Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mormon artists confess: kids are harder than they look.

Today on The Almost-Dead Blog: really old news. (Nothing like stale material to liven things up.)

Over a year ago was the most recent triennial LDS International Art Competition Exhibition. I meant to blog about it then-ish. I didn't.

But now I am.

Fear not: I won't blog about the entire show, though it was for the most part very good. (The exhibitions get significantly better each time, i.e., fewer cheesy Norman Rockwell knockoffs and more quilts
depicting the Orion nebula. Yes, really. See the picture? It was so friggin' cool! Pioneer handicrafts shot warp-speed into the Twenty-Fourth-and-a-Half Century!)

The pieces related to parenthood in particular caught my attention, given how Mormon culture tends to paint children as pure delight and consequently paint parenthood as a sugar-cookie-baking joyride. Not that most LDS parents won't admit to you one-on-one that their experience deviates from this ideal most days, but in public church forums we like to be "uplifting" and focus on the sunny bits of family life with children, as we consider these families to be central to human social organization through eternity. So these public, Church-sanctioned displays of artistic honesty regarding life with little people were a bit startling, and very refreshing.

This is a piece by a Chinese Mormon sculptor. The tree is a representation of a family: the human figures' heads, hands, and feet have been removed -- the torsos and arms of the intertwined father and pregnant mother make up the trunk and two main branches of the tree and the headless bodies of dozens of children weigh heavily on them. There is a real feeling of joy to the piece -- the tree's twigs are the cheerful waving arms and legs of the children -- but you get a sense of the strength and endurance required of the parents to make that joy possible. (And the slightly creepy headless people give the piece an edgier feel than is normal for the LDS International Art Competitions.)

The caption on this piece explained that it was a
depiction of the artist's grandparents as carefree newlyweds. Their joy was later diminished when their first two children were born dead and then they had a severely disabled daughter who required constant care her entire life. The couple's earthly experience with parenthood was dimmed by the burden and sadness of this circumstance, but they looked forward to the resurrection, when their family would be together and physically whole.

The main figure here is a mother and the little people scrambling over her and chasing through her hair (with faces of monkeys, dogs, and other savage critters) are her children. She's a sort of longsuffering Mother Earth, unable to move much because they're twined around her legs. She seems happy that they're enjoying themselves, but a bit weary and frazzled nonetheless. This piece makes me kinda glad to be single, frankly.

This one was probably my favorite of the parenthood pieces. If you look closely, you can see that the mother is slowly unraveling her own pink sweater and knitting it onto her daughter. An honest and rather lovely depiction of the sacrifices of parenthood. Neither of them is smiling and they don't make eye contact -- but the gesture itself is the evidence of love. The mother is intensely focused on her task of giving up comfort for her child, who looks maybe a little cranky and impatient with the process. ("I don't want this lame homemade sweater! Take me to the mall!")

Hooray for good art. Two years to the next International Art Competition -- can't wait to see what they give us next......I hope someone crochets a giant 3-D supernova. And maybe I'll tat the head of Donny Osmond!


leah z said...

I thought this was going to be a post about how hard it is to work with children posing as models for artwork when I read your title.

I didn't realize (though it seems obvious now) that the artwork from the competition was collected and displayed. Those pieces really are meaningful.

I cheap when it comes to almost any purchase (hooray for Target) but I hope someday to have fine artwork in my home.

rachel with redshoes on said...

I liked that last bit of art as well. I am in constant amazement of a mother's willingness to put aside part of her own development for the sake of developing her children. Amazing! I think the artist portrayed this well, and you described it well also.

Sharon said...

I really liked your descriptions.