Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Christa art exhibit celebrates female Christ

“Christa” by Angie Devereux

Female Christ figures by international artists are on display at the University of Winchester in England through Aug. 9.

“Celebrating Female Images of Christ/a” brings together women artists from across Europe to celebrate the ongoing heritage of Christ as a woman.

Artists include Silvia Martinez Cano (Spain), Annette Esser (Germany), Sylvia Grevel (Netherlands) and British artists Megan Clay, Angie Devereux and Jess Wood. The exhibit at the university's Link Gallery also includes the Bosnian Christa created by Margaret Argyle in 1993. The exhibition poster features “She is Risen” by Megan Clay, curator of the show.

I wrote about the importance of female Christ figures and their connection to queer Christ images in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” Here are some excerpts from the book:

Two dramatic new visions are coming into consciousness: the gay Jesus and the woman Christ. They break gender rules and gender roles. Their very presence stirs controversy. These radically new Christ figures embody and empower people who are left out when Jesus is shown as a straight man. They can free the minds of everyone who sees them. Artists who dare to show Christ as gay or female have had their work destroyed—if they can find a way to exhibit it at all….

Appreciation for the gay Jesus and woman Christ images is not limited to LGBT people, women, or even Christians. Many others are also turned off by dogmatic, male-dominated religions and the wars they fuel. Such people may welcome the sacred feminine and the gay-sensitive reassessments of Christ. On a deeper level, the new images aim to heal the painful split between body and soul that came with patriarchy. Without that basic wholeness, humanity is likely to continue down the destructive path of war, economic exploitation and ecological destruction. …

The woman Christ is a radical reimagining of the central figure of Christianity. It’s possible that the historical Jesus was gay, but he definitely was not female. All artists who portray the female Christ are breaking with historical fact in order to express a deeper truth. Most say they are drawn to the Christ archetype for reasons that they cannot explain. Some note the influence of feminism or faith—the Christian belief that the risen Christ transcends gender. Some point out that the world needs to honor the sacred feminine and is cycling back to it.

A woman on the cross is still rare enough to shock, but for those who go looking, it is the most common motif for female Christ figures in art. As with the gay Jesus, crucifixions far outnumber resurrections. Female crucifixions generally express the sacrifice and suffering of women—and yet the power to overcome death is implicit in every crucifixion….

The current exploration of the female Christ is new, but not unprecedented. Some artists draw inspiration from Sophia, the female incarnation of Wisdom in the Bible. Sophia is considered a Christ figure in Byzantine tradition, and she has appeared in Byzantine churches and icons at least since the Middle Ages.

At the University of Winchester, lectures are being presented in conjunction with the Christa exhibit by Nicola Slee of the Queen's Foundation in Birmingham and Angela Berlis of the University of Bern, Switzerland. Slee is the author of “Seeking the Risen Christa.”

The exhibition catalog for “Celebrating Female Images of Christ/a” features a description of each painting and its meaning. To purchase the catalog, contact Lisa Isherwood, professor of feminist liberation theologies and director of the Institute for Theological Partnerships, which oversaw the exhibit. Her email address is Lisa.Isherwood@winchester.ac.uk.

The Christa exhibit opened on July 10, 2015. The opening weekend was so successful that the institute is already making plans for a follow-up exhibit next year on feminist images of Mary/Miriam.

For more info on the Christa exhibit, contact: Joanna.Wilson@Winchester.ac.uk.

Related links:

Crucified Christa embodies female Christ (Jesus in Love)

Exhibition poster for “Celebrating Female Images of Christ/a”

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Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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