Monday, August 14, 2023

Chinese and American Artists Explore Material and Spiritual Life in Mixed Media Exhibitions

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Update: the exhibition Transcendence + Immanence is on display until November 26 in Duke Chapel and Duke Divinity School. Learn more about the exhibition and related events.

Through multiple artistic media, two exhibitions comprising works from seventeen contemporary Chinese and American artists engage perennial tensions between the material and the spiritual in human life and in society. Presented by Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts, the first exhibition, Matter + Spirit: A Chinese/American Exhibition, will be on display in Duke Chapel from August 15 to October 15; the second exhibition, Transcendence + Immanence: The Sacred Ink Wash Art of DaoZi, will be displayed from October 20 to November 26 in the Chapel and in the hallway on lowest level (rooms 00) of Duke Divinity School's Westbrook Building.

The exhibitions can be viewed at the Chapel daily from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., except when a service or other event is in progress; check the Chapel’s website calendar for details. There is no fee for admission.

The first exhibition presents selected works from the Matter + Spirit collection, which explores the spiritual dimension of life in contemporary culture in the United States and China. It includes: a photographic study of rural Chinese churches; pencil drawings that signal the sacredness of the human subject by creating an implied halo; and an oil painting interpreting the biblical account of Jesus’s meal at the village of Emmaus.

The origins of Matter + Spirit go back to a gathering of North American art professors with their Chinese counterparts in June 2018 in China. The group visited artists’ enclaves and cultural sites in Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai, considering issues of art, contemporary society, spirituality, and their role as culture makers, critics, and seers. The artworks in the exhibition represent this encounter, its conversations, and what was summoned by the artists’ interactions. The gathering was sponsored by the Nagel Institute at Calvin University, which focuses on ways in which the study of world Christianity can change perspectives, foster knowledge, and reinvigorate Christian thought and practice.

The curator of Matter + Spirit is Dr. Rachel Hostetter Smith, the Gilkison Distinguished Professor of Art History at Taylor University. Dr. Smith publishes widely on the arts, with a focus on contemporary and world Christian art, and is a founder and current president of the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art. She has served in editorial capacities for several publications including the journal Religion and the Arts, ARTS: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies, and SEEN.

Transcendence + Immanence is an exhibition of works by DaoZi, a Chinese poet, art critic, and painter. Also named Wang Min, DaoZi is a professor and supervisor of doctoral candidates in the School of Art at Tsinghua University, and is also a visiting professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a member of the International Aesthetics Association. He was deputy editor-in-chief of Chang An, a monthly journal organized by Xi’an Association of Literature and Arts, and a professor and chairman of the Department of Fine Art of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, as well as vice president of Chongqing Literature and Arts Critics Association.

In Transcendence + Immanence, DaoZi creates the artwork through a process he calls “Saintism Ink-Wash Painting,” which combines traditional Chinese calligraphy and ink painting techniques with themes from his Christian faith. The exhibition of thirty works is curated to provide a visual encounter with the transcendence and immanence of God. It is intended to be a manifestation of the artist's empathy with the age, the suffering earth and the spirit of humanity. The installation at Duke Chapel is the exhibition’s premiere in the United States.

There will also be a reception for the exhibition on Wednesday, October 25, at 5:00 p.m. in Duke Chapel, which will include music from the Duke Chapel Choir selected to complement the artwork. The artist will discuss his work in the context of the history sacred art in a talk on Thursday, October 26, at 12:30 p.m. in the Divinity School’s Westbrook Building, Room 0012.

Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA) promotes the vibrant engagement between Christian theology and the arts at Duke Divinity School and beyond. Through research, teaching, and presenting art in action, DITA seeks to exemplify how the arts can be a powerful and necessary medium of theological truth.

Duke Chapel views the creative arts as both an expression of worship to God and an expression of human longing for God. By hosting visual art exhibitions, the Chapel creates a space on campus for the artistic expression of the spiritual life.