Roundup: A sign of the times; multifaith art exhibit; Hildegard of Bingen musical; and more

After nudges from several readers, I’ve decided to join Instagram! Follow me @art_and_theology. I’m still trying to settle on how I’d like to use the platform, but in the meantime, I’ve been sharing photos I’ve taken on visits to art museums and spaces that house sacred art. (And in case you don’t already know, Art & Theology is also on Facebook and Twitter.)

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DANCE: “Sign of the Times,” choreographed by Travis Wall: Premiering August 19, 2019, on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance (season 16, episode 11), this contemporary dance piece is choreographer Travis Wall’s response to the gun violence epidemic in America. It’s a communal lament through movement, really—an expression of fear, sadness, pain, anger, frustration, and defiance. It is performed by this season’s “top ten”: Benjamin Castro, Gino Cosculluela, Eddie Hoyt, Madison Jordan, Anna Linstruth, Bailey Muñoz, Sophie Pittman, Mariah Russell, Ezra Sosa, and Stephanie Sosa.

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FEATURED POET: Marjorie Maddox: The latest installment of Abbey of the Arts’ Featured Poet series is, as usual, wonderful! I’ve read some of Maddox’s poems in magazines and anthologies but haven’t yet gotten my hands on one of her collections. This feature has incentivized me to request a copy of Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation through my local library.

“The work of poetry,” Maddox writes, is “empathy and epiphany. The process of writing and reading allows us to better understand this world and the next. Poetry connects the local and universal, the mundane and the miraculous. It gives us those ears to hear and eyes to see that we might, then, head back into the turning world sustained, nourished, and willing to learn more. And will this not lead us to the Sacred? Yes, I say. Yes.”

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ESSAY: “Acts of Attention: On Poetry and Spirituality” by Robert Cording: I really enjoyed this essay from Image journal about the importance of attending to the world. “Attention is simply a loving look at what is,” writes Cording, a poet and birdwatcher. He discusses seeing not as a physiological act but as perceiving the fullness that exists in each moment. “Seeing is impossible without love or reverence,” he says. Along the way he engages with Marie Howe, Aristotle, Emerson and Thoreau, Tolstoy, Ruskin, Heidegger, Hopkins, Czesław Miłosz, and Marilynne Robinson. He also walks us through three poems: Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Wallace Stevens’s “Man on the Dump,” and Seamus Heaney’s “The Pitchfork.” So much goodness here!

If you enjoyed this essay as much as I did, be sure to also check out “Cloud Shapes and Oak Trees,” also by Cording, from 2017.

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EXHIBITION: Abraham: Out of One, Many, curated by Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler of Caravan: Caravan is an international nonprofit that uses the arts to build sustainable peace around the world. “Our peacebuilding work is based on the belief that the arts can serve as one of the most effective mediums to enhance understanding, bring about respect, enable sharing, and facilitate friendship between diverse peoples, cultures and faiths.”

Caravan’s current exhibition is built around Abraham, a key ancestral figure shared by the world’s three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Caravan commissioned three Middle Eastern artists, one from each of these faith traditions, to each create five paintings on these subjects: Living as a Pilgrim, Welcoming the Stranger, Sacrificial Love, The Compassionate, and A Friend of God. The exhibition of resulting works opened May 3 at St. Paul’s Within the Walls in Rome. From there it has traveled to Paris and Edinburgh and, starting September 8, will be in the States, touring through 2021 with stops in Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Washington, DC, Chicago, and more (see schedule). There’s an excellent digital catalog available, which contains full-color reproductions and descriptions of all fifteen paintings.

Hussein, Sinan_Living as a Pilgrim
Sinan Hussein (Iraqi, 1977–), Living as a Pilgrim, 2019. Mixed media on canvas, 45 × 60 cm. Part of the “Abraham: Out of One, Many” exhibition organized by Caravan.
Sindy, Qais Al_Welcoming the Stranger
Qais Al Sindy (Iraqi, 1967–), Welcoming the Stranger, 2019. Oil and collage on canvas, 60 × 45 cm. Part of the “Abraham: Out of One, Many” exhibition organized by Caravan.

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MUSICAL: In the Green by Grace McLean: Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 produces shows by new playwrights, directors, and designers, and for this summer, they commissioned a musical about the twelfth-century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen. (It finished its run on August 4, so I’m late in publicizing it—sorry!) A Benedictine nun and later abbess, Hildegard was also a composer, poet, dramatist, theologian, botanist, and healer—a true polymath. In the Green focuses on her relationship with her mentor, Jutta, just six years her senior.

Here’s Grace McLean, the show’s lyricist, composer, playwright, and player of Jutta, performing “Eve” (which uses looping technology!), followed by a short conversation between her and one of the other cast members. [HT: Still Life]

Roundup: Poetry releases; Heaven, help us; interfaith art exhibitions; 3 free albums

POETRY BOOKS: I just learned about some recently released poetry collections in the Christian Century’s Book Reviews section: Joy: 100 Poems, compiled by Christian Wiman (the review responds to the comment Adrianna Smith made in her otherwise positive review for the Atlantic, that the book’s one fault is its “slant toward a theological comprehension of joy, specifically, an over-representation of a Christian one”); Wade in the Water: Poems by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith; and Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul, a collection of verse-style renderings of the thirteenth-century German Christian mystic by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows, like this one:

“You Are Not an Answer”

There is no Why in You
and so I must learn to trust

that You are not an answer
to my questions but rather

the source that is true before
every question I ever had

and the love beyond every
answer I will ever know.

SONG: “Heaven Help Us All”: This a cappella Stevie Wonder cover is by the vocal group Accent, featuring guest singer Vanessa Haynes. Comprising six male vocalists from five different countries, Accent creates music through Internet collaboration. This song is an intercession to God on behalf of the desperate poor, the homeless, the abused, the lonely, and the depressed. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

ART EXHIBITIONS:

“Pathways to Paradise: Medieval India and Europe,” Getty Museum, Los Angeles, May 1–August 5, 2018: “The pages of medieval manuscripts reveal a dynamically interconnected world filled with real and imagined ideas about foreign peoples and places. Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians living across Europe and Asia conceived paradise as a place of perfect harmony, but the path for locating such a site or achieving this state of mind varied between these religions. By exploring the terrestrial and celestial realms, this exhibition highlights the spiritual motivations for creating and owning portable and devotional artworks.”

“Shared Sacred Sites,” Manhattan, March 27–June 30, 2018: Spread across three Manhattan cultural institutions, the multidisciplinary exhibition “Shared Sacred Sites” aims to raise awareness of the potential for cooperation among the three Abrahamic faiths. The tour begins at the New York Public Library with illuminated manuscripts and documents that highlight holy figures shared in common, like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and (between Christianity and Islam) Mary and Jesus. The Muslim miniature below shows the Miracle of the Table recounted in the Qur’an (5:111–114), in which ’Isa (Jesus) causes a table set with food to descend from heaven, corroborating his status as a true prophet. This miracle story echoes the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in the Gospels.

Jesus receives food from heaven (Persian)
“‘Îsâ (Jesus) receives food from heaven and is able to feed his followers,” from Qisas al-Anbiya (Tales of the Prophets), Iran, ca. 1580. Spencer Collection (Pers. ms. 46, fol. 152v), New York Public Library.

Then it moves to the Morgan Library and Museum, where the celebrated Morgan Picture Bible, produced in thirteenth-century Paris, is on display. This masterpiece of Gothic art offers exquisite visualizations of some three hundred Old Testament scenes (one of which I featured on the last “Artful Devotion”), and it’s also a testament to intercultural exchange: as the book circulated across civilizations, explanatory captions in Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Hebrew were added in the margins.

Lastly, the James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center presents artifacts, videos, contemporary art, and photographs that showcase examples of peaceful coexistence of people from different faiths throughout the Eastern Mediterranean as a counternarrative to the stories of conflict that saturate the news media. Several of the photos are of shared worship spaces, like the mosque-synagogue in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, West Bank, or Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, where Muslims can often be found praying alongside Jewish friends and neighbors or attending pilgrimage ceremonies. (For more on Djerba’s beautiful culture of religious tolerance, see “Jews and Muslims Celebrate Unusual Coexistence in Tunisia’s Djerba.”)

Jewish and Muslim Women Praying
Jewish and Muslim women pray side by side in the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia, 2014. They stand before the building’s eastern wall, behind which the scrolls of the Torah are preserved. Photo © Manoël Pénicaud.

FREE ALBUM DOWNLOADS:

Weep + Rejoice by Trenton Durham: This four-track EP was released in March as a series of soft-rock meditations on Christ’s death and resurrection.

Top of the Stairs by Scott Mulvahill: Mulvahill is a singer-songwriter and upright bass player from Nashville who toured for five years with Ricky Skaggs’s bluegrass band, Kentucky Thunder. “The Lord Is Coming,” which Mulvahill wrote with Alanna Boudreau and Gabi Wilson, is one of eight songs on his latest EP. See below for a live performance from 2017 with two backing vocalists, or click here for a more recent solo performance from the Tokens Show, uploaded yesterday.

Volume 2 by Deeper Well Records: Five Deeper Well artists have contributed two songs each to this compilation of acoustic hymns, a mix of classics, like “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and “This Is My Father’s World,” and originals. I can’t speak highly enough of this label—the quality of music they release is superb. You can stream all the full songs on Bandcamp.

Meg Hitchcock’s Sacred-Text Drawings

Christian confessions, Jewish prayers, Islamic surahs, Buddhist sutras, and Vedic Sanskrit hymns are de- and re-constructed in contemporary artist Meg Hitchcock’s typographic collages—or “text drawings,” as she calls them. Seeking to highlight the beauty of the world’s various religions, she cuts individual letters from one religious text and then rearranges them on paper in an intricate pattern that spells out the beliefs of another tradition. The continuous, run-on line, which weaves in and out without spaces or punctuation, creates a “visual mantra of devotion,” Hitchcock says.

Hitchcock, Meg_Jesus Loves Me
Meg Hitchcock (American, 1961–), Jesus Loves Me, 2013. Letters cut from the Koran, 8 1/2 × 8 1/2 in. Weaves together a Christian children’s song with the Shahada.

When asked how she responds to reactions of horror that she is cutting up and reauthoring the word of God, she said, “I’m very respectful of a person’s faith, and would never intentionally insult anyone. If my work is seen as an affront, it’s only because that person hasn’t heard the meaning behind the work. In short, I don’t see it as a desecration, but a celebration of the word of God.” (Read the full interview at StudioInternational.com.)

Hitchcock was raised Methodist. She had a “born-again experience” (her words) at age twelve and continued in that profession until age thirty, when she decided to step away from the faith. Now, she says, she’s not religious or even spiritual, but she’s definitely “not an atheist.” She says she follows a “pathless path.”

Despite the distance she keeps from organized religion, she is fascinated, she says, by its texts—not necessarily what they say, but what they mean to the people who deem them sacred. The words are so alive and true to communities of believers who recite them, sing them, chant them, pray them with all their heart and soul. People seek direction through these words. They seek comfort and healing. They seek meaning, and self-definition. And in the seeking, believers across all faith traditions are united. It’s this universal impulse—to connect with something larger than ourselves—that Hitchcock wants to explore.

Here are some works that reconstruct (Judeo-)Christian texts—songs, prayers, creeds, and scripture passages.   Continue reading “Meg Hitchcock’s Sacred-Text Drawings”