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#3298: Philadelphia nun's art work features Haiti woman as crucified Jesus
From: Merrie Archer <MArcher@nchr.org>
Published 19 April 2000 in the Philadelphia Inquirer
An image of Jesus encompassing much more
A Philadelphia nun's art, depicting Him as a crucified Haitian woman, is
honored in a competition.
By Frank Wilson
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Vermont artist Janet McKenzie made waves last year when her painting of a
dark-skinned Jesus won first prize among 1,678 entries in a worldwide
contest to update the image of Jesus for the new millennium.
McKenzie has nothing on Sister Helen David Brancato of Philadelphia.
Sister Helen, art director of the Southwest Community Enrichment Center in
Kingsessing, entered a piece of her own that depicts Jesus as - a grieving
The mixed-media work, Crucifixion-Haiti, was chosen one of the competition's
50 best and will be shown in an exhibition in New York beginning next month.
Painted on bits of wood hammered together, it shows a woman with arms
outstretched above a boatload of people that extends outward in relief.
Sister Helen, in an interview, said the piece was inspired by a news
photograph of a Haitian woman "who had just learned that five members of her
family were among 400 who perished in a ferry accident. . . . The photo led
me to recall things I had seen in Haiti during a visit there in 1989. It was
like nothing I had ever seen before. I saw [in it] the ongoing Passion of
In a statement accompanying the work, Sister Helen writes, "I saw my own
life in each of the figures. Sometimes I'm the grief-stricken crucified
woman. I'm also the person who shows empathy and support to others. I'm . .
. the group of drowning Haitians. And I'm capable of becoming a barracuda,
preying on those who are vulnerable.
"This is the universal image depicting the suffering of women in our world
and a reflection on Jesus' solidarity with women."
The global contest, sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter, sought "not
a Jesus of yesterday but a squint into the future."
The exhibit of the 50 top pieces will be shown in May and June at the
Gallery of the Schimmel Center for the Arts in Manhattan. Works chosen from
that display will be exhibited in July at the Catholic Theological Union in
Chicago and then will tour nationally.
Sister Helen's work also had won the 1998 Lenten art competition of Old
First Reformed Church in Old City and was displayed on the church's
courtyard cross that year.
This year, the Old First cross is draped with an unusual quilt made by the
latest winning artist, Cheryl Rybacki. It includes transparent pockets
bearing prayers from congregants that are "lifted up to heaven" as the wind
lifts the fabric.
The multicolored quilt, made of ripstop nylon, is on display through Good
Friday in the open courtyard, Fourth and Race Streets.
Rybacki, of Queen Village, said the quilt was inspired by Himalayan prayer
flags that are inscribed with prayers and staked on mountaintops.
"I thought of how much praying happens during Lent," she said, "and if we
could visualize these prayers flying up to heaven it might help us."