Luke Pappaspanos, Guest Writer

Artists, poets, and musicians see life through a different type of lens than most people do. Father Terrance Dempsy’s heart continues to see what the windows around the world reveal. He brings together tiny pieces of strength, joy, hardship, spirituality and healing from around the globe. He places these art projects in the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art on the SLU campus. 

The location of the MOCRA is 3700 West Pine Blvd in St. Louis where faith and art go hand in hand. This museum is unique because it is a mixture of ethnic diversity of all faiths and spirituality under one roof in various art forms. 

There are collections of wall art, photographs, religious symbols, vases, burial shrouds, textiles, mixed media, paintings, 3D sculptures, even honey in a bowl, and a video showing Judith Jamison dancing. Next to each masterpiece is an information page with the name of the artist, title of the piece, type of medium and an explanation about the work. The information sheet may include an account as to how Father Demsey knows an artist, what inspires the artist, or other relevant information. 

Molly Jackson, a theatre student, volunteers at the museum and can answer questions about any of the exhibits. She tells listeners, “I enjoy watching the dance video with Judith Jamison even though I am not a dancer.” 

David Brinker expands on Ms. Jamison,” Judith Jamison was the principal dancer for Alvin Ailey. She later became the director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.” 

Volunteer, and art major, Abigail Schlante, smiles as she discusses her favorite painting by, Salma Arastu. The “Healing Prayer” is acrylic on canvas. “I know what is says because my fiancé is from India. Their art is like calligraphy.” 

Abigail also includes in the biographical sketch of Arastu that “a turning point in her life was when she married her husband, a Muslim, and converted to Islam from the Hinduism in which she was raised.” 

A tiny snippet of the various artists whose works are on display include Horatio Hung-Yan Law’s: “Burnt Offerings” which demonstrates an Asian American identity and experience as an immigrant. His mixed media presentation shares photographs of Syrian refugee children, each with a 3D origami butterfly. 

Frederick Brown (1945-2012), with Madonna and Child, whose inspiration evolves from his African and Choctaw ancestry, religious upbringing, and folklore of the South. 

Sister Helen David Brancato IHM (1944-) Crucifixion-Haiti, is an “acrylic and wood collage on wood. Guirlande luis, a Haitian woman who lost five family members in a ferry accident on the coast of Port-au-Prince, influences this creative piece.” 

The loft area holds an incredibly large work of art. Thomas Skomski’s “Pieta,” The Cage – “it can protect its occupant from external dangers, yet it can also be a place of entrapment. This work has two conflicting functions; it is at the heart of ZEN Buddhism.” 

One of the most powerful designs to see is a piece by Michael David, entitled “Missing in Action.” The piece is “oil and wax on wood. It uses abstraction to evoke powerful memories of suffering and perseverance and faith. The surface is covered with irregular chunks of red encaustic wax and may look like it is covered with red flowers; the wax also appears to be human flesh. This bears witness to the unspeakable suffering of Jewish communities during persecution, especially the Holocaust. It also, on a grand scale, testifies to the spirit of perseverance, resilience and even hope in the face of such evil.” 

Luis Gonzalez Palma, a Guatemalan artist, entitles his work, “Meta’fora,” which depicts the Maya and the violence and indignities these people suffered continuously since the 16th century. 

There are many other exhibits and artisans to read about and explore especially for students of history, world religions, theology, world cultures, and of course, art. Father Dempsy, a Jesuit priest and writer of novels, continues to present lectures at the museum. There is no admission fee and the hours are Tuesday thru Sunday 11:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M. Take a tour, attend a performance, or hear a lecture. Open the window to the views of life these artists provide and let their work touch your inner being.