Walking the Via Dolorosa through Amsterdam (Part 3)

This is the final part of my commentary on Art Stations of the Cross: Troubled Waters, a multisite exhibition in Amsterdam running from March 6 to April 22. (Read parts one and two.) Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Eric James Jones/ArtandTheology.org.

+++

STATION 10. This is the one station I did not get a chance to see, due to its more limited opening hours. Anywhere, Anytime by Masha Trebukova is a temporary installation in the Mozes en Aäronkerk (Church of Moses and Aaron) in Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein neighborhood. It consists of a nine-foot-tall octagonal structure (a “columbarium”) covered with paintings on newspaper, as well as six large-format “books” of paintings on glossy magazine pages.

Columbarium by Masha Trebukova
Masha Trebukova (Russian, 1962–), Anywhere, Anytime, 2019. Temporary installation at the Moses and Aaron Church, Amsterdam, consisting of an eight-paneled “columbarium” with paintings on newsprint, each panel 60 × 290 cm, and “How to spend it,” six painted-over magazines. Photo courtesy of Sant’Egidio Nederland.

A columbarium is a room, building, or freestanding structure with niches for the public storage of funerary urns (which hold the ashes of the deceased). Ancient Romans decorated theirs with frescoes, often of peaceful scenes of the hereafter. Trebukova, on the other hand, has painted this columbarium with images of war and violence, exposing the savagery that causes death. This is not a celebration of paradise gained; it’s a lament for paradise lost.

Hear the artist briefly introduce the piece:

Columbarium (detail) by Masha Trebukova
Masha Trebukova, Anywhere, Anytime (detail). Photo courtesy of Sant’Egidio Nederland.

Trebukova used as her painting surface pages from newspapers and magazines, the headlines often creating consonance with the images while the ads create dissonance. The sleek photos selling vacations and luxury goods, enticing you to treat yourself, contrast starkly with Trebukova’s slashes and smears of color that depict masked gunmen terrorizing families, mass executions, refugees on the run, and individuals huddled over the corpses of loved ones. This contrast urges viewers to consider how our own self-absorption might be restricting our view of what’s going on in the larger world. What incinerations are being carried out as we casually engage in our leisure reading and other entertainments? The vaults in Anywhere, Anytime are fictive, but they prompt us to imagine the many bodies and places being turned to ash as armed conflict and acts of terrorism persist globally. [Images below sourced from the artist’s website]

 

The books are too fragile to be handled by visitors, so they are displayed open in glass cases, laid flat on a black-clothed table, and a video screen nearby loops through all the images in succession. Here is an excerpt from the video, a showcase of book five:

The book appears to have originally been a dance magazine, but Trebukova subverts the elegance associated with controlled bodily movement by recontextualizing these found images of dancers. A woman walking down a rustic road in pointe shoes is given a heavy burden on her back—a child—and a head scarf, recasting her as one of the many mothers fleeing violence in the Middle East. On the following page spread, another dancer’s graceful backbend is re-envisioned as an involuntary response to his having been shot; unlike on stage, this movement will end with a fall.

The Moses and Aaron Church is home to the Amsterdam chapter of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay association committed to prayer, the poor, and peace. Existing in over seventy countries, Sant’Egidio seeks especially to serve the sick, the homeless (including displaced persons), the elderly, and the imprisoned. “War is the mother of every poverty,” they say, and they have been key players in peace initiatives in Mozambique, Algeria, the Balkans, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other areas.

Trebukova, Masha_Columbarium (detail3)
Masha Trebukova, page spread from “How to spend it.” Photo courtesy of Sant’Egidio Nederland.

+++

STATION 11. Erica Grimm’s Salt Water Skin Boats, a collaboration with artist and arborist Tracie Stewart and soundscape specialist Sheinagh Anderson, is an installation of five sculptural coracles made of interwoven willow, dogwood, fig, and cedar branches; animal skin and gut; cheesecloth; and bathymetric ocean maps imprinted with scientific measurements of things like glacial melt, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification. These are suspended from the ceiling along the nave of the Waalse Kerk and are lit from inside, and they are accompanied by an ambient soundscape that viewers activate by scanning a QR code.

Salt Water Skin Boats by Erica Grimm
Erica L. Grimm (Canadian, 1959–), Salt Water Skin Boats, 2018. Willow, dogwood, fig, and cedar branches; cheesecloth; animal skin and gut; bathymetric ocean maps; layers of wax; earbuds; LED lights. Installation view at Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, in March 2019, part of Art Stations of the Cross.

Small lightweight boats without rudder, anchor, or keel, coracles are unstable watercraft, easily carried by currents and wind. Back in the day, Celtic Christian pilgrims would set sail in them, not having any destination in mind but rather trusting that God would steer their little boats to wherever he saw fit. In a sense, we are all “skin boats” afloat on a vast ocean, not knowing where we’ll end up. But Grimm’s incorporation of numerical data that highlight the dangerous warming, acidifying, and expanding of the world’s oceans pushes this metaphor in a new direction; the work “proposes an analogy,” writes curator Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, “between our bodies and the vast ecology of the global ocean: between the life-sustaining, precariously balanced ocean chemistry and the chemistry of our own salt-water-filled bodies.”  Continue reading “Walking the Via Dolorosa through Amsterdam (Part 3)”

Walking the Via Dolorosa through Amsterdam (Part 1)

Last month I undertook a contemporary art pilgrimage through Amsterdam, curated by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker and Anikó Ouweneel-Tóth under the aegis of Art Stations of the Cross, a project founded in 2016 by Dr. Aaron Rosen and the Rev. Dr. Catriona Laing. (Previous city-specific editions have been in London; Washington, DC; and New York.)

Inspired by the traditional Stations of the Cross, the pilgrimage comprises fifteen stops at thirteen locations across the city, where participants are invited to spend time before a specially chosen contemporary artwork that addresses some form of human or environmental suffering. The route starts at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas (Amsterdam’s patron saint) just across from the train station and weaves through, among other places, a park, the old Jewish quarter, a former orphanage, a church-cum–rock concert hall, a hidden house church where persecuted Catholics used to worship, and the red-light district, ending inside the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the city’s oldest extant building, located right in the heart. Not only the art but also the sites themselves were selected with intention, each one a part of the journey down this via dolorosa, “way of sorrows.”

This was my first time to Amsterdam, and it was such a good way to see the city, learn about the city, and pray for the city—all through the agent of art, which functions in this experience as a series of visual laments. When I encounter suffering or read about it in the news, I am often at a loss for how to bring it before God in prayer. I feel its heaviness but lack the words to express that feeling or to intercede in any concrete way. That’s why I’m so appreciative of artists, whose work so often becomes, for me, a nonverbal prayer addressed to my Maker, as I behold and internalize what the artist has first beheld and internalized and has then shared with me through whatever their medium. This is a gift that artists offer the church: vision, long and deep, that’s sensitive to the glories but also the woes of the world and that invites others in, through the skillful crafting of materials, to see right along with them. That act of seeing—of noticing, of giving attention to—can itself be prayer.

Troubled Waters

Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village at the end of the twelfth century with the building of a dam on the Amstel River. (The name Amstelledamme later evolved into Amsterdam.) Its sixty-plus miles of interconnected canals have earned it the nickname “Venice of the North” and make it the most watery city in the world. These navigable waterways led to Amsterdam becoming, in the seventeenth century, the foremost maritime and economic power in the world, and the wealth that came through international trade also enabled the arts and sciences to flourish throughout the country; that’s why the seventeenth century is known as the Dutch Golden Age. (Think Rembrandt and Vermeer.)

Amsterdam canal

The exhibition’s subtitle, Troubled Waters, alludes to the fraught nature of Amsterdam’s identity as a historic port city into which both goods and people travel. The pioneering Dutch East India Company, an amalgamation of trading companies that is now defunct, is important in global business history as the forerunner of modern corporations, but it also cannot be separated from its involvement in the slave trade. Although slavery was formally abolished in the Netherlands in 1863, it continues in Amsterdam’s sex industry, in which a percentage of workers are victims of human trafficking; girls and women sometimes arrive in shipping containers, enslaved by pimps and even further by ignorant customers.

Other residents of Amsterdam arrive as refugees, and for many of them, water is a formidable danger that must be traversed on the way to safety.

“Troubled waters” also references the acidification, pollution, and rising temperatures of the world’s oceans, which endanger the many marine species that live there. So even the water itself bears wounds.

Although the overall tone of the pilgrimage is one of sorrow, pockets of hope are dispersed throughout, as in the empowered Surinamese painted by Iris Kensmil (station 5), Paul van Dongen’s Rising drawing that counterbalances his Judgment (station 7), Janpeter Muilwijk’s afterlife vision of his dead daughter victoriously bounding over the earth (station 9), the soothing “streams of mercy, never ceasing” that provide an auditory accompaniment to Anjet van Linge’s chiseled “Kyrie eleison” (station 12), and, of course, the inclusion of a resurrection station (station 15).

(Related posts: “Stations of the Cross at the Smithsonian American Art Museum”“Remembering Charleston”)

Though modeled loosely after a medieval devotional practice, Art Stations of the Cross: Troubled Waters is thoroughly modern, incorporating audio and video components, 3-D technologies, and the distinctively contemporary genre of installation art. Figurative art is still present and in some cases interacts with the traditional religious images in its environs, but it often does so transgressively—for example, the photorealistic Madonna and Child wrapped in emergency blankets in station 1 and the decapitated corpus of Christ in station 13.

For more information about Art Stations, which runs through April 22, visit http://www.artstations.org/. There you can find a map, opening times, descriptions, tie-in events, and information on where you can purchase a catalog (available in Dutch or English). Most stops along the route host a stack of brochures that condense this info and that contain a stamp card on the back, where you can mark off the stations you’ve visited. All the exhibition sites are freely accessible. (Oude Kerk waives its admission fee if you present your Art Stations brochure at the entrance desk.)

Below and in two subsequent posts, I will share some of my photos and impressions of each station. Unless otherwise specified, all photos are by my husband, Eric James Jones, and are the property of ArtandTheology.org. Feel free to use them noncommercially, with credit to the artists and a link back to this webpage.

+++

Madonna del Mare Nostrum by Hansa
Hansa (Hans Versteeg) (Dutch, 1941–), Madonna del Mare Nostrum, 2017. Oil on canvas, 125 × 125 cm. Photo courtesy of the artist.

STATION 1. The route starts at the neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas, which temporarily houses one of my favorite and arguably the most confrontational of all the works on the tour: Hans Versteeg’s Madonna del Mare Nostrum: Of, Mantel der Liefde (Our Lady of the Mediterranean Sea: Or, Cloak of Love). A young dark-skinned mother holds her toddler son, both of them wrapped in a thermal blanket like the ones given to refugees to prevent hypothermia. Replacing Mary’s traditional ultramarine robe with a “robe” of metallized polyethylene terephthalate, whose gold surface glints in the sun, emphasizes how she and her boy are clothed not only in holiness but also in need. Because of how the artist chose to frame the composition, we don’t know if the figures are standing in a boat that’s still at sea or on the shore. Regardless, their strongly frontal positioning and their direct stares seem to ask the viewer, “Will you receive us?”  Continue reading “Walking the Via Dolorosa through Amsterdam (Part 1)”

Sowing Tears, Reaping Joy (Artful Devotion)

Sower with Setting Sun by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890), Sower with Setting Sun, 1888. Oil on canvas, 162.5 × 204.5 cm. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

—Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is “a community lament that recalls a previous time of God’s mercy on his people and asks for a fresh show of that mercy” (ESV Study Bible). The second stanza anticipates not only a literal food harvest but also a more general flourishing of life in all its aspects, an abundant crop of joy.

+++

SONG: “Psalm 126” by Isaac Wardell | Performed by Molly Parden, on Bifrost Arts’ He Will Not Cry Out (2013)

 

Isaac Wardell’s musical adaptation of Psalm 126 was regularly programmed into the worship services of my former church, Citylife, usually as a going-out song, and it was always a favorite of mine. If you’d like to sing it at your church, you can license it through CCLI (#7023230).


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, cycle C, click here.

Roundup: Visual lament, shalom chant, song for the displaced, unfinished art, and “Roma”

The Arts of Lament (lecture)

UPCOMING LECTURE: “The Arts of Lament” by Margaret Adams Parker: I’m one of the artistic directors of the Eliot Society, a DC-based nonprofit that promotes spiritual formation through the arts. Our next event is a lecture on April 6, 2019, by printmaker and sculptor Margaret (Peggy) Adams Parker (previously), which I’m really looking forward to.

Most especially during Lent, we recall the prominence of lament in Scripture: the psalms of lament; David’s lament for Jonathan; the Lamentations of Jeremiah; Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. These laments bear witness to outrage, sorrow, suffering, fear, desolation. And through these passionate cries, the biblical authors allow us to experience and express—in God’s holy presence—our own stories of brokenness and loss.

The visual arts make these laments visible. In this program Parker will present images by Grünewald, Rembrandt, Goya, Käthe Kollwitz, Jacob Lawrence, and others, as well as some of her own work. We will ask, How might these depictions of the horrors of war, displacement, oppression, sickness, and death enlarge our appreciation of the scriptural laments and in turn illuminate our understanding of suffering? Further, we will explore the spiritual significance of the practice: how lament might ultimately serve to console and strengthen, helping to lead us out of dark places into the light.

+++

SHALOM CHANT: At the 2019 Brehm Conference, “Worship, Theology, and the Arts in a Divided World,” liturgist Julie Tai led attendees in a group chant of the word shalom, an exercise she picked up from the author, speaker, psychotherapist, songwriter, and Episcopal priest Ian Morgan Cron. I streamed in from afar, and even from this distance, I found it really moving. “Really think about the places and spaces that need shalom—shalom meaning not our flat language of just ‘peace,’” Tai said by way of preface. “It’s an embodied word, a disruptive word. And we don’t get to see the completeness of shalom until all of us are at the table.” She instructs that after chanting shalom in unison three times, everyone is to find a note, any note, and sing it. Dissonance is welcome. The thick texture and distinctive timbre that result are possible only because each and every person is contributing their unique selves. The exercise is about listening to your neighbor, seeing your neighbor, and praying for and committing to pursuing shalom, wholeness, in this world. It expresses, in community, a shared hope and intention.

Chanting is a practice found in almost all spiritual traditions. Through rhythmical repetition, a word or short phrase washes over you and settles into the mind. When done in a group, everyone’s biorhythms become synchronized; individual breaths and sound vibrations unite, a physical manifestation of a spiritual communion.

“Julie Tai is the director of chapel at Fuller Theological Seminary. She received a BA in Asian American Studies and studied vocal jazz at UCLA before earning an MA in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. She is a songwriter, worship leader, and liturgist who loves to explore creative and integrative ways to engage diverse people in worship. A proud second-generation Korean American, Julie has led worship experiences at Urbana, the Calvin Worship Symposium, and SIM’s Global Assembly. She passionately trains worship leaders, seminarians, and pastors to see liturgy as a unifying and artistic act of justice . . . the reordering of glory, honor, and praise to the One seated on the throne.” [source]

+++

NEW SONG: “Jesus, See the Traveler” by Sara Groves: “I wanted a way for Ruby [my daughter] and me to remember the number of people who are on the road, displaced and wandering on any given night,” said Sara Groves about this new song she wrote. “Due to war and violence, there are more displaced people right now than any other time in history, and I want to be in the number who are responding in love—both in person in my community, and in my music.” The official music video is below; purchase the single on iTunes or stream on Spotify. [HT: Tamara Hill Murphy, A Sacramental Life]

+++

ARTICLE: “Art Interrupted” by Sophie Haigney: Unfinished artworks, like La Sagrada Familia (whose architect was hit by a tram when the cathedral was only a quarter of the way done) or Elizabeth Shoumatoff’s famous FDR portrait (the president slumped over mid-portrait-sitting and died of a brain hemorrhage), are reminders of our mortality. [HT: Michael Wright, Still Life]

La Sagrada Familia
Cranes hover over the spires of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, whose construction began in 1882 under architect Antoni Gaudí and is still going on.

 +++

PODCAST EPISODE: “Roma,” Technicolor Jesus (now Sunday Morning Matinee), January 22, 2019: To help me think more deeply and articulately about movies, I appreciate the work of, among others, Sunday Morning Matinee (formerly Technicolor Jesus), hosted by Matt Gaventa and Adam Hearlson. Back in January they discussed a movie that was one of my favorites of 2018, which is Roma, written, directed, and shot by Alfonso Cuarón. Set in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the early ’70s, it focuses on Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a Mixtec domestic servant for a middle-class family. It was a very personal project for Cuarón, who based the character of Cleo on the real-life nanny who helped raise him, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez.

Roma film still
This still frame from Roma captures a climactic moment of shared intimacy as Cleo (center), grieving a recent trauma, receives love and support from the family she works for.

“As artists, our job is to look where others don’t,” Cuarón said in his acceptance speech last month for the Academy Award for Best Director. (The movie also won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Achievement in Cinematography.) As an adult, Cuarón looked back and realized that Libo had another life, both internal and external, that he had not been aware of as a child, and this is his way of honoring Libo’s beautiful complexity. This podcast episode discusses the opening and closing shots of the movie, water symbolism, the contrast of the terrestrial and the heavenly, the role of memory, Cleo’s interiority and who gets access to it, the possibilities and limits of employer-employee relationships, and more.

Roundup: Obits; breast cancer saint; exhibitions; gospel jam

ARTIST DEATHS:

This August saw the homegoing of two beloved Christian art-makers.

> “Making meaning out of suffering and loss is one of poetry’s most fundamental aims,” wrote poet Anya Silver, who passed away from inflammatory breast cancer on August 6 at age forty-nine. Since her diagnosis in 2004, she published four volumes of poetry that wrap up faith with deep, honest questioning of God. Many of her poems contain imagery related to cancer and its treatment and describe with unswerving candor what it’s like to live under the threat of imminent death. When she received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year, the foundation described her work as “engag[ing] with the trauma of chronic and terminal illness, and with religious faith and mystery, storytelling, memory, and the risks and rewards of being human.” One of her best-known poems is “Psalm 137 for Noah,” written for her only child, whom she gave birth to during her illness.

“I have a tremendous amount of joy in my life, and my joy exists with pain,” Silver said in an interview with Georgia Public Radio in January. “I don’t see those two things as completely separate. All of life is woven together, and separating the strands is impossible.” Read her obituary in the New York Times, and a sweet tribute by Elizabeth Palmer in the Christian Century.

Anya Silver

Anya Silver books

> A giant of contemporary French sacred art, Jean-Marie Pirot, known professionally as Arcabas, died August 23 at age ninety-one. He is best known for his paintings, which feature biblical characters and scenes, but he also worked in sculpture, engraving, tapestry, mosaic, and cabinetry, as well as in the theater making scenery and costumes. His magnum opus is the interior decoration of Saint-Hugues-de-Chartreuse in the Isère region of France, which comprises over a hundred works by the artist created over a span of thirty-five years.

There has been much published about Arcabas in French (e.g.) but unfortunately very little in English—though for starters, I recommend this ArtWay article. A YouTube search of his name yields several video interviews and feature news segments—again, in French. I’ve embedded a recent video homage below, which shows you inside Saint-Hugues as well as his designs for the stained-glass windows inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Grenoble, a project he was working on when he died. I’d love to help bring out some of these books, or even a brand-new catalogue raisonné, in English, so if any of you have connections to Arcabas’s French publishers or people close to him, or have experience translating from French to English, let me know!

Arcabas

+++

SAINT AGATHA’S GRIEF BY MELISSA WEINMAN: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so what better time to get acquainted with Agatha of Sicily, patron saint of breast cancer patients. Agatha was a third-century Christian from a noble family whose martyrdom has been authenticated, although its details have not. According to legend, fifteen-year-old Agatha made a vow of virginity and rejected the amorous advances of the Roman prefect Quintianus. After consistently being spurned, Quintianus had her arrested for her faith (this was during the persecutions of Decius) and tortured. Among the tortures she underwent was the tearing off of her breasts with pincers. She died in prison, probably in the year 251.

St. Agatha's Grief by Melissa Weinman
Melissa Weinman (American), Saint Agatha’s Grief, 1996. Oil on canvas, 42 × 42 in.

In traditional portraiture, Agatha is shown holding her severed breasts on a platter (see, e.g., Francisco de Zurbarán). More recently, though, American artist Melissa Weinman painted a double portrait of Agatha as a modern-day woman in a white tank top enduring the tortuous experience of breast cancer. The two women stand back to back, the left figure having presumably just received the diagnosis, and the right figure bearing blood stains on the chest that indicate a mastectomy. There is an immediate sense of violation in the image, but also a sense that God’s glory is at work. While the one figure is cast in darkness, the other leans toward the light, suggesting hope and faith in the purposes of God, even in the groaning.

+++

RECENT EXHIBITION: “Creença”: This summer fifty artists from a variety of disciplines participated in a two-month residency at Konvent, a nineteenth-century convent (now an art center) in Cal Rosal, Catalonia, Spain. Organized by Void Projects, the residency culminated in a three-day pop-up exhibition from August 30 to September 2, titled “Creença” (Belief), which included not just visual art but live theater, talks, and music.

Jofre Oliveras and Stefan Krische installation
Site-specific installation by Jofre Oliveras and Stefan Krische, 2018, in Konvent, Cal Rosal, Catalonia, Spain.

+++

CURRENT EXHIBITION: “Wrestling the Angel: A Century of Artists Reckoning with Religion,” Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina: Through October 28, the Bechtler is showing 219 pieces of religious-themed art spread out across its large fourth floor, including works by Dalí, Rouault, Chagall, Warhol, Manessier, Bearden, and other modern greats. I visited last weekend, and while I feel that the theme was treated too loosely and therefore the exhibition lacked the full impact it could have had, I thoroughly enjoyed individual portions, and I appreciate the Bechtler, and in particular curator Jen Edwards, for bringing together these diverse works that speak in some way to religion, spirituality, or morality.

This was the first time I’ve seen Rouault’s entire Miserere (“Have Mercy”) series—all fifty-eight aquatints!—in one space, and it was stunning. Its display alongside Charlotte artist Gina Gilmour’s Break Your Guns and Stacy Lynn Waddell’s Untitled (Mike Brown’s Battle at Normandy) reinforces the theme of lament for violence and suffering inherent in all three. In the same room the set of small bronze crucifixes by Elizabeth Turk, which in their original gallery installation in 2002–03 contained lit candles in the hollows of the heads, invite further reflection on death, subtly connecting (through strategic placement) Christ’s crucifixion with the “crucifixions” of those slain in the past century through acts of war, gun violence, and police brutality.

Wrestling the Angel installation view
Installation view: “Wrestling the Angel,” Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2018. Left: Prints from Georges Rouault’s Miserere series, 1927. Right: Break Your Guns by Gina Gilmour, 1980. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.
Poppyfields (detail) by Elizabeth Turk
Elizabeth R. Turk (American, 1961–), untitled bronzes from Poppyfields, 2002–03. Installation view: “Wrestling the Angel,” Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2018. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.
The Annunciation by Romare Bearden
Romare Bearden (American, 1911–1988), The Annunciation, ca. 1967. Collograph, 11 3/4 × 15 1/2 in. (29.6 × 39.4 cm). Courtesy of Jerald and Mary Melberg. Photo: Victoria Emily Jones.

For other reviews of this exhibition, see those by Andy Smith and Barbara Schreiber. And word to the wise: avoid the last day, because it’s a Carolina Panthers NFL home game, and the stadium is right across the street from the museum. (I wish I had thought to check the schedule before I made the cumbersome trek last Sunday!)

+++

JAM SESSION: I love this impromptu gospel music performance by Karen R. Harding (right), Steve Brock, and Sharon Walker. They sing “Give Up (And Let Jesus Take Over)” by Howard Goodman and “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” by Andraé Crouch. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

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.

Roundup: Visual Theology CFP; E. E. Cummings song cycle; Babette’s Feast; art-lending libraries; exhibitions of lament

UPCOMING CONFERENCE / CALL FOR PAPERS: “Visual Theology I: Transformative Looking Between the Visual Arts and Christian Doctrine (1850–Now),” October 19–20, 2018, The Palace, Chichester, Sussex, England: The inaugural conference of the Visual Theology Symposium will take place this fall, and paper proposals are now being accepted (deadline June 15). “The divide between confessional and critical positions has long impoverished and polarised the academic analysis of the arts,” and this conference seeks to help bridge that divide. Click on the link to learn more, including eight possible paper approaches. Not only are scholars of art history, visual culture, and theology encouraged to submit but also clergy and artists. Jonathan A. Anderson and Ayla Lepine are among the several confirmed speakers so far.

+++

ALBUM: the rain is a handsome animal by Tin Hat (2012): I’ve really been enjoying these seventeen “classical gypsy jazz” settings of the poetry of E. E. Cummings. They’re so dreamsome. Tin Hat consists of violinist and vocalist Carla Kihlstedt, guitarist Mark Orton, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, and accordionist and pianist Rob Reich, and all four are involved in composing. Below is Kihlstedt’s “sweet spring.” For a PDF of the album lyrics, click here. To further engage with Cummings, check out my analysis of his poem “i thank You God for most this amazing,” which also features a musical setting and happens to be the most visited post on this blog.

+++

PLAY: Babette’s Feast, Theatre at St. Clement’s, New York City: I’ve heard Babette’s Feast cited many times in Christian literature and addresses, and now it’s been adapted into a stage play, currently running off-Broadway and starring Michelle Hurst (Orange Is the New Black) in the titular role. “Based on Isak Dinesen’s short story made famous by the 1987 Academy Award-winning [Danish] film, this new stage adaptation of Babette’s Feast premiered in January 2018 in Portland, Maine to rave reviews. The play tells the story of Babette, a French refugee, who finds asylum in a pious Norwegian village. With boundless generosity, she throws a lavish feast that becomes an agent of transformative grace, healing a fractured community.” (Update 5/1: Just after I published this post, Image journal published a great interview with director Karin Coonrod.)

Babette's Feast (play)
Photo: Carol Rosegg/National Review

+++

ARTICLE: “Can Art Lending Libraries Empower a New Generation of Collectors?” by Kealey Boyd: “For centuries, those who lacked the space or resources to collect artworks really only had one option—experiencing whatever fine art they could find in public spaces like museums. But in many cities, it’s now possible to borrow art for free. All you need is a local ‘art lending library’—an innovation in art sharing that could, just maybe, help democratize an activity that was once considered inaccessible.”

MIT art lending library
An MIT student peruses some of the 600 works available for free borrowing through the school’s Student Loan Art Program, established in 1969 and including pieces by Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and others. Photo: John Kennard, courtesy MIT List Visual Arts Center.

+++

INSTALLATION: “Nobodaddy” by Mark Leckey, Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland, April 20–July 1, 2018: The wounds of Job speak in this solo exhibition by Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey, part of the Glasgow International contemporary art festival. “Nobodaddy”—the title a reference to a William Blake poem about God’s seeming absence—features a spotlit, oversize Job figure that’s based on an eighteenth-century wooden statuette from Germany; he is covered in boils and excrescences and sitting in melancholy contemplation. The open wounds of the figure are embedded with speakers, and they broadcast a monologue of grief, voiced by Leckey and accompanied by horrible gurglings and rumblings. A video screen opposite Job projects a CGI apparition of the same figure and images of his hollowed-out insides. [HT: Jonathan Evens]

Nobodaddy by Mark Leckey
Mark Leckey (British, 1964–), Nobodaddy, 2018. Installation view at Tramway in Glasgow. Photo: Keith Hunter.

+++

PERFORMANCE ART: An Occupation of Loss by Taryn Simon, Corner of Islington Green, Essex Road, London, April 17–28, 2018, co-commissioned by Park Avenue Armory and Artangel: I’m late on this one, unfortunately. For this work, reprised from its 2016 premiere in New York City, artist Taryn Simon brought together professional mourners from around the world (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Ecuador, Ghana, Greece, India, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Russia, and Venezuela) to simultaneously enact their rituals of grief over the course of a half hour. The result is a cacophony of culturally diverse lamentations that reach a sustained climax and then fall away to a single voice and, eventually, a deep silence. Performed inside an underground concrete auditorium in Central London, balconied and three levels deep, the work is concerned not with the mourning of any one event or person in particular, but the phenomenon of loss itself.

An Occupation of Loss (Azerbaistan)
Haji Rahila Jafarova and Lala Ismayilova are professional Yezidi mourners from Azerbaijan. Photo: Hugo Glendinning, courtesy Artangel and Taryn Simon Projects.

In a New York Times review, William L. Hamilton explains that

traditionally, professional mourners are hired by families of the deceased to mark the occasion and to guide the dead to the place where they will lead their afterlife. Mourners are [also] called upon to mark larger losses within their communities, like displacement or exile, in a cultural role that is part witness, part historian and part poet. . . . Their laments, wails and cries are also testament to their own bereavements. They can be political testimony, too.

Simon describes the purpose of professional mourners this way: “The bereaved solicit the authority of professional mourners to occupy, negotiate, and shape their loss. The mourners control a psychological experience by directing and embodying the emotion of others.” An Occupation of Loss is the culmination of her seven years of research into professional mourning, which relied heavily on interviews with anthropologists, historians, linguists, musicologists, and other experts. Finding these performers, and then securing visas for them, was itself a herculean task. Listen to the artist discuss the project at more length in this Channel 4 news segment. [HT: Jonathan Evens]

An Occupation of Loss (Ecuador)
Hugo Aníbal González Jiménez is an Ecuadorian mourner who sings accordion-accompanied laments known as yaravíes and who is blind.

Roundup: Modern Bible illumination; hula; First Nations baptism design; father-daughter waltz; Tamayo and Parker

ESV Illuminated Bible spread

NEW BOOK: ESV Illuminated Bible (2017): In October Crossway released a new Bible illuminated by Seattle-based designer and lettering artist Dana Tanamachi. Printed in two-color (the illuminations are in gold ink), this volume contains one full-page illustration, custom icon, and illuminated drop cap for each book of the Bible, plus hundreds of hand-lettered Bible verses throughout the margins. There are no human figures in any of the illuminations; most consist of flora and fauna—olives, figs, pomegranates, peacocks, lions, lilies, deer, cedar, and so on—derived from the given book. Be sure to check out the book-opener illustration index, and the short video below, in which Tanamachi introduces herself, talks through her process, and explains some of her artistic choices:

“God loves beauty, so we wanted to honor him through this project with something that was beautiful,” says Josh Dennis, Crossway’s senior vice president of creative. “For this edition we really want people to engage with it, so there’s a lot of negative space and wide margins for people to write in it and to do their own Bible journaling.”

This publication comes six years after the release of Makoto Fujimura’s Four Holy Gospels, another illumination project. Fujimura’s is an oversize book with a $150 price point, containing original abstract paintings reproduced in full color alongside the first four books of the New Testament. By contrast, the ESV Illuminated Bible is more wieldy—it has a 6½ × 9 trim size—and less costly ($45), and it contains all sixty-six books. The aesthetic is also much different, as Tanamachi’s influences include art nouveau, the arts and crafts movement, and designers like William Morris and Koloman Moser. [HT: David Taylor]

+++

CHRISTIAN HULA: “‘O ‘Oe ‘Io” (You Are God): Though reduced to tourist entertainment in some places, Hawaiian hula dancing, in its traditional context, is a form of teaching and worship. Because of its associations with polytheism, the early missionaries denounced it as sinful. Over the last half-century or so, however, most missionaries have changed their stance toward this and other traditional forms of artistic expression—not only in Hawaii, but in whatever their host culture—seeing how such forms can offer more authentic ways for the people to connect to and worship the Christian God.

In the video below, Moani Sitch and ‘Anela Gueco perform a hula noho (“seated hula”) at the 2006 Urbana student missions conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. It’s to the Christian hymn “‘O ‘Oe ‘Io” (You Are God), originally written in Maori by Luke Kaa Morgan but translated into Hawaiian by Moses Kaho‘okele Crabbe. The sacred name for Creator God—‘Io—is the same in both languages. The lyrics are below. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

‘O ‘oe ‘Io, e makuna lani (You are God, Heavenly Father)
‘O ‘oe ‘Io, ka waiola (You are God, the Living Water)
‘O ‘oe ‘Io, e kumu ola (You are God, the Source of Life)
Ka mea hana i na mea apau (The one who has made all things)
E ku‘u Haku (My Lord)
Ka mauna ki‘eki‘e (Who is the Highest Mountain)
‘O ‘oe ‘Io (You are God)

For a fantastic religious history of Hawaii, see this PDF booklet published by Aloha Ke Akua (“God Is Love”) Ministries. Among the many things I learned is that Hawaiians regard the arrival of Christian missionaries as the fulfillment of their elders’ prophecies that the one true God would one day return to the islands.

+++

FROM THE ARCHIVES: “Jesus as Chief: ‘Baptism Mural’ by Tony Hunt”: First Nations artist Tony Hunt Sr. died last month, just two months after his son Tony Hunt Jr., also a renowned carver. Read about Hunt Sr.’s inculturated serigraph of Christ’s baptism at my old blog, The Jesus Question—part of a seven-part series I did on Christian art of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Based on a carved and painted design he made for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, it shows John the Baptist as a Kwakwaka’wakw shaman in Native dress and with ceremonial rattle, installing Jesus as chief. The Father is manifest as Sun and the Spirit as Thunderbird.   Continue reading “Roundup: Modern Bible illumination; hula; First Nations baptism design; father-daughter waltz; Tamayo and Parker”

Grief and Loss Will Be Undone (Artful Devotion)

Descent of the New Jerusalem (Georgian icon)
Gocha Kakabadze (Georgian, 1966–), Descent of the New Jerusalem, 2016. Gouache on paper.

Isaiah 25:6–9 (NRSV):

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the LORD for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

+++

Christians are called to be “aching visionaries,” writes Nicholas Wolterstorff in the classic Lament for a Son—much like the Hebrew prophets, who by the Spirit’s enlightening were able to see through the pain of this present era into a future where all things are made new, where sorrow is undone and Love reigns. Blessed are those who cling to this vision, and who actively live into it here and now, not ignoring hurt but acknowledging its wrongness (that’s what lament is: to say, “This is not right”) and co-laboring with God to heal it. For this task we are equipped with God’s Spirit.

(Related posts: “A sweeping vision of all things made new”; “‘Jis’ Blue’ by Etta Baldwin Oldham”)

The Christian fixation on heaven is sometimes perceived by outsiders as escapist, as opioid. Claiming its promise does console, it’s true. It does give us power to push through pain and guards us against despair. But what it absolutely does not allow is retreat from reality. On the contrary, it helps us to inhabit reality more fully. Talk of heaven doesn’t numb us to the world—or at least it shouldn’t. It makes us hyperaware, especially of history’s path. History is going somewhere! It has a telos, and it has manifestly not arrived there yet. Until then, we ache. We labor. We hope. Rather than having an idling effect, seeing the goal actually motivates us to live presently in tighter line with God’s values. At the same time we confess that we ourselves cannot bring about the all-encompassing salvation we so vehemently crave.

Brothers Philip and Paul Zach (The Silver Pages) are aching visionaries who write songs and sing. “When Your Kingdom Comes,” performed with Mona Reeves, helps us to see with greater clarity the glorious future that’s in store for this earth. One day when we come home to it, it will be heaven. The New Jerusalem will descend, and we’ll be wed eternally to its king.

To download the album version of the song (which has more pronounced percussion) along with five other Silver Pages tracks, go to NoiseTrade. It’s free in exchange for your email address.

+++

[After the Ring is destroyed]

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

“A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.

—J. R. R. Tolkien, from The Return of the King


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 23, cycle A, click here.

“Jis’ Blue” by Etta Baldwin Oldham

 

Glory by Elizabeth Catlett
Elizabeth Catlett (American, 1915–2012), Glory, 1981. Cast bronze, 35.5 × 24 × 25.5 cm (14 × 9 1/2 × 10 in.). Edition of 9. Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, Michigan. Head of dancer, educator, and civic activist Glory Van Scott (1947–), whose cousin Emmett Till’s murder in 1955 ignited the civil rights movement.

Jis’ blue, God,
Jis’ blue.
Ain’t prayin’ exactly jis’ now—
Tear-blind, I guess,
Can’t see my way through.
You know those things
I ast for so many times—
Maybe I hadn’t orter repeated like the Pharisees do;
But I ain’t stood in no market place;
It’s jis’ ’tween me and You.
And You said, “Ast” . . .
Somehow I ain’t astin’ now and I hardly know what to do.
Hope jis’ sorter left, but Faith’s still here—
Faith ain’t gone, too.
I know how ’tis—a thousand years
Is as a single day with You;
And I ain’t meanin’ to tempt You with “If You be . . .”
And I ain’t doubtin’ You.
But I ain’t prayin’ tonight, God—
Jis’ blue.

As far as I can tell, this poem was originally published in the July 1927 issue of The Forum, a magazine published from 1890 to 1950, and is now in the public domain.

+++

African American teacher, poet, and children’s book author Henrietta (“Etta”) Oldham (née Baldwin) was born September 21, 1888, in Big Spring, Texas. With husband Charles Oswald Oldham, she bore a daughter, Babette, but Charles died in 1922 at age thirty-three, and Etta never remarried. After Charles’s death, Etta spent seven years in Panama doing research for her book Pedro’s Pirate. She then returned to Texas, where she lived until her death in 1975.

Writing in African American Vernacular English, Etta gets real with God in her poem “Jis’ Blue,” laying all her frustration out on the table before him. The poem exemplifies the biblical practice of lament, of prayed sorrow. “Moving in our grief, confusion, and protest toward trust and thanksgiving in God and his promises” is the direction of biblical lament, writes J. Todd Billings in his book Rejoicing in Lament (46). While humility before God is a virtue, demureness is not. God wants us to be forthright with him. He much prefers honest emotional expressions to pasted-on smiles or disengagement.

Although its language can be sharp (Etta’s poem is much milder than most of the Bible’s lament psalms), lament is actually a form of praise, because it arises from the conviction that the Lord is a God of hesed, of “loving faithfulness”:

A conviction that God acts as the Lord who has bound himself in covenant love is at the theological center of the book of Psalms. . . . Because of their faith in God’s sovereignty, the psalmists have high expectations of God; because they take God’s promises seriously, they lament and protest when it seems that God is not keeping his promises. . . . The psalmists blame God in the interrogative, with raw, unanswered questions that cling to the hope of God’s covenant promises: Why am I in this crisis if the Lord’s covenant promise is true? In the context of covenant fellowship, God’s people can cry out to their covenant Lord—in complaint, even in protest and open-ended blame—until God shows his faithfulness according to his covenant promise. (50, 58–59)

Lament throws God’s promises back at him, says Billings. The promise that Etta calls God to account for is “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7; cf. 21:22). I’ve asked and I’ve asked, she says, but still nothing. What’s the deal, God? Has my repetition become vain, invalidating my request [Matthew 6:7]? Come on, God, I’m praying discreetly, just like you taught [Matthew 6:5–6]! Because she’s tired of asking and therefore refrains from doing so in this prayer, we don’t know what it is she’s seeking. We don’t know the object of her lament. But that enables the poem to speak more broadly into different contexts.

When we’re hurting in some way (physically, emotionally, or spiritually) and we grow weary of praying over and over again for relief, it’s perfectly acceptable to stop short of entreaty and simply tell God, “I’m just sad.” Jis’ blue. “So blind with tears, I can’t see straight.” That in itself is a prayer—an openness to God. Although Etta says she “ain’t prayin’ tonight,” she has done just that. Not in supplication mode but in lament mode. It’s how Christians pray their suffering.