The art of dissent

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Christ Episcopal Church, Shaker Heights stands just outside the city of Cleveland, Ohio. Through a new Community Gallery exhibit, it is also making it clear where it stands on issues of immigration, climate change, and racial justice.

The local PBS station, WVIZ Ideastream, describes how the church and the community gallery work together.

This church, like many others, has looked at new ways to use its building as membership has declined in the decades since it was built. …

“My hope is that by turning this place into a center for arts and culture we might also intrigue people to be a part of the community here,” [Rector, the Revd Peter Faass] said.

The Shaker Community Gallery opened earlier this year in the church’s chapel. Rather than occupying an open classroom or office deep within the church, the gallery is situated where members can see the art, too.

While its located within a religious institution, the art gallery is open to people of all faiths or no faith.

Leslye Discount Arian conceived the gallery as a place for community conversations. Its latest exhibit, the Art of Dissent, reflects current political issues such as the environment, immigration and racism. Artists featured in the exhibit include Gary and Laura Dumm, Liz Maugans and Michaelangelo Lovelace.

A piece by pop-art surrealist Gary Dumm responds to the recent violence in Charlottesville. He depicts a Klansman wearing the American flag and holding a gun and Bible in his hands

Discont Arian says she expects all of the shows to be “edgy.”

A write-up in Cleveland’s Scene magazine thinks that edginess is quite appropriate for an Episcopal Church.

Dissent is as old as human society. One can argue that Jesus Christ was a dissident intellectual who condemned the abuse of moral values, those values being equality and love for one’s neighbor. Dissent is what keeps us from becoming robots. It’s speaking out to your coworker about his or her racist political rants. It’s voicing your disagreement with the slack-jawed dude at the bar, despite a possible beat down.

The Episcopal Church broke away from the Church of England in dissent against the monarchy, and Episcopalians have been supporting civil rights, gay marriage and full legal equality for all people for a long time. That the Shaker Community Gallery and its latest exhibition, The Art of Dissent, are housed inside Christ Episcopal Church seems fitting.

At a time when some churches are examining the implications of previous partnerships with artistic expression – such as statuary and stained glass windows – the exhibition also raises questions about the place of contemporary art in the continuing conversation between religion, politics, and popular culture, seeking to set them, literally, within the scope of the local church.

Christ Church’s Rector, the Revd Peter Faass answers such questions with a call to justice:

At Christ Church we believe that God, particularly God in Jesus, calls us to dissent against all those powers – the Pharaohs and Caesars of the world – that imperil the well-being and dignity of any person. … The pieces exhibited in “The Art of Dissent” powerfully, shockingly and even painfully address the ugly powers of racism, white supremacy, corporate greed, apathy, wall building and degradation of the environment. The art is a vehicle for God’s voice, reminding us of God’s call to us to dissent by word and deed against those evil things with justice and righteousness.

Image: “Art of dissent” at Christ Episcopal Church, Shaker Heights, Ohio, featured on PBS/WVIZ Ideastream

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