“Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie, copyright 2003. Oil on canvas, 42 x 54 inches. www.janetmckenzie.com Collection of Barbara Marian, Harvard, ILA multi-racial trio of female Magi visit the baby Jesus and his mother in “Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie. Instead of the traditional three kings or three wise men, the artist re-interprets the Magi as wise women from around the world. The unconventional portrayal of the Magi makes good theological sense. Barbara Marian, who commissioned the painting, explains: “The story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew allowed the Jewish followers of Jesus to imagine the unthinkable -- God’s grace extending to the outsiders, the gentiles. Who are the outsiders in our world? Can we imagine the favor of God extending beyond the human boundaries of race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religious devotion, and gender?” Marian commissioned “Epiphany” for the Nativity Project, which revisits and revitalizes the Gospel with new images of women. “It’s easy to get so caught up in regal images of Matthew’s night visitors that we miss the core message -- Christ for all people,” Marian says. Conservative Christians raised a big stink over “Epiphany” in 2007 when it appeared on the Christmas cards of the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas, sent a notice to clergy and 2007 convention delegates condemning Jefferts Schori for her choice of art. “Happy Multicultural Feminist Celebration Day,” sneered the headline of a traditional Anglican blog where nearly 100 comments are posted condemning the image as “stupid,” “faux-nouveau hipster theology” and worse. McKenzie denies the accusations that she is trying to be divisive and rewrite scripture. “Of course this is as far from my thinking as possible,” she says. “I feel called to create sacred and secular art that includes and celebrates those systematically ignored, relegated and minimized, and for the most part that is women and people of color.” The artist continues to be amazed that her loving images provoke so much anger. “Even this gentle image of a loving Holy Mother and Child, with no agenda accept to include and honor us as the nurturing feminine beings we are, surrounded in community with other women, is still misunderstood -- even at this late date,” she says. McKenzie has weathered even bigger storms before. Her androgynous African American “Jesus of the People” painting caused international controversy when Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium. Critics focus on the content of McKenzie’s art, but her outstanding artistic style is one reason that her work attracts attention. The Vermont artist uses drawing and line with oils to build images that glow. Her painting technique and pastel colors are reminiscent of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, who is famous for painting intimate scenes of mothers and their children. The controversy over McKenzie’s work is a reminder of the power of art, and the continuing need for progressive spiritual images. Opposition seems to fuel her passion to paint. “We all need to find ourselves included within the sacred journey of life, and afterlife,” McKenzie says. “I have been surprised to find archaic and out-dated hate still in place, still alive and well and fueled by fear, in response to some of my art. I have made the decision to respond to such hate not in the way it comes to me, but by creating ever more inclusive art that confronts prejudice and hate. The only path open to any of us is the one of love.” (Special thanks to Barbara Marian for permission to quote from her article “Recasting the Magi.” Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 11: Radiant Baby _______________ The full story of the “Jesus of the People” controversy -- and more art by McKenzie -- are included in the book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry. The book is filled with color images by 11 contemporary artists. Five artists from AltXmasArt are featured in the book. The artists tell the stories behind their images and a lively introduction puts them into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom.