Art Sparks Dialogue on Race, Religion in Philadelphia, Interfaith Show Aims to Combat Intolerance

Article excerpt

Artist Blanche VanDusen is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. She tells a remarkable story: She was visiting Auschwitz and standing where her father's mother and sister had been sent to the gas chamber.

"I was angrier than I had ever been in my life," she recalls. And she carried that anger for a long time.

Years later, Ms. VanDusen went to see the Irish National Theatre Production of "Juno and the Paycock" by Sean O'Casey. In one scene, a mother is mourning the loss of her son who was "riddled with bullets." Cursing and weeping, she then stops and quietly prays to God: "Please don't turn my heart to stone...." That moment changed VanDusen's life. "I understood how easy it is to lose touch with the love within ourselves and how my own anger had led me to a fragmented view of the world." Such a story demonstrates the power of art and adds poignancy to a bronze sculpture created by VanDusen titled "The Dance of the Dervish." The sculpture illustrates the whirling dance performed by men in Turkey to symbolize the continual remembrance of their Creator. VanDusen's sculpture is one of 120 works in the exhibition "Art & Religion: The Many Faces of Faith" showing at the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia and Villanova University Art Gallery in Villanova, Pa., through Aug. 22. The exhibit is sponsored by the Committee to Combat Racism and the Advocacy, Service, and Justice Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. The show, along with related exhibits and events around the city, was organized to celebrate the 1997 General Convention of the Episcopal Church held in Philadelphia last month. Far-reaching aims The exhibit is billed as a multi-ethnic, interfaith show with the purpose to help combat intolerance among races and religions and to build community. "Racism is thriving in this country," says Kay Meyers, who conceived of the idea for the exhibit several years ago. "White people don't tend to think about it, saying, 'Oh it's better, so it's going away.' For people of color, the experience is there all the time. This exhibit is meant to stimulate conversation." "The works are religious," says Homer Jackson, an interdisciplinary artist and a juror for the exhibit. "But they have a ring that is more akin to the part after church when you shake hands. "These artists are telling stories, and you can see pieces of yourself in their work regardless of your religious beliefs." Mr. Jackson says he hopes the show compels viewers to think deeply about what they hold in their thought daily - and differentiate thoughts that are valuable from those that are not. Be sensitive not only to racism, he suggests, but also sexism, ageism, and judgment based on creed, religion, economic status, where a person lives, and so on. …