller; a National Book Award–winning author of novels, short stories, and spiritual essays, including The Book of the Dun Cow, The Book of Sorrows, and Ragman: And Other Cries of Faith; and a professor of literature, theology, and creative writing. His friend and fellow writer Philip Yancey has written this nice little tribute to him for Christianity Today.

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ONLINE EXHIBITION: A Global Icon: Mary in Context, created by the National Museum of Women in the Arts: Curated by Virginia Treanor, this digital resource was created as an expansion of the in-person exhibition Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea (see catalog), which ran from December 5, 2014, to April 12, 2015. Click through the pages to experience art images with descriptions, videos, and other content having to do with representations of Mary from across the world. The first video in the series is posted below, and here’s a playlist of all seven.

Christian canteen from Iraq
Canteen with Adoration of the Christ Child (detail), Syria or Northern Iraq, mid-13th century. Brass, silver inlay, 17 13/16 × 14 7/16 in. (45.2 × 36.7 cm). Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Click image to see full object.

Virgin and Child, from a Falnama (Book of Divination), Mughal India, ca. 1580. Gouache on cloth, 33.4 × 21.1 cm.

Dehua Madonna and Child
Madonna and Child, Dehua, China, 1690–1710. Porcelain, 15 × 3 1/2 × 3 in. (38.1 × 8.9 × 7.6 cm). Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, inv. AE85957.

Ethiopian pendant icon
Double Diptych Icon Pendant, Ethiopia, early 18th century. Wood, tempera pigment, string, 3 3/4 × 6 × 5 1/2 in. (9.5 × 15.2 × 14 cm) (open, mounted). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Lady of Sorrows (Italy, 18th c)
Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Italy, 18th century. Polychromed wood, human hair, 17 3/4 × 17 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels, Inv. FB.514. Photo © RMAH, used with permission.

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INTERVIEW (+ upcoming virtual conversation): “A God Who Wails and Dances: A Conversation with Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor”: This interview by Erika Kloss, which appears in the current issue of Image journal (no. 109), is so. good. Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor is the author of the novels Dust and The Dragonfly Sea and award-winning short stories such as “The Weight of Whispers,” as well as the executive director of the Zanzibar International Film Festival. Here she talks about fiction, faith, coffee, and calling colonialism to account. To engage further, you can register for the Image-sponsored online event “The Art of Fiction: A God Who Wails and Dances with Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor,” which takes place September 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

Here’s just a snippet from her conversation with Kloss, where she describes what she would say to those who want nothing to do with Christianity because of all the evil that has been done in its name:

Dare to rescue God as Emmanuel from the dense debris of hubris, and from the weight and stench of whited sepulchers. For it is true, an excess of ghouls have appropriated for themselves the meaning and potency of the revolutionary One who dares to pronounce to humanity, “Love your enemies . . . Do good to those who hate you.”

Why should young people let themselves be revulsed by a legion who never fully entered into the depths of the subversive, seductive, paradigm-dissolving, drinking-and-hanging-out-with-sinners, beautiful, and heroic man-God? Why wouldn’t young people set out to experience for themselves the grand and compelling epic of a creator God in love, who loses his children and the earth to a defiant and rebellious once-beloved prince of light, and who struggles long and hard to regain the humanity he had loved and lost? So passionate and desperate is the creator in this endeavor that he will enter into humanity to try to court and secure these cherished children, even at the risk of his own murder—and even that does not stop the love. A love stronger than death? Don’t we all write anthems, in one form or another, yearning for this?

Let the next generation of seekers . . . visit old worlds that contain the spirit of the faith, not just in the Middle East, but also northern Africa, northern Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia, all those rubbed-out places (that colonialists presumed to suggest they were ‘civilizing’) from which Christianity entered into and transformed Europe and the world. . . . An historical quest for meaning at sites of origins might inspire young people to look again at the call to adventure and transcendent idealism that is the Way.

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VIDEO SERIES: How to Read the Bible by BibleProject: “Reading the Bible wisely requires that we learn about the ancient literary styles used by the biblical authors. . . . While the Bible is one unified story, it cannot all be read in the same way. The How to Read the Bible series walks through each literary style found in the Bible to show how each uniquely contributes to the overall story of Scripture.”

Led by Dr. Tim Mackie and Jon Collins, BibleProject is a crowdfunded animation studio that creates videos, podcasts, and small-group curricula. From 2017 to 2020 they executed a series called How to Read the Bible, which is nineteen episodes total. In it they examine the three major literary styles that comprise the Bible: narrative (chronicles, biographies, parables), poetry (celebratory, reflective, erotic, politically resistant, apocalyptic), and prose discourse (laws, sermons, letters). Each style lives by its own rules and structure, and we get into trouble, for example, when we don’t properly understand how metaphor works, or when we don’t recognize that Paul’s epistles were situated in a particular historical context. Here’s one of the videos in the series, on design patterns in biblical narrative:

Object Narratives (Material and Visual Cultures of Religion)

MAVCOR Journal is an open-access, peer-reviewed digital publication published by the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion at Yale University. Its “Object Narrative” division is for explicating religious images, objects, monuments, buildings, spaces, performances, or sounds in 1500 words or less.

Visual culture encompasses not just “art” but also ephemera and what we might call “kitsch.” Because my field is art, I gravitate more to research in that vein, which is reflected in the five object narratives I’ve selected to highlight below. In addition to describing the object’s content, each writer also addresses, if applicable, its liturgical or devotional uses and includes relevant historical or cultural context. Click on the links to read more, and spend some time perusing the other offerings on MAVCOR’S website, https://mavcor.yale.edu.

“Christ Crucified in the Gellone Sacramentary” by Lawrence Nees: This eighth-century manuscript illumination from the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne is one of the earliest surviving images of Jesus on the cross, its viewership restricted to clergy. “He is . . . shown as if nailed to a cross, but this is no wooden cross and indeed no cross at all. It is colored deep blue, studded with white and red flower-like shapes suggesting stars, and indeed it actually is the letter T of the opening words of the Canon of the Mass, the consecration of bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, in the Latin version here ‘Te igitur clementissime Pater . . . rogamus’ (‘Therefore we beseech Thee, most merciful Father’) . . .”

Crucifixion (Sacramentary of Gellone)
Crucifixion from the Gellone Sacramentary (Latin 12048, fol. 143v), made in France, ca. 790. Housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.

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“Kongo Triple Crucifix” by Cécile Fromont: The west central African kingdom of Kongo, which emerged in the fourteenth century, declared Christianity its official religion in 1509. Kongo participated in the commercial, political, and religious networks of the early modern Atlantic world, and its artists reformulated Christian figures from Europe into objects that are distinctly African—including the many brass crucifixes produced from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. (Read more in Fromont’s 2014 book The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo, which I reviewed here.)

Triple Kongo crucifix
Triple Crucifix, central figure 16th–17th century; top and bottom figures 18th–19th century. Brass, iron nails, copper, wood, ultramarine pigment, 10 1/4 × 5 3/4 × 1 in. (26 × 14.5 × 2.5 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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“Death Cart (La Muerte en su Carreta)” by Miguel de Baca: “Death carts” were instruments of penance used by the Penitente brotherhood of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth; this is the earliest known one. They were built in the style of an old oxcart, and seated inside was Doña Sebastiana, an allegorical figure of Death, wielding her bow and arrow. Each Good Friday, “an elected brother attached the heavy chassis to his torso with a horsehair rope and dragged it from the morada (meetinghouse) along the path to the calvario (Calvary site), inflicting abrasions upon his body as a demonstration of his faith and desire for closer union with God.” I must say, this skeletal figure with the close-set eyes and large forehead (and is that human hair and teeth?) terrifies me!

Lopez, Nasario_Death Cart
Nasario López, Death Cart (La Muerte en su Carreta), ca. 1860. Gesso, leather, cottonwood, pine, 51 × 24 × 32 in. (129.5 × 61 × 81.3 cm). Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For more on the topic, see Thomas J. Steele, “The Death Cart: Its Place among the Santos of New Mexico,” The Colorado Magazine 55, no. 1 (1978): 1–14.

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“Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Cross with Stars and Blue by Jeffrey Richmond-Moll: During a four-month stay in Taos, New Mexico, in the summer of 1929—her first visit to the Southwest—Georgia O’Keeffe painted four canvases of Penitente crosses with Taos Mountain visible in the distance. The Penitentes were a lay Catholic brotherhood whose rituals centered on the remembrance of Christ’s passion. They erected crosses all over the region, outside their moradas (meetinghouses) and along roadsides, which they picked up and carried on holy days.

O'Keeffe, Georgia_Black Cross with Stars and Blue
Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986), Black Cross with Stars and Blue, 1929. Oil on canvas, 40 × 30 in. (101.6 × 76.2 cm). Private collection.

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“James Latimer Allen, Madonna and Child by Camara Dia Holloway: “Allen operated a studio in Harlem between 1926 and 1943, producing artistic and commercial photographs. . . . By contributing to the development of a new racial iconography, Allen’s Madonna and Child and other black Madonnas offered positive visual and material rejoinders to widely reproduced images that represented black women’s failure to parent their own children. The Mammy stereotype, the legend of Margaret Garner (known as the Black Medea), and portraits of white children held by their black nannies belong to this latter and negative set of portrayals.” This is a religious icon by and for African Americans, Latimer writes—one that reflects and affirms their own self-image.

Allen, James L._Madonna and Child
James L. Allen (American, 1907–1977), Madonna and Child, 1930s. Photograph, 24.4 × 18.7 cm. New York Public Library.

“Giacometti’s Dog” by Robert Wallace

Giacometti, Alberto_Dog
Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901–1966), Dog, 1951 (cast 1957). Bronze, 18 × 39 × 6 1/8 in. (45.7 × 99 × 15.5 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

lopes in bronze:
     scruffy,
          then. In

the Museum of Modern Art
     head
          down, neck long as sadness

lowering to hanging ears
     (he’s eyeless)
          that hear

nothing, and the sausage
     muzzle
          that leads him as

surely as eyes:
     he might
          be

dead, dried webs or clots of flesh
     and fur
          on the thin, long bones—but

isn’t, obviously,
     is obviously
          traveling intent on his

own aim: legs
     lofting
          with a gaiety the dead aren’t known

for. Going
     onward in one place,
          he doesn’t so much ignore

as not recognize
     the well-
          dressed Sunday hun-

dreds who passing, pausing make
     his bronze
          road

move. Why
     do they come to admire
          him,

who wouldn’t care for real dogs
     less raggy
          than he

is? It’s his tragic
     insouciance
          bugs them? or is

it that art can make us
     cherish
          anything—this command

of shaping and abutting space—
     that makes us love
          even mutts,

even the world, having
     rocks
          and the wind for comrades?

It’s not this starved hound,
     but Giacometti seeing
          him we see.

We’ll stand in line all day
     to see one man
          love anything enough.

“Giacometti’s Dog” by Robert Wallace was originally published in Ungainly Things (Dutton, 1968) and is included in the collection The Common Summer: New and Selected Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989). Used by permission.

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When artists take the time to sculpt (or paint, film, lyricize, etc.) a subject, they inevitably give their careful attention to that person, place, or thing. And attention is a form of love. The best artworks succeed in conveying that love.

In his poem “Giacometti’s Dog,” Robert Wallace muses on how modernist sculptor Alberto Giacometti poured heart, mind, body, and soul into portraying something so “unworthy” and unattractive as a stray dog. Why dignify the malnourished, matted canine with a bronze cast and prominent display in a world-class museum? And why do all the gallery visitors crowd around to see him?

Wallace determines that it is the artist’s love for the dog that attracts people to it. If Giacometti thought him a fitting subject for a sculpture, then he must matter. He is worth attending to. “Art can make us cherish anything,” Wallace writes. Artists show us where to look and teach us what to love.

Roundup: Conferences, recorded talks by Jyoti Sahi and Patty Wickman, and the arts in spiritual formation

UPCOMING CONFERENCES:

>> (Virtual) Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers, October 23, 2021: The CFAMC is soliciting videos of live musical performances (or works designed with videography), original hymns, and papers. Twelve art music pieces will be chosen to be shown at the conference, followed by conversations about each, as will three hymns, to be sung during a time of worship.

>> (In Person) Transcend, CIVA Biennale, November 4–6, 2021, Austin, Texas: I’ll be attending! “Beauty is compelling. It binds itself to the Truth and the Good in such a way that, as Dante said, ‘Beauty awakens the soul to act.’ It moves us from the rooted realities of canvas, clay, notes, or language into the transcendental nature of God Himself, our Beautiful, True, and Good Creator. Join CIVA [Christians in the Visual Arts] as artists, pastors, curators, and cultural leaders explore the divine spark of the image of God in each of us that initiates and propels our journey to perceiving anew an intuitive, expressive, and fulfilling reality.” The conference will include a juried art show, plenary talks, paper presentations, times of worship, workshops, portfolio reviews and mentoring sessions, author signings, “explore groups” around the city (I signed up for the Blanton Museum of Art and Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”), and artists’ show and tell.

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ARTIST PRESENTATIONS:

It can be so illuminating to hear an artist discuss their work—their influences, their process, how particular artworks came about. Below are two virtual talks I attended last month and really enjoyed, both by artists who are Catholic.

>> Jyoti Sahi, June 19, 2021: In this virtual talk organized by the UK-based organization Christians Aware, my friend Jyoti Sahi [previously] shares several of the paintings he has produced during the past year in quarantine in and around his home in Silvepura Village in Karnataka, southern India, inspired by the local landscapes and vegetation. Over the years Jyoti has developed a Christian spirituality that is very earthy, one that sees the natural world as reflective of, and even participating in, the divine mysteries. His Jesus is in and of the land. Images start at 11:20.

Sahi, Jyoti_Flight of the Holy Family
Jyoti Sahi (Indian, 1944–), Flight of the Holy Family, 2021. Oil and acrylic on canvas.

Sahi, Jyoti_Jesus the Gardener

In his recent body of work, Jyoti shows, among other things:

  • Jesus being born in a makeshift encampment beside a kere (manmade lake), among the brick kilns, a child of migrant laborers.
  • Jesus giving a sermon in a sacred grove underneath a yellow bodhi tree, where herdsmen graze their flocks. The snake-stones, erected by the Adivasi (tribal peoples of India), allude to healing and to Jesus’s being lifted up on the cross like the serpent on Moses’s staff (John 3:14–15; cf. Num. 21:4–9).
  • Jesus entering Jerusalem, his face gloriously framed by palm fronds. He’s reminiscent of the leafy-headed Green Man present in the mythologies of many ancient cultures but found particularly in medieval English church carvings.
  • Christ crucified in the palash tree, the “flame of the forest.” (Jyoti notes that in the Sanskrit epic poem the Mahabharata, the hero’s wounds are compared to the flowers of the palash tree.)
  • Jesus in the garden of the resurrection, standing in front of a flowering datura tree, which is poisonous but also medicinal. (“Poison can be a way of discovering healing,” Jyoti says—a truth that has implications for a theology of the cross.)
  • The journey to Emmaus, showing two of Jesus’s disciples entering the garden, a metaphor for wholeness or home.

>> “Gift Paintings: The Invitation to See Anew” with Patty Wickman, June 24, 2021: As part of its Art & Faith series, Holy Family Church in South Pasadena, California, hosted a virtual talk by one of its members, Patty Wickman [previously], a nationally exhibited artist and longtime professor in UCLA’s art department. Her paintings are figural, and she describes several of them as “gifts,” sparked by things like the discovery one of her mother’s unusual rest rituals, encounters with unhoused persons in San Jose, a cut-paper environment inside a Disney World ride, flea market finds, a plate of dirt her young daughter served her, and a little boy’s eating apples stark naked on a hot summer day in her backyard.

Among her influences are Shaker gift drawings and worship spaces; Victorian hair wreaths; the illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen; performance art pieces by Joseph Beuys, Chris Burden, and Ana Mendieta; Cindy Sherman’s photographic self-portraits; and historical religious paintings by Fra Angelico, Piero della Francesca, Georges de La Tour, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Caravaggio, and others.

At twenty-four minutes in she starts discussing her own work, with reference to specific artworks that informed her. Compare her Entheos, for example, to Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Peter; her Struggle Garden to frescoes by Giotto of Anne and Joachim at the golden gate, and Judas betraying Jesus in Gethsemane; and her A Thief in the Night to Peter Menzel’s Material World project. When her early days of motherhood prevented her from having the time to plan and execute large-scale paintings like these, she painted smaller, quicker works—daily during Lent—with subjects including dust bunnies, daddy longlegs, a stick of incense, and a birdbath with the first blooms from her camellia tree having fallen inside. Her work has a sacramental quality to it that’s really compelling.

Wickman, Patty_Passion Painting
Patty Wickman (American, 1959–), Passion Painting, 1997. Oil on canvas, 60 × 90 in.

Wickman, Patty_Circumscribe
Patty Wickman (American, 1959–), Circumscribe, 2017–19. Oil on linen, 84 × 104 in.

The last half-hour of the video is Q&A.

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ARTICLE: “Artful Discipleship: The Role of the Arts in Spiritual Formation” by Carolyn Arends: Singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends discusses four ways the arts are important in our training to follow Jesus: (1) the arts help us train to pay attention; (2) the arts help us train in longing; (3) the arts help us train for the renewing of our minds; and (4) the arts help us train to appreciate things (and especially people) for more than their ​“usefulness.” She closes with a list of suggestions for practicing intentional engagement with the arts.

(See also a recent interview with Arends, “Art and Spiritual Formation,” on the Art & Faith Conversations podcast.)

Greg Pennoyer on why the arts matter

The arts don’t just fill our time with uplifting stories and pretty pictures. They don’t just distract us with things to look at; they teach us how to look. They train our vision, down to the level of our souls.

Art can teach us to see the tiny gradations in a field of green—or how to see a suffering world in the context of grace. How to recognize the humanity of a character who seems like an irredeemable villain. How to slow down. How to pay attention not just to the notes but the silences between the notes. How to hear the echo of divine music in human speech. How to look at our own failures and successes with perspective, even laughter. The arts ask us to use the full range of our senses. And they can restore us to our full, God-given humanity.

—Greg Pennoyer, executive director of Image journal [source]

Roundup: My new YouTube channel, “Constructed Mysteries” exhibition, and more

VISUAL MEDITATION: “Mary’s Fecund Yes” by Victoria Emily Jones, on Annunciation by Mats Rehnman: My latest ArtWay reflection was published Sunday. It’s on a whimsical Annunciation painting by touring storyteller, author, and visual artist Mats Rehnman, influenced in part by the Annunciation design woven into several nineteenth-century carriage cushions from Scania, Sweden.

Rehnman, Mats_Annunciation
Mats Rehnman (Swedish, 1954–), Annunciation, 2001. Aquarelle and acrylic.

Annunciation carriage cushion (Sweden)
Carriage cushion: The Annunciation, Scania (Skåne), Sweden, first half of 19th century. Tapestry weave, 52 × 96.5 cm.

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ART TALK: “Saying Yes: The Annunciation in Contemporary Art” by Victoria Emily Jones: Speaking of the Annunciation . . . my March 18 presentation from the Breath and the Clay creative arts gathering is now online! (The aforementioned Rehnman piece is one of six I discuss.) With permission from the conference organizers, I have uploaded it to my YouTube channel for public viewing.

It’s an act of vulnerability for me to share it with you, as I’m aware of the ways in which it is deficient (in terms of speech delivery and production values). I lack technical prowess and a charismatic personality and am self-conscious about being on camera—but hopefully with practice, I will improve. The main thing is, I want the work of these artists to be known and shared. I hope to demonstrate how art can pull us deeper into the biblical story, revealing new and sometimes surprising angles or simply helping us dwell there with love and intent, and also how it’s possible to do “theology through art,” relying not exclusively on academic writings or sermons (great as they both are) to do that important work.

While I have created a video for a scholar friend’s art history channel, this is the first on my own channel—which I invite you to subscribe to. (I need at least 100 subscribers to create a custom URL for the channel.) I don’t have imminent plans for more videos, but I am starting to brainstorm ideas and will probably send out a survey to my blog subscribers to get a better sense of what you all would want to see. Several of you have requested that I get into video making, but I’ve been slow to move on it, wanting to better figure out my niche and what I could uniquely bring to such a dense market. I realize that video is a content format that is overwhelmingly preferred to blog posts these days, so I want to make use of it. But videos are much more time-consuming and difficult to produce without having a budget or a team behind me, and also not having the direct access to artworks that museums and other entities have. Please pray for this upcoming venture!

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CROSS-CONTINENTAL MUSIC VIDEO: “Song of Hope” by Praveen Francis and friends: This Afro-pop music video is a collaboration between musicians, dancers, and technicians in India, Guatemala, the UK, Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and the United States. The project was initiated by Praveen Francis, a music producer and sound engineer from Coimbatore in Tamilnadu, India, who wrote the original composition. The languages are English, French, and Lingala, but the hook is a series of nonlexical vocables: “Na na na . . .” [HT: Global Christian Worship]

The video was released April 10, 2021, shortly before the second COVID wave hit India. “This Pandemic has ravaged all our lives,” Francis says. “But we will not give up. We will fight back because there is still HOPE.”

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EXHIBITION: Constructed Mysteries: Spirituality and Creative Practice, February 8–April 18, 2021, Olson Gallery, Bethel University: Curated by Kenneth Steinbach and Michelle Westmark Wingard, Constructed Mysteries showcased the art of nine mid-career artists or artist teams whose work engages Christian spirituality: Heather Nameth Bren, Shin-hee Chin, Caroline Kent, Scott Kolbo, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, Nery Gabriel Lemus, Marianne Lettieri, Cherith Lundin, and Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway. The exhibition has come to a close, but there’s a wonderful twenty-minute video tour of it that’s archived on YouTube, with artist commentaries starting at 2:44:

In addition to the video, there’s an exhibition catalog available for online viewing. It features a series of artist interviews, which address topics such as silence, the importance of process, and the nature of parable. And of course it includes photos of all the works in the exhibition. Let me highlight just two.

Lettieri, Marianne_Fenetre de Reparateurs
Marianne Lettieri, Fenêtre de Réparateurs (Window of Repairers), 2020. Vintage pincushions, wood, paper, 33 × 18 × 3 1/2 in.

The first is by my friend Marianne Lettieri [previously], whose work is informed by her “increased awareness of the enchantment of everyday actions and moments—the sequences of ordinary human existence.

I would hate to think that life is just the important events. You get married, you get an award, have a baby. These are big things, and some are what we call sacraments in the church, but I’ve realized that peeling potatoes, fixing the faucet, and other common tasks make up most of our daily living. The big moments are a part of it, but it’s the string of these small moments that are present and sacred acts we need to pay attention to.

Much of her art illuminates the value of domestic labor, such as Fenêtre de Réparateurs, which sets forty-one used pincushions, still bearing the threads put there by their previous owners, into a wooden framework, evoking a stained glass window. “This work speaks about a culture of menders—people who choose to save, repair, and transform damaged things,” says Lettieri.

Baby Needs New Shoes (Thompson and Treadaway)
Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway, Baby Needs New Shoes, 2021. Photographic transfer on wood with antenna and rag, 20 × 13 × 2 in.

Second, Traveling Shoes is a performative sound work by longtime collaborators Justin Randolph Thompson and Bradly Dever Treadaway, from 2013’s Flux Night in Atlanta. It involved a two-seat shoe-shine “chariot” being dragged through the crowds, stopping to gold-leaf the shoes of anyone who was interested. All the while, on the back of the chariot, a three-piece jazz band played the song “Dem Golden Slippers,” which uses clean, shiny shoes as a metaphor for living an unstained life in preparation for Jesus’s return. The original performance, which lasted around three hours and has been re-created in several different contexts since then, is archived in a twelve-minute video, which is what was on display at Bethel. To go alongside, the curators asked the duo to submit a photograph from the performance series; they went the extra mile and used a photo as the basis of a new mixed-media work that incorporates objects used in the performance, such as a mechanic’s rag and an antenna, which is what I’ve posted here.

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RELIGIOUS POEMS SAMPLER: “Original and unorthodox poems about theology,” compiled by Mark Jarman: An excellent selection of ten poems, all but one available for reading from the Poetry Foundation. Jarman is a leading poet of the twenty-first century and a Christian. He was too humble to include one of his own poems on the list, but his poetry is much in this vein, so for number 11 I would add Jarman’s “Five Psalms,” from his collection To the Green Man (2004).