Art in Meetinghouse Foyers
Today, the LDS Church announced that all Church meetinghouse foyers will feature only 22 approved art images for the walls. I’m deeply disappointed by the collection the Church has chosen.
The Church is clearly trying to focus on images of Jesus Christ and moving away from images that are particular to Mormons. Only two of the images are scenes from the Book of Mormon, for example. As someone who has a deep love for LDS art, I love the idea of featuring works on our walls that center around Christ. But the figure of Christ that consistently appears in every single image in this group is comely, quiet, unemotional, and extraordinarily European. With so little variation in how Jesus appears, this collection encourages members to believe that we know exactly how Jesus looks. And, it turns out, how Jesus looks is white. Perhaps this take on the Messiah should not surprise us. Every single one of the nine artists featured is white as well.
The second problem that immediately stands out is the lack of women in these images. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us either: seven of the nine approved artists are men. Of the figures that are clearly identifiable as male or female, I counted 119 males (13 of them boys) and 22 females (10 of them girls) in this collection. Of the very few women who appear at all, most are incredibly attractive. There is no variation in body type and almost none in skin tone. The women look down, holding children and household objects. They show no emotion except for devotion.
Why do these things matter? Educators talk about the concept of “windows and mirrors.” Mirrors are stories (in art or literature) that reflect back to you your own cultural experience and help you process and build your own identity. Windows are stories that help you look out into the world, that show you others’ cultural experiences and how they are similar and different from your own. Both are critically important to help us understand who we are and how we can connect to others. These images serve only as mirrors for a small subset of the LDS population. They do not give LDS people of color an image of the divine that reflects their lives. They do not give women a sense of the potential of their relationship with Christ. They do not prompt white members to look out beyond their own narrow experiences.
In a time when art by Mormon artists is of higher quality and more available than ever before, there is simply no excuse for this narrowing up of the way we convey the human relationship to the divine. If Church leadership wants to focus on images of Christ, then our church walls should collectively house artwork that showcase the expansiveness of a Christ that is glorious and awesome enough for the entirety of the human experience. In that spirit, here is a list of six pieces of art that would more closely represent a Messiah for all the world.
Kathleen Peterson, Parting Breads
Jorge Cocco Santángelo, Gethsemane
Rose Datoc Dall, Loaves and Fishes
J. Kirk Richards, Cristo CXXXIIA
Caitlin Connolly, A Believing Woman
Kwani Povi Winder, They Brought Their Children
These are images that are already available and some are already owned by the Church. I know that if the Church put out a call, many LDS artists from around the world would be honored to share their vision of Christ. A truly global church does not see Jesus in just one way. The in our foyers should offer something to inspire and comfort every single person who enters our buildings. With such abundant offerings from LDS artists, it would be truly tragic to not partake.