Art and The Recovery of Silenced Voices


On View: Parade of Humanity: Border Milagros by Alfred J. Quiroz. Mexican side of the border, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, installed 2004. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Theological Aesthetics and The Recovery of Silenced Voices

Cecilia González-Andrieu, Ph.D.

Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles CA

In March 2004 something unexpected appeared along a stretch of land the Tucson Weekly called “an ugly wound cutting some three miles across Nogales”[1]. In a moment of intense incongruity, several large enigmatic figures materialized on the Mexican side of the fence separating the U.S. from México.

“The wall is military surplus,” explained the newspaper noting its war-like nature, “made of corrugated helicopter landing pads that U.S. troops once laid out in Vietnam’s jungles and in Kuwait’s deserts. The color of an ugly bruise, its sickly green merges with gun-metal gray. The perfect canvas, in other words, for a giant piece of political art.”[2] We, of course, know what these enigmatic figures are…they are milagros. And we know they are profoundly complicated, much beyond “political art.” I begin with this work that the art world calls “public art” but we might more accurately call “popular religion as public art” to give specificity to my proposal.

A proposal advocating the recovery of silenced voices is nothing new to anyone working in the field of Latino/a theology. We are all, in some way, actively involved in this work. We know that a commitment to our quehacer teológico necessitates searches beyond volumes of overly verbose theology in dusty libraries. We have known this for a long time. What is new about this proposal then?

First, this is an invitation from us (and other so-called contextual theologians[3]) to the wider academic community to adopt a rigorous and productive methodology growing out of our experiences of doing theology. Our ways of doing theology respect the variety of ways that our communities theologize. Second, the invitation has depth and reach because it uses the language of theological aesthetics to connect a variety of discourses and disciplines. Especially between the arts and theology, aesthetics is a recognized common discourse. Beyond this, its adoption inherently challenges and effectively dismantles overly rationalistic paradigms. These very same paradigms, set as they have been as the only normative type of theological discourse, have been used to keep “the other” as “other” silent. Third, the invitation comes with a “how-to manual.” While many of us have indeed been involved in doing this work for years, how to do the work is often a struggle. This methodological proposal seeks to minimize the difficulties posed by such radical interdisciplinarity by first articulating and then carefully systematizing a method to make the work of theological aesthetics more accessible.

The final goal is evident as we again look at the border milagros. We will lift voices that are generally ignored, classified as “folkloric” or “political”, or demoted to the category of “affective religiosity” without regard to their very real theological thickness.

Read the article in its entirety, with illustrations and reference noted, here.

This is an excerpt from Dr. González-Andrieu’s article “Theological Aesthetics and The Recovery of Silenced Voices” which was originally published in its entirety inthe electronic Journal of Hispanic / Latino Theology ( 09/02/2008. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Cecilia González-Andrieu is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. Professor González-Andrieu received her doctorate from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley in the areas of Art & Religion and Systematic Theology. Born in Cuba and raised in Southern California Gonzalez-Andrieu is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Film, Spanish and Theology. She has been recognized with awards by the GTU, the Catholic Press Association for her regular column, “De Todo Un Poco” in T he Tidings, and the Hispanic Theological Initiative in Princeton.

Dr. González-Andrieu is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Academy of Hispanic Catholic Theologians of the U.S., and Alpha Sigma Nu., the Honor Society of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. She collaborates on workshops for faith formation and leadership training at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Dioceses of San Jose and San Diego, and LMU’s Center for Religion and Spirituality. Her book collaborations include Presente! U.S. Latino Catholics from Colonial Origins to the Present (Orbis), Camino a Emaús (Liturgical Press), The Treasure of Guadalupe (Rowman and Littlefield), and The Sky is Crying: Race, Class and Natural Disaster (Ausburg).

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