|October 9, 2017 • VOL. 55, NO. 17 • Oakland, CA|
Art exhibit focuses on hardship
and healing in the Americas
The Blackfriars Gallery at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology in Berkeley is hosting an exhibition entitled "Ecce Homo! Devotional Expressions of Hardship and Healing in the Americas," featuring art collected by the late Rev. Michael Morris, OP.
The exhibit is anchored at both ends of the gallery by a crucifix, two pieces Father Morris acquired. At one end is the piece carved by George Lopez, a renowned santero (maker of religious art) from New Mexico; at the opposite end, a crucifix woven from straw, likely from Michoacán, Mexico.
Between them are pieces by artists in the tradition of the sacred arts, and devotionals by artists and crafters with no formal training.
Occupying a shelf before a sunny window are a trio of striking sculptures of carved wood, plaster and gesso, created in the late 19th or early 20th century. The figures are likely from Mexico, but could be from New Mexico.
As with many of the pieces in the exhibit, their provenance is uncertain. Father Morris' untimely death left his survivors to sort out the mystery.
Whatever their origin, the three pieces are exquisite depictions of suffering.
"What emerges most prominently from the figures in this exhibition is a two-fold devotion to the suffering of Christ and his mother, Mary," Father Renz writes in his commentary for the exhibition.
"Many of the pieces are made by local craftsmen, simple people with little or no formal training. Yet, their craft is perhaps a more profound insight into the faith of the general population. The Mater Dolorosa statue and the Ecce Homo statue of the scourged Jesus push the suffering of Jesus and his Mother into the foreground, almost demanding attention and reflection," he wrote.
Indeed, it seems nearly impossible to look away from the bloodied back of Jesus.
The figures likely were clothed in garments that are no longer with the pieces. They may have been carried in procession on Good Friday.
The artistic expression of suffering, Father Renz said, "invites us to unite our own personal suffering with the suffering of Jesus."
The middle of the gallery features more formal paintings from the colonial era, with such subjects of St. Rose of Lima, the first saint of the Americas, and founders of religious orders — curiously, St. Dominic is among the missing — and other art that may have been used in evangelization.
Near the fine art are humble offerings by crafters with little training, small images on metal, intended as a thank you for illnesses cured or sacraments received.
Near the end of the exhibit, the sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts a pregnant Mary. Her skirt is draped, open in the center to reveal a window into the mystery. Behold the baby Jesus.
"The sculpture thus becomes an invitation for the onlooker to meditate upon both the present — the pregnant woman — and the yet to be reality of salvation offered through Mary to the world," Father Renz wrote in the exhibit commentary.
Visitors are welcome during the hours the school is open, weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Father Renz said the school is willing to provide tours for interested scholars. A catalog of the exhibit is being prepared for publication. A reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 15 at the gallery. All are welcome.
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