TO MARK THE second millennium of Christ's birth, the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Que., has mounted a huge exhibit called Under the Sign of the Cross: Creative Expressions of Christianity in Canada.
In it, fine art and folk art rub shoulders as does whimsy and kitsch. The 130 religious objects created by Canadians include paintings, icons, sculptures, Bibles, stamps, miniatures, models and music which reflect the three great streams of Christianity: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant.
The exhibit is not without some controversy. A bronze sculpture, Canada's Golgotha (1918), by Francis Derwent Wood is likely a piece of wartime propaganda. There is no evidence to substantiate its story of the crucifixion of a Canadian soldier. On an esthetic level, a soldier crucified in his great coat and boots lacks the vulnerability of a naked figure. German soldiers jeer but it all seems contrived.
A delightful wood and metal carving by non-aboriginal artist Philip Melvin, of a young aboriginal child gazing upon a crucified Christ bears the awkward title, A Nice Holy Little Indian Girl (1981). Yet the actual work is charming.
Contemporary aboriginal artists have rendered Christianity in their own compelling images.
Two striking pieces are Christ (1976) by Tsimshian artist Roy Henry Vickers of B.C., a serigraph print of the head of Christ with a crown of thorns; and Arctic Angel (1969), a stonecut by renowned Inuit printmaker Pudlo Pudlat of Cape Dorset.
The exhibit's nine galleries are laid out in a cruciform and stress the three pivotal events in the earthly life of Christ: his birth, crucifixion and resurrection.
A visitor is captivated first by the diminutive sculpture in patinated plaster cast of Madonna and Child (1987) by Montreal sculptress, Sylvia Daoust. With an exquisite delicacy, Mary holds Jesus and' shows him to us with an extraordinary intimacy.
Towering over the whole exhibit is a weathered wayside cross, a crude but imposing form by an unknown Quebec artist.
The Resurrection of Christ (1999) by Denis Lacasse of Gatineau, Que., is a three-dimensional work of freestanding stained glass. A more striking use of colour would better have revealed the strange power of the resurrection.
In the icon, Mother of God of Canada (1992), Slavko Protic of Vancouver adorns the Christ Child's robe with a gold fleur-delis within a maple leaf while embellishing Mary's garment with a maple leaf motif. …