Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Visions of Grace: Artist Annie Ruth

Had one of those Providential moments this weekend -- I had taken Sarah Grace and Annalise to the Cincinnati Museum Center to see the Christmas train exhibit and to play in the Children's museum. As we were leaving the Children's museum, what do I spy tucked away in a side gallery off the lobby but an art exhibition. Always being one for forcing my children to have their two spoonfuls of culture, I dragged them over to see the exhibit. As we walked in, a smiling African-American woman warmly greeted us -- she was the artist, Annie Ruth.

She explained the exhibit to us: Lighting Candles: Embracing the Spirit of the Holiday Season. It was designed to be a celebration of the festivals of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. As I went through the exhibit, I found it to be great exploration of the sanctifying and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit. The theme paintings (pictured here) particularly capture that quality -- the photos here don't do these mixed media work justice -- you can't see the rich textures and the vibrancy of the color. The main painting is titled "Seven Golden Candles (Lighting the World). In it are pictured six sets of hands holding candles to the center -- underneath the hands are shadowy faces of elders. Each of these candles has a different word inscribed on it: City, Home, Family, Children, Community, Public Service. Underneath the hands is the inscription "I am the light of the world. Lighting the lives within my community-- Impacting my world -- Rising above my circumstances -- Empowered with faith, hope and love -- Living life -- Empowered with the legacy of giving sharing and believing by simply being that little light that shines." The great power of the piece comes from the glow of the seventh candle in the center from which all the other candles take their light. It is center top, the traditional place of the Holy Spirit in art (see the images in my earlier post on the connections between paintings of Pentecost and the inscriptions of Akhenaten's adoration of the Sun -- now add this picture to the mix). Matthew 6 immediately comes to mind "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt 6:14-16)
There were other thought provoking pieces -- She had a whole series of works that featured two different images cut into strips and then interspersed with each other. At first I found these disconcerting -- but one of the paintings, titled "My Angel" clicked for me: One image was of a figure standing above a child figure -- the other image (interspersed with strips) was that of a large broad shouldered African American man supporting the two figures. The technique dramatically demonstrated the parallel and interconnected nature of spiritual and physical reality.
Another winner was called "Prayer Request" -- at first it seemed like a total abstract piece consisting of texture and gold glitter. And then I began to discern a figure, kneeling with head tilted back and eyes shut in ecstasy. The hands (oversized for the painting) were extended forward in a position of prayer. All of this figure was shadowed over by a glittery cloud which recalled to me a graphic image of the Shekhinah glory cloud of the Old Testament.
A quick visit to her website showed me a lot more about Annie Ruth's work -- not just her art, but her writing (she very graciously gave Sarah Grace a copy of a children's book that she had authored). Stumbling around there, I found a link to an article in which she gives her testimony of faith -- a powerful story of how the Holy Spirit brought healing and wholeness in Christ after abuse and adversity. Read the story for yourself -- but here's how she wraps it up:
"I am here to fulfill my divine destiny. Before the foundation of the world, God called me. While I was in my mother's womb he set me apart. He instilled the artistic ability within me to minister to a dying world. Creativity is in my genes. And although, at this time, He has not called me to a title, as a child of God it is my obligation to proclaim that "Jesus saves!" God has called me in a nontraditional role. You don't hear about too many Holy Ghost filled believers telling the good news through the painting on a canvas or in a collection of narratives and poetry. God has called me for this purpose. In this calling, He has told me two things -"Be real" and "It's not about you Annie Ruth." I aim to be real and be that vessel who He is calling me to be."
Amen and Hallelujah, Annie. Amen
Soli Deo Gloria