We might’ve grown up with conventions that defined what faith or spirituality means. Sometimes we resonate with the things we were taught; other times, we discover it in a way that feels more fitting for us. (“I’ve learned it’s okay to have my own interpretation,” one of our artists, Mike Cuomo, once told us. “Understanding that everyone finds spirituality and religion differently would have been a great lesson to teach in Sunday school.”)
In spite of these differences, one thing’s for sure: our spirituality helps us move towards the same goal of living fuller lives. And it becomes an even more active pursuit in domains like art, which is one of the most straightforward forms of self-expression.
Our partnered artists have their own unique musings about life and spirituality. These play a large role in their lives, their work, and their world at large. Hopefully, they deliver these messages as much as they live through them.
Detail from ‘Split Second’ by Alex Rommel
“Our role in the universe is, soberly said, rather trivial. But when we say that, we realize that everything is connected and we are also a part of the universe. It becomes completely different then. Like Carl Sagan once said: ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.’ If so, then maybe an artist’s role is to be a way for the cosmos to imagine itself.”
Detail from ‘No. 148 GROUNDING’ by Ben Jones
“I’m allowing myself to be open-minded to new concepts and ideas that might have not existed if I was ‘too tangible.’ I also try to remain open-minded to new spiritual ideas and concepts — I believe in love and the Earth as a provider and healer of all things.”
Detail from ‘Nippon Eden’ by Christian Benavides
“Art is one of the ways and tools we can use to modify our limitations, ancient beliefs, fears, and structures that make us unconsciously create a reality that reflects our darkness. When I do an illustration, I’m attentive and conscious of what I want to do. I place an intention and purpose to the practice of creating the artwork. In the end, I'm creating something consciously, totally present. That's the equivalent of what I want to do with my life — create it and co-create it consciously with the collective.”
Detail from ‘The Way Is Not In The Sky’ by Catherine Thieffry
“I used to rely solely on rational and scientific thinking and would dismiss any kind of spirituality. But certain events in my life led me to take on another path [and be] in touch with the mysteries of the universe. I understand that there’s rationality as well as irrationality in the workings of our world. And to cope with not knowing, I turn to art, spirituality, and philosophy.”
Detail from ‘My Suit Burned Off On The Way Down’ by Morysetta
“I find myself daydreaming about freedom. I always imagine I’m there [in the piece], and for the time I work on the piece, I am. I go to this place where time doesn’t exist, and loneliness and grief are not part of the universe — the only feeling you can have is bliss. In my imagination, we’re all part of this great ‘energy’ — for lack of a better word — or a mechanism that keeps the universe going.”
Detail from ‘Reach’ by Niken Anindita
“I enjoy painting night skies because of my love for astronomy. There’s a sense of infinity in space and the night sky. It makes us feel small and far, and I just love these feelings. I love that we humans can’t comprehend the scale of the universe, and that our time is so short and meaningless, but at the same time so significant and meaningful.”
Detail from ‘House of God’ by Shorsh
“I think that there is something supernatural about the process of making and giving birth to something new. It elevates our soul to a divine condition and gives us the possibility to speak a universal language. Art definitely has an impact on my spirituality — it’s a source of reflection and power.”
Read each full conversation with artists in Community Stories.
In the richly religious lands of Istanbul, Turkey, a great Orthodox Christian church made of cast iron has stood — against all odds — for 123 years.
The Bulgarian-owned St. Stephen’s Church (Sveti Stefan Kilisesi in Turkish), completed in 1898, is made entirely of poured iron slabs, nutted and bolted together on the site. It is located in a part of the city with diverse places of worship, but St. Stephen stands out for its ingenious construction technique.
Imported from neighboring countries, the cast-iron pieces for the Neo-Byzantine edifice traversed across several bodies of water — from the Danube River to the Black Sea to the Bosphorus — through a cargo ship. The pieces were then assembled and attached in Balat, Istanbul.
The material was cost-effective and easy to work with, which explains how the building process itself took an expeditious one and a half years. However, because of these reasons, it was also incredibly flimsy.
The fact that St. Stephen’s Church survived for a century and a few decades — after a lone but extensive renovation effort — is considered a miraculous feat. It is also noted as the last surviving iron church in the world.
As a Christian structure in a predominantly Muslim country, St. Stephen’s Church had a history of stories behind its foundation. One famous account involved a lengthy contention between the Sultan and the Bulgarian minority in Istanbul.
As the legend goes, the Bulgarians demanded a Christian place of worship in the city. However, the Sultan prescribed — rather contemptuously — that they could only have this place of worship if it was built within a month.
The instructions were impossible, but the architects came up with a resourceful proposition: source the material from somewhere else, and quickly assemble them onsite.
But this was only a tall tale — and an impossible one at that.
The real history behind the 19th-century iron church is far less dramatic, but just as politically charged.
With ideologies like nationalism on the rise, tensions were starting to grow between Bulgarians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire. Although both groups were Christians, the Bulgarians were dissatisfied with the Greeks being at the forefront of religious activities.
To keep strained relations at bay, Sultan Abdülaziz (1830-1876) granted permission for the Bulgarians to build their own church in the city. Thus, plans for the construction of St. Stephen began to be carried out.
However, it hadn’t been a complex iron building in the beginning — it was a humble wooden church. A large fragment of it had been built from a house donated by Prince Stefan Bogoridi, a high-ranking statesman and Imperial Counselor of Bulgarian descent.
St. Stephen’s Church presides over a great view of the Golden Horn, a natural fjord in the Bosphorus dividing the Asian and European prefectures of Istanbul.
The church would later be severely destroyed by a great fire, and new efforts to rebuild it would take underway. Instead of going about the process conventionally, the Bulgarian decided to hold and fund a competition to design the church.
Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur had been the one to go forward with the idea of rebuilding the structure made entirely of cast iron. He ended up winning the contest, and the project was handed to him promptly.
Aznavur laid out his architectural plans and cast the mold for the new church. The Rudolph Philip Waagner Company (presently Waagner-Biro), an Austrian-based manufacturing and engineering enterprise, was given the task of manufacturing the prefabricated materials for the building.
The company spent a few years meticulously creating thousands of iron pieces based on Aznavur’s cast. After about three years, the completed disassembled pieces — which weighed a substantial 500 tons — were shipped from Vienna to Istanbul by boat.
St. Stephen’s Church is often described as an edifice “built like a cathedral,” but despite the simplicity of its building materials, the architectural framework was considered quite complex. It took inspiration from Neo-Byzantine and Neo-Baroque styles.
However, the building process — which mostly involved attaching the pieces with nuts, bolts, and welding machines — was extremely swift, taking only one-and-a-half years.
A few months after its completion in 1898, the church was inaugurated by Exarch Joseph I.
While iron buildings were not necessarily uncommon at the time, it was still considered an unorthodox architectural technique. The material was a double-edged sword — on one hand, it was cheap, fast, and allowed for a unique visage; on the other, it disintegrated quite quickly and easily.
Although there were many iron churches built in history, St. Stephen’s Church is generally recognized as the only surviving one with the skeleton and foundation still fully intact.
However, its age and location would ultimately take a toll — being near a harbor would expedite the building’s decline by contributing to rusting and corrosion.
To preserve its state, the landmark would undergo a major renovation process. It would take seven years for the church to be fully restored, and in 2018, it finally opened its doors to the public again.
More visitors flocked to the historic municipality of Fatih in Istanbul — once known as the flourishing city of Constantinople — since the great iron church has re-opened.
Beyond its beauty and opulence as a monument built on resourceful tactics, St. Stephen’s Church stands as a witness of cultural harmony and religious reverence in the neighborhood.
“Istanbul is a city with a great historic heritage that needs to be preserved for the future,” said Istanbul Mayor Mevlüt Uysal after the church was renovated. “We aim to show that coexistence is possible with diverse faiths, languages, and cultures.”
“All my scars are golden,” English musician Gabrielle Aplin sings in the lively pop anthem Kintsugi. In the song, she describes the state of personal vulnerability and resilience: “Now that I’m shattered, I’m all kinds of me / Was knocked off the shelf, but I’m also complete.” Aplin sings about taking pride in this state of brokenness, highlighting her scars as “golden” parts of herself. She lives with them, not despite them.
The song takes its inspiration from the ancient Japanese art of the same name or kintsukuroi, which, loosely translated, means “golden mending.” Aptly and perfectly named, this practice involves the reparation of broken items (such as ceramics and pottery) through a lacquer of powdered gold, silver, or platinum.
The idea is that breakage or imperfection is never a source of shame, but rather one of dignity and value. Instead of hiding away the cracks, these are emphasized and worn like badges of honor. Centuries later, kintsugi is still considered one of the most meaningful and innovative art techniques, making its mark throughout different periods and cultures.
The origins of kintsugi trace back to feudal Japan, during the Muromachi period in the 1400s. According to the story, the shogun (military lord and commander) Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke one of his precious teacups during a ceremony. Yoshimasa, a patron of the arts, promptly had it sent to China for repair.
When it was returned, he was enraged to see that it was stapled and sewn with iron fractures. For Yoshimasa, durability was not nearly as important as aesthetics. Indeed, the cup was once again functional and useful, but its allure was gone.
Adamant on restoring its former charm, he had Japanese ceramists repair it. They glued the broken pieces together using expensive lacquer made from tree sap called urushi, and highlighted the fragmented lines with gold dust. Yoshimasa was so happy with the result that the once-broken ceramic became his most favorite piece.
Such an innovative technique called the attention of other art patrons—not only for its novelty, but also because it took inspiration from a unique philosophy called wabi-sabi. This philosophy, rooted in Zen Buddhism (which was at its peak at the time), believes that a state of imperfection holds more beauty, meaning, and value than any lavish material or idea.
Nothing demonstrates wabi-sabi as much as kintsugi does. The idea that flaws should not be hidden but emphasized is a concept idiosyncratic to Zen practice. When a precious ceramic or pot is broken, to highlight its shattered fragments is to give meaning to its imperfection—and assign its unique value.
The beauty in each kintsugi piece lies in their differences. No work of art will look the same. But practitioners generally keep three methods in mind upon the creation of a piece.
Each of these methods utilizes the urushi lacquer or other forms of adhesive epoxy such as resin. To highlight the pieces, artisans make use of powder or dust made of gold, silver, or platinum.
The crack repair technique is the simplest and most common one in kintsugi. Here, minimal work is applied: the lacquer is simply used to glue the broken pieces together.
This also means that the fragments of the bowl or pot are complete, and that the epoxy—which will look like gold veins—holds the piece in its wholeness.
This kintsugi technique goes a bit further than crack repair. In a broken piece, some fragments may be missing. The piece recovery method replaces the entire missing piece with epoxy, so a whole section of gold, silver, or platinum stands out.
Unlike the minimalistic method of crack repair, it requires a bit more complex work because it specifically highlights a missing piece, not just its cracks.
The joint call technique is interesting because here, a broken piece from another item is used to fill in a missing piece. To keep the pieces together, the same lacquer and powdered metal are used.
This method is generally the most unconventional one because the different piece truly stands out from the ware. It must be ensured that the fragment from the other material is a precise fit; or, if not, the artist must adjust the thickness and amount of the lacquer.
Once used solely in ceramics, pottery, and tablewares, kintsugi has also extended its influence in other parts of life. Many people are drawn to this traditional handicraft, and it has started to evolve in parts of people’s lives. Sometimes, artists use it in functional objects and decorations, like trays and boxes. Other times, it is featured in fashion such as earrings and dresses.
To some artists, kintsugi is a way of paying homage to their Japanese roots. It is as cultural as it is symbolic. Mio Heki, an urushi artist and kintsugi restorer, told The Kyoto Journal that it is “crucial” for her to keep the craftsmanship of kintsugi alive. “We all have the spirit of our ancestors in our heart,” she said. “We just have to let it out, use it and nurse it so it grows and develops together with us.”
Other ceramic artists, such as Tomomi Kamoshita, see kintsugi as a way to keep connected to nature. Kamoshita gathers pieces of glass and broken ware from the sea, and makes her own uniquely shaped pieces from her collection. It is how she takes inspiration—literally—from the world, and creates pieces from its long-lost materials. It is her way of “reviving what the waves have sent us,” she said.
Aside from the philosophies it presents, kintsugi also helps nature because of its sustainability. Broken pieces, rather than being tossed and thrown away, are utilized again and beautified in unique ways. Such a view will help us keep in perspective if “useless” things can truly be repurposed.
It is also good to remember its connection with nature and wabi-sabi. Flowers, for instance, are not patterned after specific blueprints. Still, with every missing petal and every torn leaf, there is value, depth, and meaning. Nature produces with no standard of perfection—and this is something that might help us even further in life.
This poignant relationship between kintsugi and nature is something kept in mind by Heki, too: “Because urushi and kintsugi art is all-natural, it is a good way to remind ourselves that we are all part of nature, being pieces of our universe.”
And perhaps most important of all: we have witnessed far too much turmoil caused by the permanent state of imperfection. People find such flaws among themselves and in their environments. But kintsugi (and wabi-sabi) reminds us that there is value in these. Rather than tuck them away in disguise, we deal with them, take them in stride, and treat them like scars of pride we have gathered in battle.
Indeed, the complexity of kintsugi goes beyond its aesthetic merit. The principles behind this art help us navigate the world more wisely, reconnect with nature, and prompt us to reflect on less-than-ideal conditions of life.
Are we truly so weak when our flaws come to light? As Aplin sang: “Knocked off the shelf, but I’m also complete.” With the art of kintsugi, we are taught that imperfection does not take away our value. On the contrary: it adds to it.
“One day, you will be a painter.”
Is life a product of prophecy and pre-determinism? Does talent find an individual or do they discover it within themselves? There is no proven answer to either question. But one thing is certain: if a person’s “calling” is rooted in personal devotion, it will guide them for the rest of their lives. And in extraordinary cases, the stories of these lives will be passed down like folklore.
So goes the chronicle of art brut painter Augustin Lesage, whose spiritual guidance steered him towards the path of an artist. From childhood to his mid-thirties, he worked as a coal miner in a small mining commune. One fateful day, however, unknown voices from the dark tunnels called out to him: you will paint.
He followed the voices with pious obedience despite his doubts and naiveté. With time, Lesage’s skepticism turned into genuine faith and devotion, and he went on to produce over eight hundred works of art until his death in 1954.
He had written to his friends: “My only merit is sincerity. May men not tear that away from me.”
In 1876, Lesage was born in Rue Saint-Pierre, Auchel, a small industrial community in northern France. His life, though fairly mundane, was stable. He started working as a coal miner like the rest of his family at the tender age of fourteen. He would persevere for over two decades, although he briefly served in the military for some of those years.
In 1911, his life would change after a most peculiar circumstance. Deep within the dark mines of Pas-de-Calais, 35-year-old Lesage hears voices with a message: “Un jour, tu seras peintre.” One day, you will be a painter. The voices came from nowhere.
The incident was bizarre enough, but the revelation itself was just as curious. As a man who lived his entire life in a tiny, uneventful mining town, Lesage had never taken an interest in art. His only encounter with it had been a brief visit to a municipal museum called Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille when he was serving in the military.
Perturbed, Lesage had feared going and being labeled as insane. He kept the ordeal to himself for months. His curiosity, however, drove him to seek seances and healers that could help him explain it.
This turned out to be a pivotal moment in his life. During a spiritualist session that involved the practice of automatic writing, a shaken Lesage encounters the words on paper:
“The voices that you heard were real. You will be a painter. Fear not and heed our advice. Your mission will accomplish itself… do not try to understand.”
Lesage was convinced that the words were from significant spirits: one of which was his late sister Marie, who died at three years old. Among those spirits, he believed, included Leonardo da Vinci and Marius of Tyana.
The encounter did not answer most of the questions. Why Lesage? Why pursue art? What will he paint? How will he paint? And yet, in wholehearted duteousness, Lesage heeded the call. They’d said to him that very first time: Do not try to understand.
Thus began the course of his life as an artist. Still guided by the voices, he went to the store to buy colored pencils and a canvas ten times bigger than he’d intended. Despite being daunted by this, the spirit voices reassured him that all was well.
Lesage would draw repetitive patterns, such as lines and spirals, under the command of these “spirits.” He did not know what they meant and, listening to the voices, he did not attempt to find out. Over time, Lesage would shift from using pencils to oil paint, as his guides would tell him.
He began as an artist wholly untrained in the field, having only ever encountered a single insignificant trip to a museum. But despite his lack of talent—or so he thought—Lesage painted and painted. Do not try to understand.
“Before I start to create, I never have any idea as to what I will portray. I take a tube of paint; I do not know what color it is… I never have an overview of the work at any point of the execution. The spirits tell me: ‘Do not try to find out what you create. We are the ones tracing through your hand.’”
Kaleidoscopic patterns, hieroglyphic symbols, and architectural imagery became Lesage’s signature streak. French philosopher Christian Decalampagne described his work as “one of the most daring in modern art.” His technique was geometric, symmetrical, and repetitive.
“[It] explores almost all possibilities of abstraction—lyrical as well as geometric—at a time when the latter, among professional artists, was still in its infancy,” Decalampagne wrote, according to a translation by artist and historian Emily Pothast.
Lesage signed his pieces with ‘Leonardo Da Vinci,’ though he began to use his name after some years. In 1923, he gained a patron named Jean Meyer, who directed a spiritualist journal called La Revue Spirite. He then left his job at the mines and moved to Paris with his family, devoting the rest of his life to painting.
Lesage’s story had grown popular in his community, and his influence as an artist would turn crucial in art movements. Art brut, which translates to ‘outsider art’ in French, is characterized by “raw emotion.” This was coined by artist and collector Jean Dubuffet. (Incidentally, most of Lesage’s work now resides in Dubuffet’s Collection de l’Art Brut in Switzerland.)
Art brut is attributed with ambiguousness and, to an extent, secular abstraction. Graffiti and art made by the marginalized—prisoners, people with mental illnesses, children, primitive artists, and the like—fall under this movement.
The work of Lesage is considered “naïve art,” a concept that included artists with no professional training in the field. It is often regarded as “uncomplicated and simple.” But there is more to it than meets the eye: Lesage’s art, despite its equivocacy, had fully spiritual nuances. He was moved by what he believes are spirits, and he created through the means of these spirits.
Spirituality—no matter how absurd—is ubiquitous in the modern and contemporary art movement, from art brut to surrealism. It is expressed in more personal ways than the genres of centuries ago. “Spiritual” moved from tradition to individual, from convention to personal.
In 2019, the Museum of Everything curated The Medium’s Medium, an exhibition that displayed the work of artists who were said to be moved by spiritual influence. “Spiritualist art-making is revealed as a new pathway into our understanding of 20th century Modernism, and a lateral entry-point for contemporary artists today,” the gallery description reads.
Few others demonstrate this as profoundly as Lesage does, who allowed himself to be guided by unexplained forces at the dawn of secular thought and movement. His art continues to hold meaning, as absurd and ambiguous as they—and their sources—are.
In a time where cynicism and pragmatism rule as kings, people like Lesage remind us that the value of art lies in its incongruity. From the overt to the abstract, this is what art is: an expression of the intangible.
In the book of Exodus, God called Moses through a burning bush. “Do not be afraid,” said the voice. Though initially shaken with fear, Moses had listened, and his story became one of the greatest tales of miraculous hope. Was Lesage’s spiritual awakening similar to that of Moses’? Were the voices in the darkness higher powers calling him for a mission?
The answer is unknown. Perhaps there might be more rational ways to explain Lesage’s extraordinary process. Perhaps he was simply schizophrenic—as many believed—and those “spiritual voices” were symptoms.
Yet we remember that spirituality lies beyond reason, and whether Lesage had been moved by higher powers or a mental condition, he was, regardless, inspired. The details of it remain ambiguous and need no further explanation.
Lesage’s story reminds us that spirituality is transformative. When his fear, doubt, and suspicion dissipated, it transformed into something far more valuable: faith and confidence. If doubt were at the forefront of his mind, Lesage would have regarded the voices as demons. But his faith allowed him to listen to them as blessings, and they prompted him to strive for a life of transcendence.
In the same journal, he had written: “I understand that it is unbelievable, but my guides tell me, ‘Do not try to understand.’ I surrender to their impulse.”
Had he chosen to submit to reason, Lesage would have continued working as a coal miner. It would have been a life of ease, honesty, and determination, as an individual of his background would have had. Yet as valued as an honest life is, Lesage’s ‘blind’ faith allowed him to go beyond.
So goes the remarkable account of a humble miner to a devout spiritualist: with faith as his raison d’être, Lesage created, shared, and inspired monumental works of art for posterity.
A group of self-ordained sisters from Merced County, California is on a spiritual mission to heal and empower the world through organic medicine. The main source? The cannabis plant — also infamously known as marijuana.
Despite the taboo associated with the plant, which is often used as a recreational drug, the Sisters of the Valley (SoTV) pay no mind to the criticisms. Their devotion, after all, belongs to nature and humanity alone.
“We prefer to work with the very real and very physical needs of our suffering people and our victimized planet,” they said on their official website. “Our holy trinity is spirituality, activism, and service.”
Some people are misled by their name and regalia, but the sisters are adamant about preserving their unique spiritual identity.
“We are Beguine revivalists and prefer the title ‘Sisters’ or ‘Sisterhood,’” they said, referring to a medieval religious movement of women actively caring for impoverished and vulnerable groups. “However, by dictionary definition, we are, in fact, nuns. We live together, work together, pray together, and take lifetime vows.”
When asked whether they think this is disrespectful to the Catholic community, they responded: “Not at all. We respect their devotion and their excellence in healing and teaching.”
The Sisterhood grows their plants in the rich, agricultural fields of Central Valley, “where plants abound while jobs are sparse.” Aside from sharing and selling their organic medical products, they also aim to provide work and leadership opportunities for the women in the area.
The use of marijuana for medical purposes had been legal in California as early as 1996. In 2016, however, in what many political experts consider to be a “tipping point,” California also legalized its use for recreation.
SoTV clarifies that the cannabis they grow isn’t psychoactive, nor do sell the drug. However, they are not opposed to its use. “We are proponents for whole plant medicine, and for whole plant freedom,” they said.
Sister Kate (born Christine Meeusen) formed the Sisterhood in 2014 to share the “safe, non-addictive, and non-psychoactive” properties of cannabidiol. She had been involved in the business as early as 2009, where she formed a collective that served cannabis-based medicinal products to patients.
She said she wanted people “to experience its healing effects without needing to smoke it.”
Since the Sisterhood’s establishment, the nuns have sold the same medicinal products — salves, balms, teas, and oils — made from their own hemp plants, which they grow and tend to themselves.
“It is medical cannabis with the THC bred to be only present in trace amounts,” they said on their site. “It qualifies as hemp, but it is not industrial hemp. We grow and make our products from medicinal hemp plants.”
In fact, any form of industrialization may just take away from the sanctity of their mission. Even the ingredients they use alongside the plants they grow are stringently tested and scrutinized.
After all, it’s the seriousness of their devotion that counts them as nuns by definition, even if they do not identify with any system or religion. But they are still spiritual by nature, since they consider themselves “revivalists” of the Beguine movement — which, as they say, predate the very idea of Catholic nuns.
Despite not having strict traditions to adhere to, the sisters still perform rituals that often involve nature. They make their products according to moon cycles — which is something they believe their spiritual ancestors practiced.
They also bless the packages they make before sending them out into the hands of the receivers. Why so? “We believe that we have been called to this work, and that the Universe responds to our prayers and meditations,” they said.
Thus, every one of their creations is consecrated by their own hands, through personal prayers to nature. That’s also why they refuse to set them on the ground or store them in messy enclosures, which can taint their essence.
“We do not believe that our ancient mothers would ever allow their medicines to be carelessly treated,” they said. “Our Beguine foremothers were known for their excellence, and we don’t believe that this image could have been born without an emphasis on cleanliness.”
Silence is also important in the sisters’ stations — not because of maintaining strictness or control, but because they believe that their medicinal concoctions are sanctified through a respectful environment. Similar to traditional Catholic nuns, they strive for absolute reverence in their abode: “Like an abbey, like a monastery,” was their precise description.
Despite the more progressive laws in the state regarding cannabis, they’re not entirely free from such politics.
“We have to walk a very very fine, clean line here. Pay every cent of taxes, no cash sales,” Sister Kate told Refinery29. “I know that if we would give them reason, they would shove us down.”
But the sisters are steadily walking towards their visions of empowering more lives — not only through their products but also through their community.
Criticisms continue to run high, especially from formal and devout religious groups. There is still taboo associated with the cannabis plant and the organization is often criticized for its divergent spiritual identity.
However, Sister Kate and her newfound order are backed up by solid support from some of the townspeople. Many are seeing the value of the cannabis industry in changing the lifestyle and political landscape of the neighborhood.
“It’s not like we all wake up one morning and go, ‘Meh, nothing wrong with marijuana. Let’s make it legal,’” said Tony Dossetti, former councilman and policeman. “It happens, in my opinion, at a grassroots level. It doesn’t happen in the halls of Congress, it doesn’t happen in the halls of city government or county government, it happens on the street level.”
That is the goal of the sisters, who are not people in power imposing their word, but a fortified group of activists who are resolute in sharing their advocacies.
“I’m not a follower of the movement per se, but I do believe in civil liberties,” said Jeremy Huesler, a watchman of the company as of 2017. “That’s why I feel so good about being out here.”
He added, “Sister Kate is the most fascinating human being I’ve ever met in my entire life. She is such a kindhearted person but at the same time, [she’s] kind of a gangster, a little bit.”
It might be an uncanny description, but it’s perfect for the Sisters: many might consider their beliefs and practices “unorthodox,” but ultimately, their vision is to help and improve states of life. A religious establishment doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for that.
So, amidst the noise, the sisters carry on in their mission. “There is much work to be done, always, as there is no shortage of suffering people on the planet,” they said.
Who comes to mind when you think about the Renaissance? Is it Michaelangelo, Raphael? Da Vinci, Caravaggio? These individuals are indeed revolutionary talents, and they were true pioneers of art’s most enlightened era yet. But where were the women during such a period? Was art so inaccessible to them that they were wholly left to the margins?
As time would tell: not quite. There were great women artists who belonged in the rich tapestry of the Renaissance. One such artist was Sister Plautilla Nelli — Dominican nun, self-taught painter, and the founder of an all-women artist group that dominated 16th century Florence. Her name would just be tucked away in history for quite some time.
In 2005, the American philanthropist Jane Fortune had come across a book in Italy about Sister Plautilla, the nun-painter who created her version of The Last Supper — the first known rendition of The Last Supper made by a woman.
To rediscover a Renaissance masterpiece by a woman seemed like an incredibly rare feat, but perhaps rarity wasn’t merely the case. There were many exemplary women in the field of art and beyond — there just hadn’t been enough spaces to discuss their names in history books and institutions.
But thanks to cultural changes and the dedication of people like Fortune, the world is starting to recognize more women lost to the vestiges of art history. Sister Plautilla Nelli was one of them.
Before entering nunhood, Sister Plautilla was born Pulisena Margherita Nelli in 1524, hailing from a prominent family in San Felice, Florence. At fourteen, she was sent to the convent of Santa Caterina di Cafaggio, where she became known as Plautilla. She and her fellow sisters had been supervised by Dominican friars, who encouraged them to learn and create religious art.
This would turn out to be a vital point in Sister Plautilla’s life — her visionary skill had been born out of natural talent and discipline. And while there were limitations in her education, Plautilla did not stop persevering. By studying and imitating the works of High Renaissance masters like Fra Bartolomeo and Andrea del Sarto, she would later create her own unique renditions of Christian art.
Sister Plautilla would eventually form an exclusive art workshop with her sisters in the convent (of which she’ll become prioress later on). They produced a variety of artworks from illumination to glass and ceramic painting. However, oil-on-canvas was Plautilla’s preferred medium.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been far-fetched for her to try learning other techniques, such as frescoes, which had been one of the most definitive arts of the Renaissance. But fresco painting was considered physically taxing — and thus only reserved for men. Women’s education, while present, was incredibly limited.
Nevertheless, the religious work of Sister Plautilla and her fellow nuns would eventually catch the attention of the high Florentine society. This rising recognition brought about an influx of requests and commissions — and Sister Plautilla found herself creating art for the nobles of the area. With her as the lead, the sisters built a name, reputation, and a sense of financial security for themselves.
Most of Sister Plautilla’s known artworks consisted of the small-scale paintings she created for the wealthy Florentine commissioners. But Plautilla’s creativity would not be curtailed: in 1568, she produced her most renowned masterpiece — an exceptionally intricate rendition of The Last Supper in a wide 7x2 meter canvas.
The iconic painting would become her claim to fame not only because of its excellence, but also because Plautilla was the first known woman artist to have rendered the biblical event. It would be the only piece that would ever have her signature, an inscription that reads Orate pro pictora — “Pray for the paintress.”
The painting would be hidden away for four centuries, and in some of those years, it remained hung in the private refectory of the Santa Maria Novella monastery — unknown and unnoticed.
Only in 2017 — almost 450 years since the painting was created — would Plautilla’s The Last Supper undergo restoration, thanks to the campaigns that Jane Fortune and her organization, Advancing Women Artists (AWA), had relentlessly fought for. The restoration process would require donation-based funding and four painstaking years to complete. (The group would continue to dedicate their waking years to uncover the names of neglected women artists until its closure set this year.)
“Nelli probably worked with as many as eight artists in her studio,” said Linda Falcone, Director of the AWA. “But what’s interesting is, five centuries later, we worked with hundreds of people to make this restoration possible.”
Today, Sister Plautilla Nelli’s magnum opus is proudly displayed in the Santa Maria Novella Museum in Florence, her hometown. “This is a huge work whose life-sized figures populate the canvas, as if on a stage,” said Silvia Colucci, Curator of Santa Maria Novella. “She features some very striking details, like the saint’s feet under the food-laden table, and their hand gestures convey their moods and reflect their facial expressions.”
The rediscovery of Plautilla’s artistic legacy serves as a wake-up call in the world of art history. The Dominican nun was indeed an extraordinary talent — but how many other talents have been left behind?
The lack of known women in art is the consequence of many things: unequal opportunities for art education, prejudiced cultural practices, and forgotten names of women. Plautilla is a part of this long list, alongside others like Artemisia Gentileschi and Hilma af Klint.
But we continue to know the names of these women, and we are also becoming more aware of the multifaceted factors that make it an issue in the first place. And by standing in solidarity with them — fighting for their recognition and celebrating their legacy — we discourage it from happening even further.
“I have to say, in all the paintings we’ve restored, I wanted to give [Plautilla Nelli] a voice,” Jane Fortune had said. “And the irony in the whole situation… what happened was, I got my voice.”
Many cultures revere nature as a spirit in and of itself. And with the grandeur of the world, why shouldn’t we think of it as such? From the trees to the mountains to the rivers—there is an inherent spiritual depth within each of these domains.
Shinto—meaning “the way of the gods”—is a Japanese religious practice that believes in spirits of nature called kami, who take the form of any domain in nature: land and bodies of water, animals, plants, and even the bodies of the deceased.
These spirits are believed to reside in the highly spiritual Shinto shrines all over Japan. Each of these shrines is dedicated to a kami, depending on the area it was built in. Today, believers of Shinto and tourists from around the world continue to visit these shrines to pay their respects to these ancient spirits. Or, if not that—to catch a glimpse of how marvelous this religious culture is.
Shinto predates the existence of Buddhism in Japan, although it is not uncommon for a person to practice both religions. Neither Shinto nor Buddhism is monotheistic or heavily doctrine-driven, so they co-existed as dominant religions in the history of Japan. Shinto, in particular, is more of an aspect of life and culture rather than a religion in its conventional sense. Of course, it is still classified as a belief system.
Since it has existed in Japan far before the country was unified, Shinto was initially a very local one. It varied from region to region and depended on the spirits worshipped in the area or shrine.
Around the Meiji period (1868-1912), however, Japan implemented State Shinto, which meant that the country integrated this religion with its political efforts and power. Shinto priests became government officials, and the royal family was closely affiliated with the religion’s myths and deities. Shrines were also funded by the state, and some were even erected in honor of the royal rulers.
Although the religion and the state were formally separated by the end of World War II, Shinto remains a major religion that still, to this day, defines the country’s culture and collective philosophy.
There are thousands of Shinto shrines all over Japan, all with varying degrees of importance. They are often classified according to function (the Jingu and Gu, for instance, are affiliated with the Imperial Family, its gods and ancestors, and other influential nobles). Sometimes, they are also classified according to the gods or deities they worship.
Shrines also differ in size and magnitude; some have more rooms and spaces than others. However, they generally have some vital architectural structures: the torii or entrance gate, the temizuya purification trough, the offering hall, and the ema or wooden offering plates.
These elements are not arbitrary placements—they all serve a ceremonial purpose. For instance, it is customary to bow before the torii gate and step through the entrance with the left foot first. The center of the gate is for the spirits, so visitors usually avoid passing there.
And in the hall, the visitors throw a donation (of any currency) at the Saisenbako or coin box, bow and clap twice, and say a prayer. Acknowledging each part of the shrine and its purpose is part of the full experience of the visit.
Of course, while every shrine is worth seeing, some have greater cultural legacies and more notable historical backgrounds. Here are some of the most significant Shinto shrines you can visit in Japan.
The Ise Grand Shrine (Ise Jingu) is considered the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan. Located within a forest in the Mie Prefecture, the shrine is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, who is also the country’s supreme deity. It is believed that the Imperial Family are her descendants and that they rule because of the divine power given to them.
According to the legend from thousands of years ago, the 11th Emperor Suinin ordered the princess Yamatohime-no-mikoto to seek a place for the permanent enshrinement and worship of Amaterasu. After traversing many, many lands for almost twenty years, the princess faced a revelation—directly from the sun goddess herself—to build the shrine in the province of Ise.
Ise Jingu has around 125 shrines all over the city, but the most significant ones are the inner shrine (Naiku) and the outer shrine (Geku). The inner shrine is home to the Sacred Mirror or Yata no Kagami, which is said to be a gift from Amaterasu herself to the first emperor of Japan. As such, it is one of the three Imperial Regalia, along with the sword and the jewel.
The mirror is only ever seen by royals and high priests, and it is considered far too sacred to be displayed. Still, visitors can pay homage to Amaterasu and the holy treasure before the gates.
The Izumo Grand Shrine, or the Izumo-Taisha, is generally considered the oldest surviving Shinto shrine in Japan. It is believed that the shrine itself had already been around since the 700s, although not much is known beyond this fact.
Over time, as the area began to be filled with prominent clans, more buildings and structures were added. Like other Shinto shrines—including the Ise Jingu—the Izumo Grand Shrine is rebuilt every few years, although there are only minor changes in the building process.
Its origin and history may be lost to time, but it is still rich with ancient folklore and tradition. The shrine was believed to be built for the kami Ōkuninushi, and legend says that spirits gather here once a year to meet. Today, visitors come to the Izumo-Taisha to pray for good fortune and sustenance.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine, located at the base of a mountain in Kyoto, is an important Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari: the kami of rice and general prosperity. Aside from the monumental structures within, the Fushimi Inari Shrine boasts of its Shenbon Torii—thousands of red gates and stairs leading up to the sacred Mount Inari.
There is also a multitude of fox statues all around the area, since these animals are recognized as Inari’s messengers. Sometimes, they are depicted carrying rice grains with their mouths and red scarves. Red—in general, and especially in this shrine—is associated with sanctity and good fortune.
This shrine is also among the oldest and most ancient ones, dating back to the Heian period around the 700s. It has greatly influenced the country’s visual and cultural identity, which is why it continues to be one of the most popular tourist spots in Japan.
Famous for its unique floating torii gate, the Itsukushima Shrine is situated on the island of Itsukushima in Hiroshima bay. The torii is submerged in the waters of the high tides, which is how it appears to be “floating.
The earliest structures of the shrine date back to the late 500 C.E. Saeki no Kuramoto, who governed the so-called “Island of Worship,” said that he received a message from the spirits to build the shrine in its waters. Some centuries later, however, it became more attributed to the daimyo (warlord) Taira no Kiyomori. At the time of his governance, he contributed greatly to the Itsukushima Shrine’s building efforts, patterning it after an architectural style called shinden-zukuri which is commonly designed for the nobility.
The shrine is meant to worship the “three female deities,” namely Ichikishimahime-no-mikoto, Tagorihime-no-mikoto, and Tagitsuhime-no-mikoto, who are all descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The goddesses gave their blessings to the Imperial Family and helped them brave the stormy seas during perilous journeys.
Because of its unique heritage and architecture, the Itsukushima Shrine is recognized and protected by UNESCO. Parts and buildings of this magnificent place are also designated as Japan’s National Treasures.
The Meiji Shrine or Meiji Jingu in Shibuya, Tokyo is one of the most popular Shinto shrines in the country. Built only in the 1920s during the latter years of the Meiji Restoration period, the shrine was erected in honor of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. These were more or less the years when State Shinto was implemented in Japan. Contrary to the misconception, however, the Meiji Jingu is not their burial ground; the royal couple is entombed in an imperial mausoleum in Kyoto.
Despite its recency, the shrine has already faced some devastating blows. The original structures had been a casualty of the Tokyo air raids during World War II. Fortunately, after community efforts in funding, the grand shrine was rebuilt around the 1950s.
Today, the Meiji Jingu garners millions of visitors per year, especially during ceremonial occasions (such as the New Year). In such sublime events, visitors from all over the world gather collectively to celebrate and say their prayers.
Shinto was, without a doubt, a significant factor in the formation of Japan’s national identity. Even in the ancient years when Japan had not been unified as a country, it still defined the nation’s beliefs and way of life. And today, this culture is being practiced and spread joyfully around the world.
Thanks to tradition, folklore, art, and these captivating shrines, the rich faith of Shintoism continues to be illustrious. Although we as a society live within the luxuries and advances of the modern world, Shinto shrines serve as a beautiful reminder for us to come back to the roots of life: nature, and the wonders that we often take for granted.
Which Shinto shrine would you like to visit in the future?
When you enter a Buddhist temple in the bustling cultural city of Bangkok, Thailand, the last thing you’d expect to see is a statue of football superstar David Beckham.
As far-fetched as the idea is, it’s entirely real. The Wat Pariwat is also nicknamed the “David Beckham Temple” because, strangely enough, a statuette of the legendary athlete sits at the very base of the main altar.
But Beckham isn’t the only surprise within the temple. The Wat Pariwat is home to a wide assortment of arbitrary pop culture icons, often plated in gold and traditional Buddhist colors. From beloved characters in fiction like Pikachu, Spiderman, Batman, Harry Potter, and Mickey Mouse to notable world figures like Barack Obama and Albert Einstein — there is no shortage of lifestyle and entertainment references in this unique place of worship.
Despite all its quirks, the Wat Pariwat is still a sacred space at its very core, and it is honored and regularly visited by many locals in the area. But its unique craftsmanship and unorthodox features make it an interesting venture for both locals and tourists alike.
In the late 90s, the craze over Manchester United — the team Beckham played for — was at its peak in Thailand. Not even one of the monks in the capital could resist his excitement over the sport.
After securing permission from the Head Abbott, a 12-inch David Beckham statue was built for the Wat Pariwat around 1999, the same year Manchester United won three major competitions: the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League.
The gold-plated Beckham statuette — sporting a complete Manchester United getup — replaced the traditional image of a Garuda, a golden-winged bird in Thai mythology. It shares its position on the shrine base with some of Thailand’s former prime ministers.
The structure of the building is quite standard. The Wat Pariwat is filled with richly embellished pillars and roofs, covered in mosaic figurines. At first glance, it’s just like any other Buddhist temple: cultural but conventional.
Upon a closer look, though, the elements are anything but. Where one might expect to find a buddha, there’d be a Dragon Ball Z or Harry Potter character in place.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the temple is devoid of significant ceremonial images. Just as in any other religious culture, Buddhism in the country is infused with local mythology, although the principles of the belief remain the same.
The thematic contrast between traditional effigies and pop culture references is what makes the place especially striking.
While the ‘David Beckham Temple’ is perhaps the most renowned, there are other Buddhist temples in Thailand that are just as whimsical.
The Wat Samphran, for instance, is a 17-story edifice with a massive green dragon coiled around it. (Why a dragon? According to the story, the visual is based on one of the dreams of the Head Abbott.)
In a way, one can say that these quaint temples are reflective of the distinct and vibrant culture of Bangkok. The city is one of the most popular places on travelers’ bucket lists because of its flamboyant arts, which is a perfect fusion of traditional and contemporary styles.
Pinocchio and Mickey Mouse. Photo from rice / potato (Source)
The Wat Pariwat can hardly be called a tourist spot, however — it is located in a relatively quiet suburb within Yan Nawa, a small district bounded by the Chao Phraya River. The temple doors are not always open to the traveling public. Still, some are able to pay a visit and witness its quaintness and eccentricity.
“It is amazing how both modern artistry and ideas are blended with and accepted into a Buddhist temple,” a tourist commented on Tripadvisor, a travel guidance platform. Another said: “Modern style with a lot of different characters from old and modern times — makes you smile.”
But it’s well worth remembering that most of the temple visitors are still devout Buddhists who come to pray and worship. Thus, people are reminded to dress appropriately and treat the place with utmost respect, as anyone would in any Buddhist temple.
Photo from AFP (Source)
So is the display of non-religious figures considered an act of blasphemy? Surprisingly, not many think so. The moment the David Beckham statuette met the approval of the head monks and abbots, one can safely say that the religious culture of the area is a rather open one.
Many also find that the temple is a good way to revive customary worship. “It can bring people, including kids, to visit the temple more,” a local told The Indian Express.
If anything, the ‘David Beckham Temple’ challenges the notions of archaic religious spaces — and prompts a formation of genuine connections with an ever-evolving generation of believers. It shows that modern life and traditional sacred spaces could co-exist — and perhaps even enhance each other’s cultural significance.
Art collection seems like an intimidating hobby reserved only for a few. The big market doesn’t hold a lot of room for the layperson, and the art industry can appear a bit overwhelming to those who aren’t a part of it.
But these are all myths in their own regard — you don’t need tedious technicalities or extensive knowledge about art to start a collection. After all, art goes beyond being a business: it is meant to be loved and enjoyed for what it is. While this warrants that art collection should have no rules, it’s still wise to be oriented with helpful insights and words of advice.
So whether you’re collecting art because your space needs a little bit of spicing up, or you’re doing it just because looking at art pleases your senses — here are a few tips to keep in mind as you get started.
The world of art is quite immense: there are a lot of artists, genres, and themes out there. Getting started should be the simplest part of the process, but it may end up being your first roadblock in your collection journey.
Thankfully, you’ve got the internet at your disposal, so doing a bit of research about art categories, styles, and themes should be easy and accessible. You don’t need to think too much at this step — the goal is to get acquainted with the basics.
Above all, remember that art should feel right to you in whatever way. There’s no need for a reason behind this: it can be as simple as “This suits my taste,” or something as complex as “This called to me spiritually.” Narrowing down your collection according to your preferences — and your instincts — will help you start somewhere.
You’ll be investing your time and money in your collection, so you better start investing your curiosity and interest in art as well. Start with the easiest domain that you engage yourself daily in: social media.
Sure, you know your Picasso and your Matisse, but you might be surprised at the abundance of new and contemporary artists that can speak to you just as powerfully. Art is everywhere, and we’ve got technology to thank for that.
Scroll through discovery hashtags on Instagram or follow boards on Pinterest, and you might just find a master-in-the-making. Or, at the very least, you might get an idea of what to have for your very first piece.
Many people are under the impression that collecting art should cost a lot of money. After all, the art industry is certainly not seen as an economical one. While this might hold a grain of truth, you can still work with a budget that’s both reasonable and feasible.
Art collection should be joyful, not troublesome. By setting boundaries and limits in your finances, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress and “buyer’s guilt.”
Set an appropriate allowance and remember to work within it. If you think that $500 splurge is worth it — then go for it. But remember: at the end of the day, the most expensive pieces are not always the best ones.
Technology is great because it gives us access to a multitude of art, but this accessibility is a double-edged sword. Because art is posted everywhere, cases of art theft and other forms of fraudulence are rapidly rising. The new culture of the technology-based NFT art isn’t helping, either.
So when you purchase prints from shopping sites and platforms without doing background checks, you might find yourself in a cumbersome case of possessing stolen art.
The least you could do is look for reputable sources — or, better yet, buy from the source itself. Many artists sell prints of their work; you just have to be on the lookout for their official merchandise sites or promotions. Additionally, you can find a lot of credible brands that sell legally and professionally printed art.
As with anything, it’s always wise to keep a record of your plans, finances, and purchases. But collecting art is a highly personal project, and you might as well go beyond the basics.
Write about the art you’re buying. What attracted you to it? Why did you buy it? How do you feel about it? This activity is not only therapeutic; it might also help you discover things about yourself and your purchasing habits.
Sometimes you could even notice insightful patterns that can help you make decisions the next time you buy another piece for your collection. (Or you could just admire, in a few months, how far your art journey has come.)
You don’t have to be philosophical or spiritual to be a collector, but if you choose works of art that “speak” to you, you’ll find that your collection will be more nuanced and enriched.
Overall, the sum must be greater than its parts. There’s no way to quantify this, of course, but the entire thing — instead of a select few — should continue to reveal something about you. Maybe it’ll even help you learn more about yourself in the process.
Check out our collection of contemporary spiritual wall art here.
Most of us do things out of sheer goodwill. But when “goodwill” doesn’t translate to good results, more problems are created rather than solved. Artworks fade over time, and many of those who value them would take a well-meaning initiative to bring them back to their former glory. But art restoration is incredibly complex — something that many people don’t realize until they try it themselves.
Unfortunately, instead of restoring it to life, some of these projects end up getting drastically butchered. Sometimes they are seen as blatant disrespect, but at best, they could give us a good laugh.
Here are some of the most atrocious — and iconic — restoration projects throughout Christian art history.
Photo from Catholic News Agency (Source)
Have you ever tried imagining a 15th-century sculpture of St. Anne (Mary’s mother) in fuchsia pink and baby Jesus in celery green? Well, no need to think too hard — these religious figures in Asturias, Spain, have been given a technicolor treatment by a local parishioner.
When María Luisa Menéndez, a regular visitor of the church and tobacco shop owner, proposed a painting job on the wooden sculptures, she said she was given the go signal.
“I am not a professional painter, but I’ve always liked it and the images needed to be painted,” she told Spanish news publication El Comercio. “So I painted them as I could with the colors that seemed right to me.”
Menéndez painted the sculptures in garish neons, adding extra details of what appears like lipstick and eyeliner on the figures. Like most uncanny restoration “projects,” it was met with harsh criticism by the art and history community. “The result is just staggering,” Luis Suárez Saro, the artist who restored the figures some 15 years ago, spoke of the effort. “You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
But Menéndez’s feelings about her work do not waver. “The neighbors liked it,” she said. “Ask around and you’ll see.”
Photo from Smithsonian Magazine (Source)
A life-sized walnut wood statue of St. George, a valiant dragon-slaying saint and soldier, quickly turned into a laughingstock after a botched restoration attempt.
The 16th-century figure of the saint in Navarre, Spain had been in dire need of work. But instead of hiring a professional, the local parish and community entrusted the job to an art teacher.
Despite the clear zealousness and good intentions, St. George — who was depicted battling a mythical dragon to save townspeople — ended up looking like a side character from a 1940s cartoon.
Because of the controversy it faced, the local government’s historic heritage department pursued efforts to rectify the damage. The new project ended up costing around €33,000 — far higher than it would have been if a technician had been hired in the first place. Fortunately, the new project was a success, and the pink-skinned and beady-eyed statue is no more.
While the remorsefulness of those involved in the original restoration effort was clear and acknowledged, the ordeal served as a reminder to let more experts take charge of cultural preservation.
Photo from House and Garden (Source)
Yet another Catholic painting in Spain had fallen victim to amateur brushwork — twice.
This time, the painting in question was a copy of The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables, painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo in 1678.
According to a news report by Europa Press, an art collector in possession of the Baroque painting’s remarkable copy commissioned a furniture restorer to clean up the painting for €1,200. But, to his dismay and surprise, the painting had horrendously made Mary “unrecognizable.” Another attempt had been made to reverse the damage, but it was just as much, if not more, of a failure.
This incident — after one too many — led conservationists and art restorers to denounce these “well-intentioned mistakes.” Calling the failed restoration attempts “attacks on cultural heritage,” they expressed panic over the fact that some damages are irreversible.
“Paradoxically, it shows just how important professional restorers are,” expert and professor Fernando Carrera told The Guardian. “We need to invest in our heritage, but even before we talk about money, we need to make sure that the people who undertake this kind of work have been trained in it.”
Photo from The Daily Mail (Source)
St. Anthony of Padua, shantay, you stay.
When this 17th-century statue was “restored” in 2018, it made waves in the Colombian community after featuring one thing that wasn’t there before: loads and loads of makeup.
The artist who worked on the figure of St. Anthony — the “patron saint of lost things” — was reportedly paid $328. He obviously failed to use the very specific techniques required for an aged wooden statue.
While the painting job itself is technically a mess, waves in social media are quite mixed. Many parishioners in the area were angry about the “effeminate” treatment of the wooden statue. One reportedly commented, “He is no longer the same patron that I have prayed to for the last 12 years.”
The same Daily Mail article reports that some people, on the other hand, saw it as “a saint of modern times — a transsexual saint.” At least a few others found a silver lining in the whole situation.
‘Ecce Homo’ Fresco in Sanctuary of Mercy Church (Zaragoza, Spain)
Photo from Business Insider (Source)
Strangely enough, the world’s most infamous art restoration project is also unironically the most beloved.
As with most restoration efforts, it all started with a well-meaning desire to preserve a fading fresco, which was painted by Elias Garcia Martinez in the 1930s. Cecilia Giménez, a local parishioner in her 80s from Zaragoza, Spain, took on the challenge after securing permission from the parish clergy.
What came about would be one of the most notorious — and iconic — renders in Christian art history. The features of the odd-looking Jesus are often compared to that of a monkey’s.
The fresco, originally called ‘Ecce Homo’ (based on the famous lines of Pontius Pilate, meaning “Behold the man”), had been altered forever. Other unkind pseudonyms include: “Behold the Monkey,” “Beast Jesus,” “Monkey Jesus,” and “Potato Man.”
The fresco became a viral sensation, turned into a popular tourist attraction, and raised around £43,000 for charity. Overall, the effort certainly brought joy to the town.
Despite the initial feeling of humiliation over the incident, Giménez tells The Guardian that the work now brings her a sense of pride. She fondly calls it “a handsome face; a face that she loves.”
Photo from Time Magazine (Source)
Someone momentarily joined the Simpsons — or so the people of social media said.
Ste. Anne des Pins Church, located in Ontario, Canada, had been facing a decade-long vandalism problem with local delinquents. In 2015, the head of a baby Jesus statue outside the church was knocked off and stolen.
Dismayed by the disappearance, an artist named Heather Wise offered to fix the statue for free. “I was so sad,” Wise told Sudbury.com. “It’s just not a positive feeling to see that. I said, ‘I’m an artist, I would like to fix it.’”
But the statue ended up with a “temporary” terracotta head, which was a problem for many reasons. First, the rest of the statues were made of white stone, so the brownish-red clay looked out-of-place.
Second, the image itself was strikingly peculiar — many parishioners expressed their shock at the visual, and people on social media compared the head with cartoon character Maggie Simpson.
However, parish priest Gérald Lajeunesse remained optimistic — and it paid off. “It’s a first try. It’s a first go,” he told CBC News. “Hopefully what is done at the end will please everyone.”
Turns out there was no need for another sculpting attempt after all: the stone head of baby Jesus was safely returned by a woman, who reportedly took a personal interest in it. Lajeunesse no longer filed a complaint of theft — he was just more than happy to have it back.
Many experts and conservationists continue to insist on stricter laws and standards of restoration projects. Essentially, they argue, a piece of cultural heritage is at stake here. They’re right, of course: these significant relics should be taken far more seriously.
In the end, however, there might be a more hopeful way to view the botched art projects. Sure, they were atrocious, but at the very least, it got people talking. It’s not every day that people talk about religious art in a highly secular age.
In the words of Giménez, the hand behind ‘Ecce Homo’: “People from all over the world are visiting the sanctuary now — that’s the best medicine.”
When a local Californian man found himself fed up with vandalism, litter, and crime in his neighborhood in Oakland, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
A median strip at 11th Avenue and East 19th Street became a dumping ground for residential junk, and the city government turned a blind eye on the issue. But Dan Stevenson — who told Oakland North that he had “little faith in humanity” — refused to let it go.
Purchasing a 60-cm stone statue of Buddha from the hardware store, he and his wife Lu decided to install the figure on the spot. Stevenson was by no means a religious man, but retaliating to the problem with an icon like Buddha — whom he called “a neutral dude” — seemed like an apt response.
What was meant to be an innocent, almost passive response from the non-Buddhist couple would turn out to be a miracle of sorts for the entire neighborhood.
The small hardware-bought figure would, in time, become a little haven for the Buddhist residents of Oakland. Even more astoundingly: in 2014, five years after the installation, the police reported that criminal activity in the area dropped to an immense 82%. This is something many of the locals correlated with the existence of the Buddha statue.
Today, it is enshrined in a small abode, surrounded by offerings of all sorts. Soft, meditative music plays serenely from a speaker. Framed photos, flowers, and candles encompass the now-painted Buddha.
On the shrine, a plaque reads Phap Duyen Tu, which means “tranquility.” It serves as the epitome of peace in a neighborhood once riddled with trouble.
Stevenson said that he was not expecting much from the little project. He supposed that someone would steal the statue, vandalize it, perhaps even dispose of it in due time. (There was a reported incident of a theft attempt, which failed, and is fortunately unlikely to happen again — the figure is now attached to a stand.)
To his utter surprise, Stevenson found little offerings at the base of the two-foot figure from Buddhists in the area. It would particularly catch the attention of two Vietnamese citizens: Vina Vo and her son, Cuc Vo.
According to a report from The World, Vina, her husband, her brother, and a few others made their way to Oakland in 1892 in a small boat. Vina was merely a young woman then, and the war had just ended in Vietnam. Her home village — including their places of worship — had sadly been destroyed.
Upon hearing the small, uncanny Buddha statue in the intersection, Vina and her son took a keen interest in it. They wanted to care for it themselves.
The pair would initially ask Stevenson for permission every time they tried to make changes. But Stevenson was no Buddhist, and he wanted to encourage their efforts. “It’s your Buddha,” he’d tell them every time. “I’m out of this now.”
At some point, the mother and son mounted the statue up a platform: “In our religion, Buddha is not supposed to be on the ground,” Cuc Vo told Oakland North.
The little Buddha would also be colored in time — first in stark white, then in full intricate detail. The flesh-colored, golden-robed icon is a far cry from when Stevenson first erected it. “His hair’s been colored. His garments are gold and red,” he said. “I mean, he’s beautiful. I would never recognize him on the street.”
Although Vina and Cuc were the most familiar visitors of Phap Duyen Tu, many other Buddhists in the community would turn it into a little spot of spiritual refuge. It’s especially meaningful because it was a rare opportunity for immigrants to be closer to their faith — especially in the bustling streets of Oakland.
And this was not the only astounding effect of the statue. Crimes gradually started to go down since its installation in 2009, and while there was no proven correlation between the two factors, many people credit the statue nonetheless. Even those with no religious ties to the icon would be appalled by it.
“The dope-dealing has stopped, the ladies of the evening have stopped,” Andy Blackwood, a resident of Oakland, said in an SFGATE article.
Where garbage and vandalism once were, candles and flowers replaced. “They’re out here every morning like clockwork,” said another local, Alicia Tatum. The original purpose of the Stevenson couple was fulfilled: people would keep the shrine clean and well-maintained to preserve its sanctity.
Regardless of religious affiliations — and whether or not it truly helped alleviate the criminal activity — the Phap Duyen Tu was a transformative space for the community.
“[People] believe this is a holy site now,” Cuc told AJ+. “If it brings good feelings to people, and [they] like to come and give a little prayer in the morning or at nighttime, then that’s a beautiful thing.”
We could all use a breather in our routine these days. It looks different for everyone: it could be a walk in the park, a movie at home, a new recipe to try, or maybe just a 20-minute-nap. These things, small as they seem, could become our biggest source of solace.
One of the easiest and most universal ways to calm down is to engage yourself in works of art. After all, the quietest places in the city are places of worship and museums — places where the arts thrive. Ask just about anyone and they would say that these are good go-to spots for relaxation and peace of mind.
So why not start your own art collection and hang them in your own home? No need to plan a downtown trip to the local gallery or anywhere else. Here are some pieces from our current collection that promote peace of mind and a healthy well-being.
Many of our pieces explore visual interpretations and images of meditation, which is inherently a spiritual concept. Introspection is among the most organic ways of reconnecting with yourself or the divine. Of course, objects and visual cues — such as poignant artworks — serve as good fuel for a meditative state of mind.
For digital artist Giovanny Cruz Ortiz (also known as his creative alias, Seamless), the idea of solitude is a theme worth exploring. Solitude is often confused with loneliness — but while both are interlaced to a degree, they are different.
This was precisely what Ortiz wanted to explore in the piece ‘Loner’. He wanted to steer clear of the notion that solitude is sad or pitiful. “I was reading about the topic and watching a therapist talking about it on YouTube — how we humans perceived that being alone is a bad thing, and it isn’t,” he said.
Ortiz also reflected on his own thoughts about loneliness when he was producing his piece. “Being alone is peaceful,” he said. “It shows us how to be ourselves, [how to] love ourselves, and grow on our own.”
Alexandr Pamikov, a graphic and animation artist based in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, explores cyberpunk, sci-fi spaces in his work. But this uncanny signature takes a step back when he painted the compelling piece ‘Clear’ in 2019. “Perhaps I just wanted to do something in an unusual style,” he said. “It personified me and my [past years].”
The year, said Pamikov, was riddled with trials and tribulations — and he wanted to explore that sinking feeling. In ‘Clear’, he uses water as a visual metaphor: “In my view, water [represented] 2019, or rather, how this time has passed. It was difficult for me. [There were] constant doubts, a lot of thoughts, inner experiences.”
But amidst this ocean, an open palm is raised towards the sky: a vision of one rising above troubled waters. Pamikov described it as “an epiphany; the answer to my questions.” His work is resonant to anyone who might have also had their fair share of uncertainties.
A solitary man sits on the rooftop. Behind him is a brewing storm, but he is calm and unperturbed. A Christian cross is imprinted on the high column he sits on. What began as a “product of exploration” turned out to be a compelling piece that explores the idea of power and quietude — and a subtle tribute to a biblical narrative.
“Many of the elements are unintentional,” said Canadian digital artist Daniel Ignacio, the force behind ‘Storm Whisperer’. “But in the end, I saw this piece as an opportunity to make a soft allusion to the Biblical story where Jesus calms the storm.”
But Ignacio expressed these themes so subtly that even a non-religious viewer can connect with the piece just as deeply. Art, after all, speaks in different ways to people. “ I cannot dictate what others will feel about the artwork,” he said. “Ultimately I want the viewer to tell me what they feel.”
The life-giving power of nature and the need to “breathe, connect, and release” — Benjamin Jones, analog and digital artist from South Carolina, explores these themes in his piece ‘No. 148 GROUNDING’. “[They] provide a release and a connection to one another,” he said.
‘No. 148 GROUNDING’ is one of Jones’ many works that tackle this concept. Among them are ‘No. 131 Meditation’ and ‘No. 157 You Are Here’. “Meditation itself is one of the most powerful tools humans have to tap into their true self and potential,” he wrote.
As an artist, meditation is something he practices himself — and art is the easiest channel for that. “Creating a piece of art or design for me is not optional; it’s mandatory,” said Jones. “It’s how I meditate and release my anxiety.”
But the challenge doesn’t end there, he added. He wants the viewer to feel the same meditative effect art has on him. “It is important to take a step back from your work and ask yourself, ‘What message do I want to spread through my work?’” he wrote upon posting ‘No. 148’. “I try to lead a positive and healthy lifestyle. I want to get that message out there through my work and inspire others to do the same.
Time and time again, it’s been proven that art heals. Our artists are privy to this idea — it’s a theme they’ve masterfully explored and crafted in their many years of creating. To the viewer, of course, it’s equally as meaningful.
So if you need a refreshing reminder of slowing down and taking it easy — consider art as an avenue of this purpose.
All featured artworks are available as framed wall art. Purchase them here.
A house in Nerima, Tokyo is said to have harbored years of cursed vengeance against all those who step foot in it. The victims included a social worker, a detective, and a group of schoolgirls, who all reportedly died through the work of supernatural forces.
Decades before the lives of these victims, a man had murdered his wife, his child, and the house cat. On that fateful day, the spirits of the family (and the cat) were eternally entrapped in the house, plaguing and killing all those who visited it. The house has never known peace since.
So goes the plot of Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), a Japanese horror film about a family seeking vengeance for eternity. These ghosts are categorized as Onryō — spirits who have been so deeply wronged in their lives that they cannot move on from the world. They are malevolent, wrathful, and often downright murderous.
The concept of Onryō is hardly a modern one, however — Japan has a long, rich history of tall tales and folklore. All of these stories trace their roots back to indigenous beliefs, such as the spirit-induced Shintoism, which is still widely practiced today.
Not all spirits are evil, though. Some are noble, and some have had far more tragic fates, like the Ubume (dead mothers who longed for their children). For the Japanese, all these spirits — the good, the bad, and the nuances in between — are as integral in the world as much as living beings are. The whole umbrella of spirits is called yūrei, which translates to “faint soul.”
While they are portrayed in varying spectrums — spooky, horrifying, just, benevolent, worthy of praise — the yūrei has inspired a myriad of spoken and written stories (Kaidan) and artworks (yūrei-zu).
History would come to recognize a whole genre of Japanese art called yūrei-zu, which deals with all kinds of supernatural themes. All artworks — mostly paintings and woodblock prints — that feature ghosts, spirits, and even demons fall under this unique category.
The beginnings of yūrei-zu date back to the Japanese medieval period, where works of art consisted of paintings in scrolls. Centuries later, during the Edo Period (1603-1867), more and more artworks with elements of the supernatural started to become commonplace.
For some artists, such as Sawaki Suushi, these supernatural folktales became a rich vault of inspiration to pattern artworks on. Suushi would become famous for his picture scroll, the Hyakkai Zukan, or “The Illustrated Volume of a Hundred Demons.” Within the scroll would be illustrations of folk demons and monsters — including his very own rendition of a yūrei.
Like Suushi’s, many paintings of the yūrei-zu were merely expressions of the supernatural, created out of the desire to depict ancient fear or pay reverence to them.
But some had more compelling stories behind them, surprisingly of less archaic origins. Katsushika Hokusai — the great master behind the renowned The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1831) — would create a portrait based on the life and demise of the famous theater ghost Kohada Koheiji.
As the story goes, Koheiji was a kabuki actor who, after portraying a yūrei, became a ghost himself. While his life is generally recognized as a true story, the details behind it had become muddled with lore, turning it into an urban legend of its time. Koheiji had been murdered by his wife and his lover by drowning him in a swamp. But he would rise again as a ghost, seek revenge, and kill them.
The rise of macabre paintings during the Tokugawa period was said to have been a result of extreme socio-political turmoil, as well as numerous natural catastrophes. Shaken with fear and apprehension, more people would turn towards lore to express the reasons behind these turbulent conditions.
However, state efforts would be made to censor the arts — including the yūrei-zu — in an attempt to restore Japan into a feudal agricultural society. The Tempō Reforms, reinstated by the regime, warned against the production and regulation of “morally dubious” works.
But artists would not be quelled — they would continue to create yūrei-zu (and other kinds of art) as a covert form of protest. Not only was the genre definitive of the country’s ancient beliefs; it was also a demonstration against a failing government. Eventually, the Tempō Reforms would prove futile, and the arts continued to flourish.
Other genres of art that would emerge around the end of the Edo period are chimidoro-e and muzan-e (“bloody” and “cruel paintings,” respectively). These would be of the same vein with the yūrei-zu, although they veered away from the supernatural and ventured towards more realistic themes, such as brutality and gore.
Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, the “last great master” of woodblock painting, produced artworks of all these horrific genres.
The illustrious history of ghosts and supernatural stories in Japan contributed to its incredible pantheon of modern horror tales. Today, Japan is a powerhouse of internationally acclaimed horror films, such as Ringu (1998), Ju-On (2002), and Dark Water (2002). Ghosts and superstitions would also become an interesting prospect for many modern artists outside Japan. Spirit photography would turn into a genre, too — one that is still growing today.
These seemingly obsolete concepts continue to fascinate the world long after it has moved towards secularity. Our curiosity and inclination towards spiritual stories invite us to inquire what lies in the beyond — and the imaginative vault of yūrei-zu is a testament to this inquiry.
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