Passion of Christ portrayed in outdoor art exhibit

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By Sue Careless

AFTER TWO YEARS of lockdown when many churches, museums and art galleries have been closed, a free outdoor art installation is just what a major city like Toronto needs.   

Crossings – A Journey to Easter will open on Ash Wednesday, March 2 and close Maundy Thursday, April 14 providing Christians with a Lenten pilgrimage through the Stations of the Cross. But because of its very public outdoor setting, people of all faiths and none can engage with it as well.    

The visual art will be located in sixteen venues in Toronto. Imago Arts has invited Canadian artists of faith to create works for the fourteen Scriptural Stations of the Cross and one each for the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the resurrection. All are based on New Testament texts and the event is co-sponsored by the Canadian Bible Society.

“Crossings will offer a unique opportunity to bring the iconic story of the Passion of Jesus to a wide audience and opens the way for transformative conversations on spiritual life and issues of social concern,” says John Franklin, executive director of Imago.

Similar projects have been mounted successfully first in London, England in 2016, and then Washington, D.C. (2017), New York City (2018), Amsterdam (2019), and Deventer in the Netherlands (2020). During the pandemic in 2021, the exhibition was held online, with stops in locations across the world, from South Korea to St. Petersburg.    

The 16 Canadian installations will be located on the University of Toronto campus (including at two Anglican colleges, Wycliffe and Trinity) and at five churches in midtown Toronto (including Christ Church at Yonge and St Clair). While the event will be held over 46 days, the pilgrimage itself can be walked in just five hours. 

Franklin sees this exhibit as a rare chance “to profile the story of Jesus in a secular urban context…. Our hope is that what we plan and execute will serve to provide a setting for personal and social transformation.

“This is a project that will exhibit faith in the public square and offer a unique missional opportunity,” says Franklin. “We are interested to see the broader Christian community leverage this event for the work that takes place in local church and parachurch settings across the GTA and beyond.”

The project could be a win-win for artists and churches alike. Artists are happy for their work to be seen outside of art galleries and museums, by people who might not normally cross the thresholds of such institutions. Artists want to explore new spaces and find new audiences while churches are often looking for new ways to inspire their congregations and attract new members.

In the New York project, whole parishes walked the pilgrimage together and then held discussions afterwards. 

And an outdoor exhibit blurs the divide of sacred and secular, making it more permeable. Putting religious art in a secular setting or an unexpected context, dislocating it so to speak, gives it a freshness and relevance. 

At each location, participants are encouraged to use their phones to read reflections and listen to podcasts by leading artists, thinkers and activists. The project aims to provoke the passions – artistically, spiritually, and ethically – and to open up interfaith conversations. 

Crossings hopes to encourage both personal devotion and social justice, reflection and action – a creative tension between the biblical sisters, Mary and Martha, if you will.    

“At the heart of this vision is the desire to connect the story of Jesus with important themes of social justice, including poverty, racism, ethnic and religious diversity, and refugees, and in each case seeking a way, through the arts and through conversations, to increase awareness, bring healing to our brokenness, reconciliation to our divisions and compassion to our actions,” says Franklin.

The artists involved are all Canadians. Several are Anglicans and/or Indigenous: James Paterson, Symeon Van Donkelaar (iconographer), Patricia June Vickers (an Indigenous Anglican) Betty Spackman, Michael O’Brien, Ovide Bighetty (an Indigenous Anglican who died in 2014), Brian Johnston (who is Indigenous), Colleen McLaughlin Barlow, Phil Irish, Ruthia Pak Regis (Anglican), Timothy P. Schmalz, Komi Olafimihan (an African-Canadian Anglican) Farhad O’Neill, Maria Gabankova, Paul Roorda and Lynne McIlvride.

“In a world where fear, anxiety, conflict and uncertainty prevail, the Passion narrative is a story that addresses the human condition and offers hope,” says Franklin. “Crossings will tell a story that speaks to our woundedness, comforts us in our loneliness and suffering and offers hope in the midst of our despair.  Our society is in great need of a liberating counter-narrative that offers an alternative to the self-centred, individualistic and consumerist treadmill that leaves us trapped and unsatisfied.”

While the event is free, a catalogue will be available for purchase the first week of the exhibit at Wycliffe College featuring 16 original writings commissioned from Canadian poets along with meditations on the various biblical texts. See www.CrossingsToronto.com for further information.   TAP

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About Author

A consummate communicator, Carol Horne has undertaken a variety of content creation projects over the past few decades. She supplied, assigned and edited copy for the majority of Tourism PEI’s consumer content. She led the marketing team at Confederation Centre where she developed marketing and communications strategies to enhance awareness and generate revenue for the theatre, gallery, restaurant and gift shop. In her role as Chief Marketing Officer she oversaw the development and execution of marketing, graphic design, social media, communications and PR, sales, development and guest services activity plans. As manager of the Canadian Tourism Commission’s online media centre and the US consumer E-Newsletter she was in charge of creating and curating Canada’s tourism promotion content.

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