Environmental messages take shape in St. Paul art exhibit

| April 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

Artist Tony Ejiofor, right, of Transfiguration in Oakdale talks with Lynette Graham of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul about his artwork during an exhibit at Artista Bottega in St. Paul April 7. Behind them is one of Ejiofor’s pieces, “Peace and Nature: Life by the Riverside.” Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Current events and Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” have inspired five local artists to depict their environmental concerns in the exhibit “Hope. Earth. Liberation.” at Artista Bottega in St. Paul.

Mary Gallagher, a parishioner of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, formed the group Catholic Artists for Environmental, Immigration and Economic Justice in 2017 after learning about the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement last June.

She said she became concerned after President Donald Trump was elected in 2016 because of what she perceived as his apparent dismissal of environmental protections.

Gallagher describes the group’s members — of diverse ages and ethnicities that represent the global Church — as “serious artists with a serious message.”

Mary Gallagher, a parishioner of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul, stands next to her artwork in her home studio March 26 that is part of the exhibit “Hope. Earth. Liberation.” at Artista Bottega in St. Paul through May 2. Jessica Trygstad/The Catholic Spirit

“I was surprised by what little follow-through there was in the Catholic community,” Gallagher, 63, said of the encyclical, “and I think it’s a brilliant document that encompasses more than environmental care; it’s environmental justice that has a great effect, a strong relationship with economic justice and racism — two things I’m very concerned about.”

Gallagher’s portion of the exhibit includes wall panels of nature scenes titled after excerpts from “Laudato Si’” and a water fountain made from an abandoned statue of whom Gallagher believes to be St. John the Evangelist.

She painted the statue to correspond with a set of waterscapes — inspired by church altar rails — and said she’ll change the color of the water in the fountain to red during some weeks depending on current events related to the protection of waterways.

“Taking care of our water and environment is taking care of our children,” said Gallagher, who’s married and has an adult daughter. “It takes actively caring for our earth, which is not an object to be used. It’s our home.”

Gallagher, an occupational therapist in St. Paul, would especially like to reach Catholics who are just starting families of their own.

With an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, “I feel if everyone took ‘Laudato Si” seriously, that would be a global shift,” she said.

Contributing artists are Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra, Tony Ejiofor, Ricardo Levins Morales and Anne Sugnet. They use a variety of media and forms. Gallagher said that although not all members are Catholic, they support the exhibit’s objective.

“I would encourage Catholics to claim this part of our legacy — to claim care of the environment — as ours,” Gallagher said.

The exhibit runs through May 2.

Gallagher would like to partner with Catholic institutions, particularly universities, to host the exhibit in the future.

The artists are hosting student-to-artist discussions and dialogue about care of the environment for junior high, secondary and post-secondary student groups. For more information, contact catholicartistsforjustice@gmail.com.

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Category: Local News