The Latter-day Saint art exhibit reflects the diversity of the Church

Pictures of Jesus need more pink.

So told artist Michelle Franzoni Thorley to two senior missionaries who were viewing her painting, currently on display at the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City.

Her piece depicts Christ emerging from a floral arch covered in, yes, pink flowers. He is surrounded by a desert landscape, with robes and skin “the color of the earth,” she writes in her artist statement. “This is how I see Jesus. … He will make a place for me, even in the desert of my life.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Triennial Exhibition of International Artists opens this week on Thursday, June 9, 2022 at the LDS Church History Museum.

Thorley’s piece, entitled Making Space for Us, is one of 148 works selected in the 12th International Art Competition of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is also one of 11 Purchases award winners – works the Church History Museum is buying for its own collection. Ten other artists received awards for their submissions.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) “Not Forgotten,” by Tasha Diaz, in the 12th International Art Competition at the LDS Church History Museum on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

This year’s theme, “All Are Equal Before God,” refers to a verse from the foundational scripture of faith, the Book of Mormon, which states: “… [the Lord] deny no one who comes to him, black and white, slave and free, male and female…and all are equal before God, both Jew and Gentile.”

The competition received more than 850 entries from countries around the world, with selections made by a team of five judges. The 148 selected works were created by artists from all over the world – from Argentina, Armenia and Australia to Switzerland, Tonga and Ukraine. They also come in a variety of mediums such as oil painting, woodworking and even crochet.

The exhibit runs through April 3, 2023 at the Museum, 45 N. West Temple. Admission is free and the museum’s opening hours are Monday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 6pm; and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m

Creating space for artists of colour

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kwani Povi Winder with her painting Mother of All Living at the 12th International Art Competition at the LDS Church History Museum on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Thorley, a Utah-based artist of Mexican, African, and European heritage, said her painting was inspired by the immigrants she worked with while on a mission in Texas near the border.

Their original idea was that Christ created an archway through the boundary wall, but this eventually evolved into a desert landscape representative of “the desert of us.” [lives].”

Thorley said it was important for people of color to see themselves in different images of Christ. She incorporated her son’s skin tone and hair texture into her submission, she said, and picked flowers that mirror her daughters’ flower-based names.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) “For by One Spirit We Are All One Body” by Carol Ogden, in the 12th International Art Competition at the LDS Church History Museum on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

She hopes viewers will think about how they might be afraid of him when they see a person of color walking down the street.

“I want people to maybe think twice,” she explained, “and say, ‘Oh, this man looks like this picture of Jesus Christ.'”

Thorley also said that while depicting diversity in artworks is important, it is just as necessary to create spaces for artists of color.

For example, in the Church History Museum exhibit, there are many paintings of Black and Brown people, but they were not necessarily made by Black and Brown artists.

“It’s not that talent doesn’t exist. It’s not because there is no desire. Then why is it like this? Is it just access to resources?” Thorley said. “I think if we pinpoint the problem, we can work together to find a solution so more people of color can tell their own stories.”

Beauty is subjective

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nnamdi Okonkwo is a judge for the 12th International Art Competition at the LDS Church History Museum on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Artist Nnamdi Okonkwo, who served on the competition’s jury, also spoke about the importance of diversity in art.

A native of Nigeria, Okonkwo said it gives him “great pleasure” to see submissions from Africa and around the world.

The contest allows members of the Church worldwide to showcase artworks to broad audiences, he said, and it is an opportunity for Latter-day Saints in Utah to be “exposed to the rich cultural diversity that is the Church.”

Going through the hundreds of submissions wasn’t an easy task, however. Okonkwo said that each judge was sent over 1,000 images of the artworks and first gave a personal verdict on each piece.

From there, the panel limited entries to 300 pieces, which were sent to Salt Lake City and viewed in person. More than 150 of these were eventually dropped during the final selection process.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) “As a Loving Parent,” by Esther Hi’ilani Candari, in the 12th International Art Competition at the LDS Church History Museum on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Okonkwo said the judges considered factors such as aesthetic standards and how each piece reflects the subject matter.

It is also important to him that the selected works do not “scream religion”. While the final selection follows the theme, he said people of all backgrounds can enjoy the exhibition.

Okonkwo added that beauty is subjective, noting that judges don’t always agree when judging the competition.

He recalled being “dejected” early in his career when his work was not accepted at the first art shows he attended.

“Even though I’m celebrating all the beautiful paintings here, my heart is still drawn to the people who didn’t make it,” Okonkwo said. “If we had [a] different group of jurors. … I’m sure this year would be different.”

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/06/15/see-photos-slc-art-show/ The Latter-day Saint art exhibit reflects the diversity of the Church

Joel McCord

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