“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.