Don’t Talk About Religion or Politics

Photo by Jeannine Thorpe

[ Opening night at Ave 50 Studio – “Don’t Talk About Religion or Politics” ]

The January 7th Los Angeles opening of the Don’t Talk About Religion or Politics exhibit was a resounding success, with hundreds of interested people attending. Held at the much beloved Ave 50 Studio in the Highland Park area of L.A., the show attracted individuals from all over the multi-ethnic city, proving that art can indeed serve as a bridge between communities. As the curator of the show, I wrote the following statement for the exhibit, a declaration that now hangs on a wall in the gallery:

“Curating an art exhibit that deals with the potentially explosive themes of religion and politics is no easy matter – especially in conservative times when dissenting opinions are frowned upon. But remaining silent in a period of rising religious and political fundamentalism is unimaginable. That being said, the aim of this exhibition is not provocation, but dialog. I have aspired to curate a show as nuanced and varied as the problems that beset humanity.

The neo-expressionist works of Gwyneth Leech challenge people to see the story of Christ’s suffering contemporaneously. Poli Marichal scrutinizes religion through the prism of gender – contesting male dominance and power. John Paul Thornton invites viewers to consider the faith of the Hindu and Buddhists he lived with and painted in the towns and villages of India and Nepal – opening our eyes to the world’s non-Christian majority. Sergio Hernandez offers his unique Chicano perspective on Catholicism, a view forged from activist experience and sensibility. My own humble works simultaneously extol the faithful and warn against all stripes of religious extremism.

While the greatest crimes in history have been committed for religious or political reasons, so to have some of humankind’s great achievements. We should never condemn an idea because of the misdeeds committed by its followers, just as we can’t reject a philosophy because of the offenses perpetrated its devotees. Ideas and philosophies should be judged on their own merits and virtues, and not by the actions of those who embrace them. Collectively the artists in this show have attempted to point this out by creating an exhibit – albeit an incomplete one – that serves as an open door to further exploration and discussion.”

Photo by Jeannine Thorpe

[ Art lover admiring some of my recent works on opening night ]

In conjunction with the exhibition, Ave 50 Studio is hosting an Artist’s Forum on Art & Politics to be held at the gallery on Thursday, January 12th., from 7 to 9 pm. Artists Sergio Hernandez, Gwyneth Leech, Poli Marichal, John Paul Thornton, and of course yours truly, will discuss with the public the meanings and motivations behind the works on display. The event will also include a slide presentation of artworks by participating artists. Of particular interest will be the talk given by Gwyneth Leech, who intends to display the news photos and other visual sources that inspired her Stations of the Cross series of paintings.

Photo by Jeannine Thorpe

[ Admiring some of the fourteen paintings on display by Gwyneth Leech ]

One of the most remarkable things about this exhibit is the role the internet played in its creation. In April of 2005, I wrote a web log post about the Columbian artist, Fernando Botero, in which I extolled his series of paintings about Abu Ghraib. Interestingly enough, Gwyneth Leech, who lives in New York, was researching Botero’s work online and found my article. Thinking I would also be interested in her Stations of the Cross project, she sent an e-mail that directed me to an online portfolio of her works. The artworks were unforgettable, and when the opportunity arose to mount an exhibit at Ave. 50 Studio, I immediately contacted Ms. Leech by e-mail with an offer to show. As it’s said, “the rest is history,” but how astonishing it is that an artist living in New York – conducting research on an artist living in Bogotá, Columbia – can end up exhibiting works in Los Angeles.

Photo by Jeannine Thorpe

[ Artist Poli Marichal at the opening ]

On the evening prior to the show’s opening, I held a party at my home/studio for all participating artists and their friends. It was a wonderful occasion to share food, drink, and endless stories concerning our lives and work as creative people. Just before the revelry began, I received a surprise call from long time PACIFICA Radio producer, Jay Kugelman. He had heard about the exhibit and wanted permission to interview me – and all of the artists at my party – for an exclusive broadcast on his radio show, Sound Exchange (KPFK 90.7 FM.) I of course invited him to the get-together, and he showed up with his sound equipment while the spread was in full swing.

Photo by Jeannine Thorpe

[ Standing before my painting, “A People Under Command.” ]

Kugelman, an extremely well informed fellow, conducted his unrehearsed interview with us in a friendly off the cuff manner. The anecdotes were flying when our 30 minute interview ended all too quickly, but not before everyone – including Ave 50 Studio director Kathy Mas-Gallegos – had managed to share personal and collective ideas regarding our art and collaborative exhibition. This lively discussion will air on Kugelman’s Sound Exchange broadcast on Friday, January 20th., from 12:00 to 12:30. Tune in to 90.7 FM KPFK Los Angeles or 98.7 FM in Santa Barbara – or listen to the web cast from anywhere in the world by visiting the KPFK website at:

Photo by Jeannine Thorpe

[ Artists interviewed: left to right – Sergio Hernandez, John Paul Thornton, Jay Kugelman, Gwyneth Leech, and Mark Vallen ]

Don’t Talk About Religion or Politics runs until February 6th, 2006, at Ave. 50 Studio in Highland Park. The gallery is located at 131 No. Avenue 50, Los Angeles, CA. 90042. Phone: 323-258-1435. For more information on the exhibit, including examples of artworks and a map to the gallery, please visit:

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