Radical Expression of Contemporary Art Points to God

Madrid, July 15, 2011 – The radical and the profound, need not be at odds with one another, nor must contemporary art and the faith clash. This is demonstrated by the 36 works (including installation art, performances, paintings, photographs) of the exhibit Arte + Fe (Art and Faith) featuring countries from all the different continents (USA, Japan, Netherlands, Liberia, and the Philippines). The exhibit Arte + Fe will be held at the Pons Foundation on the occasion of World Youth Day (WYD) and will offer a look at the Christian contemporary works of artists from around the world whose common goal is to have art serve as a bridge to faith. The exhibit will be open from August 9 to 26 at the headquarters of the Pons Foundation.

“This is the first time in Europe that an international exhibit is held featuring avant-garde artists committed to their Christian faith, whether they be Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. Modern thought thrives on general distrust. This exhibit aims at being art that restores, that brings hope,” said Maria Tarruella, curator of the exhibit.

The exhibit has also been possible thanks to cooperation from the National Museum of Catholic Art in Washington, DC, where the exhibit will be on display after WYD.

Tarruella highlighted that this exhibit shows that “religious sensitivity is not something of the past, but something inherent in human beings, expressed through the artistic expressions of every age. The selected works range from more conceptual works to others with a more classical point of reference.”

Such is the case in the work of Dutch artist William Zijlstra in his work “Agnus Dei”, in which he offers a clear parallel with the piece by Zurbarán, which bears the same name. This time, the lamb is sacrificed on a modern altar, made of newspapers with the headline: “Man is capable of any horror”, an article about the Holocaust. What is inexplicable from a human point of view, events such as Christ’s crucifixion and the suffering present in the twentieth century, takes on meaning in the light of faith.

The transcendence of the ordinary

God and man need not be distant from one another. This is the opinion of many of these artists, such as Spaniard Alejandro Mañas, who used three bottles of Coca-Cola to talk about St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, and St. Sebastian. Apparently similar, these bottles are like us: “our exterior form is always the same, but how we clothe the exterior depends on how we live on the inside,” explains the artist.

“Every ordinary, everyday gesture has a deeper meaning that transcends its functional purpose,” says David Lopez, through his work “Nowa Huta”, which depicts the figure of Christ crucified with everyday images inside.

Installation art and performances

There is also room for interactive art in this exhibition. For example, the work “The Tears of Mary Magdalene”, by Sevillian Adriana Torres de Silva, an installation piece made with hair hanging over a painting covered with water, invites visitors to discover it by lifting the hair and smelling the perfume in the water.

Another is the installation work by the Filipino Jason Dy, artist and Jesuit priest, whose work consists of glass bottles with memories of deceased loved ones. Visitors of this exhibit will be able to “fill” bottles with a souvenir for their departed loved ones, for example a letter addressed to them and God. 

Experiences born in prison

All these works come from the creativity of artists often marked by very strong experiences in which they have found faith. Such is the case with Eugene Perry, an African imprisoned for committing a robbery. As a prisoner, he discovered the love of God and this became the inspiration for his work “Protective Love”, made from recycled metal. He is now among the USA’s well-known artists.

Sarai Aser, Chilean artist based in Rotterdam, has also “spent” her life in prison – in her case, helping others. Her work “Virginity” is an expression of the message she tries to convey to the female inmates she works with: the opportunity of starting afresh in situations of suffering marked by prostitution or other causes related to sexuality.

The exhibition Arte + Fe is one of the 300 activities that are part of the cultural program for World Youth Day. Specifically, it is one of three major art exhibitions, along with the exhibit in the Prado Museum on “Faces of Christ” and the Thyssen Museum’s exhibition “Encounters”.

Basic Facts on the Arte + Fe Exhibit:
• Where: Pons Foundation (C / Serrano, 138)
• When: August 9 to 26 (9 am-3 pm). Except for August 16, 17, and 18, days on which the hours will be 10 am-7 pm. The official opening will take place on August 10, from 6 pm to 10 pm.
• Admission is free 

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In Loving Memory

A key part of this installation are empty bottles that can be filled by the visitors of the Arte+Faith exhibition at the current Catholic World Youth Days in Madrid (15-21 August, 2011) with memories of their beloved dead using any mementos they have brought with them. Paper and pen are provided to fill in: In loving memory of _____________.

Next to these bottles stand cast polyresin statues of angels molded from an old and worn-out statue of an angel with broken wings I salvaged from a demolished cemetery in the Philippines. Afterwards it was turned into a housing complex for the poor near our parish. Each statue will be covered with envelopes with intentions for the dead.

On a shelf on the wall I have put several bottles in loving memory of these following groups:
1. Those unknown to human beings but known to God
2. Victims of child abuse and exploitation
3. Victims of natural calamities (flood, tsunami, earthquake)
4. Victims of war and conflict
5. Victims of famine and sickness
6. Modern-day saints and heroes (John Paul II, Mother Teresa, et al.)

The installation finds its origin in the devotional practice of faithful Catholics to remember their departed loved ones, which takes place on November 2 on the feast of All Souls Day. As Catholic believers we believe in the communion of the living and the dead, which means that we pray for each other. For me as a Jesuit priest it indicates that I offer the mass to God as an act of devotion and prayer for both the living and the dead. For me as an artist the installation provided a venue to investigate how this form of art interacts with a Christian devotional practice. It also probed into the potential of employing art in ministry, whereby art does not only display a beautiful form but also becomes an image that opens a window for spiritual encounter and enrichment. I hope the bottled memories will provide people with an opportunity for catharsis, a venue for reliving memories and for keeping the legacy of the dead alive.

May we all be comforted by the words of the Irish funeral prayer ‘Longing for One More Day’: ‘When we lose someone we love it seems that time stands still. What moves through us is a silence... a quiet sadness... a longing for one more day... one more word... one more touch. We may not understand why you left this earth so soon or why you left before we were ready to say good-bye, but  little by little, we begin to remember not just that you died, but that you lived. And that your life gave us memories too beautiful to forget. We will see you again some day, in a heavenly place where there is no parting. A place where there are no words that mean good-bye.’

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