“Madonna, Lover, and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson, 1996. Oil on canvas, 80 x 68 inches. www.beckijayne.comTwo lesbian mothers cuddle the Baby Jesus in “Madonna, Lover and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson. Love made this Holy Family. After all, the story of the virgin birth means that Jesus was conceived without the involvement of any man. Most galleries are afraid to exhibit this lesbian Christmas image. AltXmasArt presents it here on Christmas Day as a special gift. Probably the most common religious Christmas image is that icon of the nuclear family: the baby Jesus with mother Mary and father Joseph. Safe, saccharine Nativity scenes enshrine heterosexuality and obscure the shocking point of Christmas: God became human, and in a most disreputable context—born in poverty to an unwed teenage mother. He represents all people, including the outcasts and the sexually marginalized. Harrelson, a lesbian artist based in Atlanta, puts her Holy Family into the same landscape as Da Vinci’s Madonna of the Rocks. In Harrelson’s version, the Madonna has a classic stylized halo while the landscape forms a natural sunlit halo around her blonde lover (based on the woman who has been Harrelson’s partner since 1995). The contrasting halos are Harrelson’s way of saying that lesbians are a natural part of creation, as opposed to the roles of wife and mother imposed by patriarchal religion. A turkey baster is concealed in the bushes, a play on artificial insemination and virgin birth. “I think God has a sense of humor—where I get mine I like to think,” Harrelson laughed. Harrelson is rightly called “the lesbian Leonardo Da Vinci” because her prodigious talent, style and subject matter are reminiscent of the great Renaissance artist. A recurring theme for lesbian artists is Mary with her female lover, sometimes with references to the virgin birth and its and its similarity to artificial insemination. Lesbians can relate to the myth of Mary’s virgin birth because they use artificial insemination to have babies without heterosexual sex. Pro-woman views of the virgin birth go back at least as far as the famous 1851 speech by abolitionist Sojourner Truth who had been born into slavery. “Where did your Christ come from?” Truth asked. “From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” “Madonna, Lover, and Son” affirms the basic message of Christmas: Love is what makes a family. _______ This painting appears in “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. _______ Thank you for viewing 12 Days of AltXmasArt. It’s our Christmas gift to you, and we hope that it inspired you this holiday season. We close with a quick guide with links to the whole series: “Annunciation” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin “La Anunciación (The Annuciation)” by Armando Lopez “Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz “Black Madonna - Mitochondrial Eve” by David Hewson “The Holy Family” by Janet McKenzie “San José (Saint Joseph)” by Armando Lopez “Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani “Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” by Father William Hart McNichols “Pacha Mama Healing the Earth” by David Hewson “Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie “Radiant Baby” by Keith Haring “Madonna, Lover, and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
“Radiant Baby” (from Icons series) by Keith Haring, 1990. © Estate of Keith Haring Silkscreen, 21 x 25 inches. www.haring.com“Radiant Baby” strips the Christmas story down to its core: A child is born. It took a gay artist -- Keith Haring -- to get to the pure essence of Christmas. He paints a generic baby. The child is faceless, without any trappings of race, gender or family of origin. The only thing special about this baby is its radiance. Is “Radiant Baby” the Christ child, or every child? Art historian Natalie E. Phillips makes an excellent case that Haring did indeed consider it an image of Christ. In her essay “The Radiant (Christ) Child,” she writes that Haring’s teenage activity in the Jesus Movement during the 1970s left a lasting impact on him and his art. He created many works that transform Christian images to make more ambiguous statements. The “Radiant Baby” began as a “tag” that Haring left in his early days as a graffiti artist and often used as his signature on later artwork. Haring (1958-1990) first attracted international attention in 1981 for his chalk drawings in the New York subways. He drew simple line figures like “Radiant Baby.” In his brief but intense career, he became one of the best known artists of his generation. Haring died of AIDS-related illnesses at age 31. Christianity teaches that all people are created in the image of God. As Christmas approaches, “Radiant Baby” reminds us that every baby is born radiant. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 12: “Madonna, Lover, and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson. ____ For more on Keith Haring, check out the new biography Keith Haring by Jeffrey Deitch.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
“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.
Monday, December 22, 2008
“Pacha Mama Healing the Earth” by David Hewson, 2006. Oil and 22 K gold on panel, 24 x 24 inches www.davidhewsonart.com www.galleryminerva.comChristmas themes of peace on earth and divine motherhood are celebrated in “Pacha Mama Healing the Earth” by David Hewson. He paints a Black Madonna figure who cradles the earth. Her pose is like an icon of “Mary Mother of All Nations.” Here she is called “Pacha Mama,” the name for Mother Earth in South America. Centuries ago Catholic missionaries introduced South Americans to Mary, the Virgin Mother who miraculously gave birth to Christ and continues to intercede with God for humankind. Natives of the Andes Mountains associated Mary with their own Pacha Mama, sometimes merging the two or worshipping them side by side in peaceful coexistence, practices that continue to this day. Mary has been blended with indigenous goddesses like Pacha Mama in many native cultures. Some deplore this “syncretism,” while others welcome the happy blend that comes from cross-fertilization. “This piece looks back and forward to the lost and new-found worship of the feminine,” Hewson explains. On the first Christmas, the birth of a Savior led angels to sing about “peace on earth, goodwill to all” (Luke 2:14). Hewson’s painting of mother earth healing the earth is one way to envision the glories that were announced by angels. Hewson addresses themes of social injustice and planetary evolution in his recent artwork. Born and raised in North Carolina, he received classical training in art, including several years in Italy studying traditional oil and water gilding. He moved to Iquitos, Peru in 2006. Hewson’s art is technically and intellectually brilliant with a classical style. A traveling exhibit of Hewson’s work will tour North America from January to June 2009 with stops in Southern Pines and Greensboro, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 10: 10. “Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
“Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” by © Father William Hart McNichols St Andrei Rublev Icons www.standreirublevicons.comMary holds the earth as she would the baby Jesus in “Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” by Father William Hart McNichols. The Madonna is elevated to being not only the mother of Christ, but the mother of all humanity, indeed the whole earth itself. Against a starry backdrop, she truly is the “most holy” Mary, a regal Mother Nature who births and sustains the earth itself. This universal Mary embodies the divine feminine. The title “Mother of All Nations” came in a vision to Ida Peerdeman, an Amsterdam office worker, in the mid-20th century, and was authorized by the Roman Catholic Church for public devotion in 1996. McNichols has been criticized for depicting “saints” not authorized by the church, including such gay martyrs as Matthew Shepard and an anonymous gay priest killed in a Nazi death camp. Whatever hardships he faces, McNichols continues to get energy from dialogue with the icons he creates. “We need to gaze at truly conversational, truly loving images… images that will return our love,” he said. McNichols has created many icons in his own gracefully elegant style. Based in New Mexico, he is a Catholic priest who studied with world-renowned iconographer Brother Robert Lentz. Trained as an artist, he felt that icons were stiff and distant when he first began making them. “The icon appears as a rather shy, respectful friend who takes a long time to get to know,” he says. Icons differ from other art forms because they are meant for contemplation in order to make a mystical connection. According to tradition, artists don’t “create” or “paint” the icons, but “write” them because they are visual revelations of theology transcribed by the artist. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 9: “Pacha Mama Healing the Earth” by David Hewson. _______________ Other icons by William Hart McNichols appear in “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.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
“Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani www.bridgebuilding.comRespect for fatherhood and for Native Americans combine in “Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani. Religious Christmas images usually focus on the Madonna and child, often leaving Joseph out entirely. This icon does great service by affirming men as loving father figures, gentle enough to nurture a baby. Giulani’s icon also reverses the terrible history of Christian missionaries forcing their religion upon Native Americans with violence and cruelty. Instead of turning Native Americans into Christians, Giuliani turns Christian subjects into Native Americans. Joseph gives up his traditional Middle Eastern robes and dons a typical Navajo chief blanket, beaded necklace and headband. The baby Jesus is naked. Both have skin, hair and features that appear Native American. All they kept is their halos. Nobody would even recognize them as Joseph and the Christ child without the icon’s title -- and maybe that’s the point. All people are created in God’s image. Can you see the face of Christ in an ordinary Navajo man and his baby? Giuliani is an Italian-American Catholic priest who has made dozens of Christian icons with Native American imagery from a variety of tribes. He studied icon painting under a master in the Russian Orthodox style, but wanted to expand the concept of holiness to include Native Americans as the original presence of the sacred on the continent. “I suddenly began to wonder what I was doing using traditional Byzantine aesthetics and forms, living as I do in North America in the late 20th century,” he says in an interview in Sojourner Magazine. “Then the idea came to me of using the images of the continent’s original peoples in icons, as a way of celebrating the spiritual gifts they have given to the world.” The son of immigrants from a poor agricultural town near Naples, Giuliani attributes his affinity for Native Americans to a shared sense of connection to the earth and the cycles of nature. He lives in a monastic community in rural Connecticut “Even though I’m not Native American, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the varied indigenous cultures of this land,” says Giuliani. “Their understanding of the world of nature and of God, their emphasis on being caretakers rather than exploiters of the land—all that is wonderfully consonant with the best of Christian thought and tradition. In my work I try to celebrate a union of a common spiritual understanding, to show how a single mystery can be approached through diverse cultures.” Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 8: “Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” by Father William Hart McNichols
Friday, December 19, 2008
“San José (Saint Joseph)” by Armando Lopez, 2008. Oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches. www.armandolopez.comThe Christ child is usually pictured with his mother, but he makes a rare father-and-son appearance in “San José (Saint Joseph)” by Armando Lopez. Treasuring this scene of fatherly bonding is a way to reclaim the tender, nurturing side of men. The painting provides an important balance to the flood of Madonna-and-child images that circulate during the Christmas season. The Bible provides scant information about Joseph, but the few references do suggest that he was a working man of faith, kindness an compassion. According to the gospel of Matthew, Joseph was shocked to find out that his fiancé Mary was pregnant -- before they had “come together.” He decided to divorce her, and do it quietly to avoid exposing her to public disgrace. Then an angel came in a dream to reassure Joseph that Mary was carrying God’s own son. Joseph stood by Mary, perhaps saving her from being stoned to death for adultery. The rest is history. There is even less information about how Joseph interacted with Jesus. The lack of historical record leaves artists free to imagine Jesus and Joseph together. Lopez paints a Jesus who is no baby, but appears to be a young boy. The father and son are deeply connected, almost becoming one body. They face each other, but their gazes do not quite meet, for Jesus is looking upward past Joseph, perhaps toward his heavenly father. Lopez is a Tarascan native born in the small village of Santa Maria in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacan. Now living in Mexico, he uses both native Tarascan and Catholic imagery in his art, which has been featured in exhibitions across the Americas. The rich colors and stylized bodies, especially Joseph’s elongated neck in “San José,” also call to mind the work of popular 20th- century Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 7: “Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani
Thursday, December 18, 2008
“The Holy Family” by Janet McKenzie, copyright 2007. Oil on canvas, 42 x 54 inches. www.janetmckenzie.com Collection of Loyola School, New York, NYMary, Joseph and their infant son Jesus are black in “The Holy Family” by Janet McKenzie. Her artistic mission is to create sacred images that honor those who have been excluded, which often means people of color. “The Holy Family” takes on special significance this Christmas, as the first African American president and his family prepare to move into the White House. African American commentators have emphasized the importance of the Obama family as a positive role model. Michaela Angela David of Essence Magazine put it this way on CNN, “It’s not just about Barack. It’s Barack, Michelle and those two little girls. We haven't seen an intact black family since the Huxtables -- and they weren’t real!” McKenzie’s painting provides another much-needed image of an intact black family. Her work is truly visionary because the art world has a whole genre of black Madonnas, but there are almost no images of a black Holy Family. The painting is not only meaningful, but also beautiful with drawing and line incorporated into oils to build luminous images. Sometimes McKenzie’s art sparks controversy. Her androgynous African American “Jesus of the People” painting caused an international uproar after Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium in 2000. However, McKenzie says that the responses to “The Holy Family” have been accepting and positive, perhaps because it was commissioned and wholeheartedly supported by the Loyola School in New York. “As a school run by the Jesuits, it was important to them to have such an image, one that reflects their ethical and inclusive beliefs,” McKenzie explains. “ ‘The Holy Family’ celebrates Mary, Joseph and Jesus as a family of color. I feel as an artist that it is vital to put loving sacred art -- art that includes rather than excludes -- into the world, in order to remind that we are all created equally and beautifully in God's likeness. Everyone, especially those traditionally marginalized, needs the comfort derived by finding one’s own image positively reflected back in iconic art. By honoring difference we are ultimately reminded of our inherent similarities.” The Vermont-based artist had built a successful career painting women who looked like herself, fair and blonde, before her breakthrough with “Jesus of the People.” At that time she wanted to create a truly inclusive image that would touch her nephew, an African American teenager. “The Holy Family” continues the process of embracing everybody in one human family created in God’s image. (For another image of a black Holy Family, see “Madonna” by Elizabeth Catlett.) Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 6: “San José (Saint Joseph)” by Armando Lopez _______ 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.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
“Black Madonna - Mitochondrial Eve” by David Hewson., 2004. Oil and 22K gold on panel, 20 x 29 inches. www.davidhewsonart.com www.galleryminerva.comThe Madonna and Eve become one powerful, dark-skinned matriarch in “Black Madonna - Mitochondrial Eve” by David Hewson. The Madonna appears without the Christ child. Instead she holds a collection of colorful eggs representing the races of the world. The gesture embodies themes of both Christmas and Easter, because Mary Magdalene is traditionally shown holding a red egg as a symbol of resurrection. Black Madonnas were fairly common in Europe during the Middle Ages. Hewson traces the motif back even further. “Another metaphor of the Black Madonna has its connection with the earth,” he explains. “Today the definition of black has a negative connotation. However, prior to 2,000 years ago when worship of the feminine was a common practice, black soil was a source of nourishment, of life itself.” The small marble bust of Venus next to her pales in comparison to Hewson’s hefty Black Madonna. The painting also grows out of Hewson’s personal experience. “I had an African American nanny who raised me, and she had a huge impact in my life,” he said. The model for his Black Madonna was a friend who grew up with him. The Bible goes over Jesus’ genealogy, tracing his family line back along the male line from Joseph to Abraham (Matthew 1:1-17). Hewson takes the opposite approach, portraying the Madonna as the “mitochondrial Eve” who is traced along the female line by scientists. Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common ancestor of all people alive today. Scientists believe that she was a real woman who lived at least 140,000 years ago in Africa. Geneticists came up with the theory of mitochondrial Eve because the DNA in the mitochondria of each cell passes unchanged from mother to child This Black Madonna holds a set of colorful eggs in a gesture traditionally ascribed to Mary Magdalene, the disciple of Jesus who was first to see him after his resurrection. According to one tradition, she held a plain egg in her hand and told Tiberius Caesar, “Christ is risen!” Caesar laughed, saying that was as impossible as the egg in her hand turning red. Before he finished speaking, the egg turned bright red. Hewson’s artwork has addressed themes of social injustice and planetary evolution in recent years. Born and raised in North Carolina, he received classical training in art, including several years in Italy studying traditional oil and water gilding. He moved to Iquitos, Peru in 2006. Hewson’s art is technically and intellectually brilliant with a classical style. By taking time to digest the intricate symbolism in his gilded paintings, the viewer can discover genuine gold. A traveling exhibit of Hewson’s work will tour North America from January to June 2009 with stops in Southern Pines and Greensboro, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 5: “The Holy Family” by Janet McKenzie
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
“Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, copyright 1986. Courtesy of Trinity Stores www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)Solidarity with homeless people is embodied by a black Madonna in “Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz. The icon expresses Mary’s message in the Magnificat, the hymn that she sang while carrying God’s child: “My soul magnifies God… He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46, 52-53). The icon was created by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan brother and world-class iconographer who is famous for his innovative icons. Here he builds on the medieval tradition of the black Madonna to draw attention to the contemporary problem of homelessness. Lentz explains in the text he wrote to accompany the image: “Each year, larger numbers of homeless people live in the streets of modern cities. These people may be jobless workers, battered women, the untreated mentally ill, or simply those too poor to get by. They tend to be ‘invisible’ to the rest of society, but they are a real presence of Christ, the Suffering Servant, in history.” Many of the millions who experience homelessness on U.S. streets are African American, so Lentz apparently found inspiration for his Mother of the Streets in the black Madonna tradition. The mother and child may look like African Americans, but the black Madonna motif dates back before there were any African Americans. Most black Madonnas are medieval or copies of medieval European figures, made between the 11th and 15th centuries. Some have suggested that the black faces were caused by candle soot and discoloration due to aging, but research has shown that some of the black Madonnas were originally made from dark materials. Medieval motives for creating black Madonnas are uknown, but there has been much speculation since the late 20th century that they are related to pre-Christian earth goddesses or rooted in African traditions. Lentz is a world-class iconographer who began creating innovative icons in San Francisco during a period of years away from monastic life. He makes an ancient art form relevant—and sometimes controversial—by applying it to modern “saints” such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California. His grandparents came to America from tsarist Russia. Lentz grew up on stories of saints and labor unions instead of fairy tales. Icons covered the living room walls in his Russian grandmother’s home. When he was old enough, he studied Byzantine iconography. He spent the first eighteen years of his adult life in Orthodox and Roman Catholic monasteries. Lentz left the monastery in 1982 and began painting icons full-time in San Francisco. At first he was shocked to meet openly gay men and lesbian women, feminists, anarchists, undocumented immigrants, and many others unlike the people he knew in cloistered life. Within a few months, he was making icons that expressed the holy passion for justice that he discovered on the streets of San Francisco. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 4: “Black Madonna - Mitochondrial Eve” by David Hewson _______ Other icons by Robert Lentz appear in “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.
Monday, December 15, 2008
“La Anunciación (The Annunciation)” by Armando Lopez, 1999. Egg tempera on canvas, 26 x 26 inches. www.armandolopez.comA naked Angel Gabriel brings Mary the news that she will bear God’s son in “Anunciación (The Annunciation)” by Armando Lopez. The angel’s buttocks are fully exposed, emphasizing the erotic union of body and spirit behind the Christmas miracle. The annunciation has been a standard subject for artists over the centuries, but they almost always show the angel conversing with Mary. Lopez surprises the viewer by capturing a moment that has been ignored -- just AFTER the revelation, when the angel has turned to leave. The legless angel has no need of feet, for he has wings to fly. The painting provides a starting point for reflection on one of the Bible passages that is usually read on Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 1:14) Lopez is a Tarascan native born in the small village of Santa Maria in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacan. He combines both native Tarascan and Catholic imagery in his art, which has been featured in exhibitions across the Americas. The vibrant colors, flattened forms and almost surreal imagery of “La Anunciation” are reminiscent of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Lopez lives in New Mexico. Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt 3: “Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
“Annunciation” (from “Ecce Homo”) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, 1998. Photograph, 79 x 60 inches. www.ohlson.seThe Madonna and her female lover are portrayed as a lesbian couple, seven months’ pregnant through artificial insemination in “Annunciation” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. The angel Gabriel comes in the form of their gay male friend, who floats in with a message from God—and a test tube for insemination. A Bible quote is displayed with the photo: “The angel said to her, “ ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.’” (Luke 1:30-31) It’s important to imagine the Christmas story in new and different ways because it empowers people to grow in their relationship with each other and with God. Imagining the Madonna as a lesbian may be shocking, but it reminds the viewer that the story of Jesus’ birth has always been radical. It was scandalous that God’s son was born to an unwed mother in poverty. God became flesh—a shockingly total identification with all people. “Annunciation” is the opening image in the Swedish photographer’s series titled Ecce Homo, a pun meaning “See the human being” and “See the homosexual.” Each image is haunting and sharply beautiful, with a fashion-photo clarity and documentary truth that makes the familiar story become acutely real. All hell broke loose when Ohlson Wallin recreated twelve scenes from Christ’s life using contemporary LGBT models and locations. Her Ecce Homo series toured Europe, often in churches, but the Pope expressed disapproval by canceling a planned audience with the Swedish archbishop. Opponents vandalized the art, threw rocks at the artist and issued death threats. This kind of religious bigotry is exactly why images of a queer Christ are needed. “I wanted Jesus for me and my own sexual sense,” Ohlson Wallin explains. “I wanted to be able to identify with Jesus. There are millions and billions of Jesus pictures for heterosexuals to identify with. In Africa they have black Jesus. In China they have Chinese Jesus. Lots of different countries each have a different Jesus.” Please come back tomorrow for AltXmasArt2: “La Anunciación (The Annuciation)” by Armando Lopez. _______________ This photograph appears in “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.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
AltXmasArt, a groundbreaking exhibit of alternative Christmas art, will be posted online in 12 daily installments Dec. 14-25 at the Jesus in Love Blog (www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com). Nine artists combine Christmas imagery with a progressive vision of gay, lesbian, bi and trans (GLBT) rights, racial and gender justice, and a world without war, poverty or environmental destruction. “We hope that people will visit AltXmasArt daily for progressive inspiration in the 12 days leading up to Christmas,” says lesbian art historian and minister Kittredge Cherry, curator of the show. “Many people feel left out of the traditional Christmas scenes, but AltXmasArt breaks the stereotypes and shows Christ for ALL of us -- gay and straight, male and female, black and white, rich and poor.” The series offers a superb fusion of high-quality art, deep spirituality and socio-political commentary. Surprising variations on the traditional Nativity scene include black madonnas, lesbian madonnas, father-and-son scenes of Jesus and Joseph, and a multi-racial trio of female Magi. The AltXmasArt series starts Sunday, Dec. 14 and ends on Christmas Day. “Christian rhetoric is used to justify hate and discrimination these days, but AltXmasArt frees people to think differently. We hope to stimulate dialogue and consciousness of love,” Cherry says. It’s important to imagine the Christmas story in new and different ways because it empowers people to grow in their relationship with each other and with God.” The sometimes controversial art was created by a diverse group of nine artists, including openly gay or lesbian artists such as Keith Haring, Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin and Becki Jayne Harrelson of Atlanta. Artists who dare to picture Jesus’ mother as a lesbian have faced censorship and even death threats, but now their liberating images can be seen and celebrated. Explicitly queer Christian imagery in AltXmasArt includes “Annunciation” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin, in which a gay angel gives a lesbian couple a test tube for insemination, and “Madonna, Lover and Child” by Becki Jayne Harrelson, where lesbian parents cuddle the baby Jesus. Each image in the series will be accompanied by Cherry’s seasonal reflections on its artistic, political and spiritual significance. Cherry is the author of “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” She holds degrees in journalism, art history, and religion. She served as national ecumenical officer for Metropolitan Community Churches. Artists in AltXmasArt are: Joseph Giuliani, Keith Haring, Becki Jayne Harrelson David Hewson, Robert Lentz, Armando Lopez, Janet McKenzie, William Hart McNichols, and Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. The show includes artists working both inside and outside the church. Five of the artists are also featured in “Art That Dares,” which is filled with color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe. The artists tell the stories behind their images, including censorship, and a lively introduction puts them into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom. The Jesus in Love Blog promotes artistic and religious freedom by supporting spirituality and the arts for GLBT people and their allies. Here is a quick guide with links to the whole series: “Annunciation” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin “La Anunciación (The Annuciation)” by Armando Lopez “Mother of God: Mother of the Streets” by Brother Robert Lentz “Black Madonna - Mitochondrial Eve” by David Hewson “The Holy Family” by Janet McKenzie “San José (Saint Joseph)” by Armando Lopez “Joseph and the Christ Child” by Father John Giuliani “Mary Most Holy Mother of All Nations” by Father William Hart McNichols “Pacha Mama Healing the Earth” by David Hewson “Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie “Radiant Baby” by Keith Haring “Madonna, Lover, and Son” by Becki Jayne Harrelson _______ If you like this art, you’ll also enjoy “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.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Jesus in Love” by Kittredge Cherry. Jesus is so in tune with nature that he can converse with animals in the novel. While the book is known for exploring Jesus’ bisexual feelings, many readers say that this is one of their favorite scenes. It takes place during his wilderness fast.
The cave was filled with animals and angels. The angels were like snatches of melody or wisps of light, singing a prophecy from Isaiah that I had loved since childhood. As they sang, Isaiah’s vision materialized right before my eyes and I was part of it: “The wolf shall live with the lamb. The leopard and the young goat shall lie down together while the lion cub makes friends with the calf, with a little child to guide them. The baby shall play near the cobra’s hole. Nobody will be hurt or injured on my holy mountain, for the earth will be flooded with the knowledge of God as water fills the sea.”… The scene reminded me of a story that Mom and Papa-Joe told me about my birth, so I tried to share it with the animals. “I was born in a stable, a place kind f like this cave,” I began. It was tricky translating my thoughts into the vibrations of so many different species at once. Some understood more than others. “Animals were with me when I was born. There were some like you...and you...and you.” I pointed at the sheep, the goats, the donkeys, and the oxen. “After I was born, I slept in a manger, a place where animals ate their food.” “Food!” Everyone was interested in this part of my story. We talked about food for a long time, until the sun began to set. “You are like food. You make me feel good,” Old Snake said to me, and the others sounded their agreement.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Cleve Jones, the gay-rights activist with an important role in the new movie “Milk,” is interviewed in my book “Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide.” Directed by Gus Van Sant, “Milk” is based on the true story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official. Sean Penn plays Milk and Emile Hirsch plays Jones, who helped launch his campaign and worked on his staff. In “Hide and Speak,” Jones talks about his coming-out journey and how he got the idea to create the Names Project AIDS quilt. He tells how he overcame the shame he felt as a teenager about his sexual orientation. The following excerpt from the book describes a turning point in his life:
Cleve was attending a national convention of a group in which he was politically active: the Society of Friends. He noticed a sign announcing a meeting of lesbian and gay Friends. “I remember pacing outside the door, and finally just taking a breath, opening the door, and walking in. All my favorite people were in the room! All the Quakers I thought were the neatest – men and women – they were all there. Except my lover. I walked in. A few people chuckled. Somebody said, “Welcome.” Somebody else said “We were wondering if you were going to join us.” I just started laughing. That was the first time I said, “I’m gay.” It was just such a strong sense of homecoming. That night all the Quakers gathered in a big circle and sat in silence for a long time and then sang, which is not very typical. They sang “Amazing Grace.” Coming up in a Quaker family, I had never heard this song before. The words, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see,” were all just so meaningful.…………… Jones is interviewed in the video above about his coming-out journey, the “Milk” move, Harvey Milk, the Names Project quilt, and gay history. It was made by CastroInTheStreets.com.
Friday, December 05, 2008
This month the Jesus in Love Newsletter celebrates its first anniversary as an e-newsletter on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender spirituality and the arts. Free subscriptions are available. Click here to sign up for our Email Newsletter now. The bimonthly e-newsletter has presented a positive vision of GLBT spirituality and tracked censorship of queer religious art since December 2007. Back issues can be viewed online at the Newsletter Archive. The Jesus in Love Newsletter is edited by Kittredge Cherry, lesbian Christian author, minister, and art historian. “I founded the newsletter to keep GLBT people and our allies informed about exciting new developments in spirituality and the arts,” she says. “I hope to stimulate dialogue and consciousness of love by displaying and discussing the often-controversial art that affirms GLBT people and our connection to God.” Readership has grown steadily in the first year, with lots of people saying that they value the newsletter. "Very nice, sophisticated, uncluttered newsletter -- with some interesting info as well," writes journalist Eileen Lockwood. "What a gift you are giving to us!!" says Rev. Jane Spahr from That All May Freely Serve. Click here to sign up for our Email Newsletter
Monday, December 01, 2008
El Martir (The Martyr) by Armando LopezThe agony of AIDS and its treatment is expressed in “El Martir” (The Martyr) by Armando Lopez. It is posted here today for World AIDS Day. Lopez reinterprets St. Sebastian as an AIDS patient suffering under harrowing modern health-care procedures. Both patients and their caregivers can relate to the contemporary medical martyrdom in the poignant painting. Lopez, a New Mexico folk artist, painted it as a tribute to all those who died from AIDS in the early years of experimentation by the medical profession. St. Sebastian, a third-century Christian saint, is traditionally presented as a near-naked martyr shot with arrows. Lopez’s martyr is punctured not by arrows, but by the many needles used for medical treatment. He’s stuck like a pincushion with acupuncture needles and hypodermic syringes. He receives fluids from an intravenous drip while holding a glass with the drug cocktail for treating AIDS. IV bags and syringes sprout from the earth around him, along with a few brave flowers. The martyr’s warm flesh tones contrast with the deeply saturated aquamarine background. Lopez’ startling imagery reminds me of the stylized forms of Modigliani and the magical symbolism of Marc Chagall. I have been haunted by “El Martir” since I first saw it in person last year at the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, NM. I lost many friends to AIDS while ministering in San Francisco’s Castro district in the late 1980s, when the AIDS death toll was at its height in America. There were no effective treatments then, although there were ineffective ones with horrible side effects. I post “El Martir” in honor of my friends who died of AIDS, and of all who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Lopez is a Tarascan native born in the small village of Santa Maria in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacan. He uses both native Tarascan and Catholic imagery in his paintings and mixed media work. He works with lush, glowing colors and fanciful imagery based on his own visions. Lopez has been featured in exhibitions across the Americas, including the Contemporary Hispanic Market in Santa Fe, NM, and the prestigious juried Festival of the Arts in Coconut Grove, FL. “El Martir” is an oil on canvas measuring 20 by 16 inches.