Art tests boundaries of religious paradigms

Photo: Ashley Bauler

Photo: Ashley Bauler


The Niza Knoll Gallery, located in the Santa Fe Arts District, houses some of Denver’s most contemporary art exhibits in its Victorian building.

The current exhibit, which ended on Jan. 28, is a creative blend between religion and “out of the box” art. Named Holy Moly/Religious Commentary in Contemporary Art, the exhibit is breathtaking and sparks a conversation about how religion defines the lived experience of every culture in the world.

Religion can mean many different things to so many different people. It can mean belief in a god of traditional origin such as Christianity, Islam, or Judaism; or belief in a polygod system like Hinduism. For many, their religion is a reminder of family, community, or even their childhood.

A piece of artwork that reflects this notion is a piece of art titled The Holy Trinity by Ellen Beller featuring hand-painted pieces of glass that have prominent religious figures on them. The series mixes Christianity with a modern take, replacing the lord, Christ, and the holy spirit with three prominent women. The most outstanding piece, RGB after Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, evokes a sense of pride for women. To see the artist using feminist undertones mixed with a religion that can sometimes be male dominated—it’s powerfully progressive.

In another thought provoking piece, And Then There Was Choice #5 by Janet Braun-Reinitz, acrylic paint depicts a wheel with several spokes—a figure resembling Mother Mary is caught between one spoke, sperm in the next, and a human is seemingly being crushed at the bottom of the wheel.

Choice #5 resembles a Keith Haring painting with its use of soft lines and cartoon-like figures. The main theme of the piece seems to convey the message that mankind was doomed with the choice of procreating, although procreation is the basis of Christianity. However, it seems to convey that although Mother Mary was given the gift of life without partaking in intercourse, that mankind will be crushed by the choice of not being bestowed with the gift of life but rather the choice of whom and circumstances surrounding their decisions.

Adjacent in the exhibit is a phenomenal painting titled Burning Down the House by Sonya Shannon. The painting depicts several angels dancing around in a circle lighting the heavens on fire. The title’s reference to the Talking Heads’ song “Burning Down the House” offers a contemporary, humorous take on the piece. The painting shows immense talent in its use of brush strokes and mixing of color to create a steady mix of oranges and reds that stand out to the viewer. The piece sparks slightly less critical thinking based conversations, but it stands out based on its sheer beauty and eye catching nature.

Religion is a heavy topic. Many would see the exhibit as blasphemous, but art is intended to test the boundaries and constructs placed onto society by larger institutions. The exhibit tests the limits in a respectable manner and creates an atmosphere where viewers can openly talk about what they believe to be the “divine mystery” behind each piece and what the artist intends. Holy Moly is by far one of the most prolific exhibits to be seen in Denver, and Niza Knoll should pursue similar installations.

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