“Matter + Spirit” brings Chinese Christianity to life

Bringing together the work of both Chinese and American artists, “Matter + Spirit” is a display of how faith influences artistic expression now being held in the Center Art Gallery in the CFAC. The pieces range from illustrations to paintings to tapestry work and each is a beautiful expression of faith and culture for the artist. The program booklet for the exhibit starts with the question of what place spirituality has in an increasingly secular culture such as China. The only forms of Christianity sanctioned by the government are state-owned churches that censor parts of the Bible that are considered dangerous to the government. So, what does it look like for a Christian living in China who is trying to live their faith according to Scripture?

In his tapestry piece “The Love of God, the Wounds of Christ,” artist DaoZi portrays the crown of thorns in a way that is both exquisite and crude. The crown looks almost as though it could pierce you if you touched it. It loops around the canvas, a symbol of the bondage and excruciating pain Jesus went through on the cross. And in a way, Chinese Christians feel the same way, as they’re continuously censored by their own government from practicing their faith.

“Speaking of and faithfully painting out this great trial and gift from God is the freedom of a clear conscience,” DaoZi says in the booklet, “and why art is higher than reality and even philosophy… On the spiritual journey we should not fall into despair either because of persecution… or our own faults and sins, for the passing of time is not enclosed.”

The exhibit also includes work from several American artists who spent significant time in China. One artist, Laura Stevenson, contributed the piece “Beyond the Structure,” which is an unusual combination of lights and sculpting. A tall sculpture in the form of a church steeple illuminates a shifting cycle of colors that shine through dozens of cross-shaped cutouts. The crosses themselves lay on the floor before the steeple.

“‘Beyond the Structure’ addresses the issue of religious faith in China,” Stevenson explains in the booklet. “This work shows how the church isn’t defined or confined by its walls and crosses, because the Holy Spirit isn’t contained in that way.”

“Chinese Village Churches Series” is a photo display by Yuanming Cao. The display is made up of five pictures, each in black and white. One person stands in the center of the photo, holding a frame which holds another photo of a church, this time in color. Some of these churches are still there, standing behind the people in the photos. Others are long gone, reduced to rubble or torn down for farmland. The colored pictures show the life and joy that these churches offer to Chinese Christians. These smaller churches, separate from the state, allow them to worship God in the way they want and to hear truths that the Chinese government keeps out of the state-sponsored sermons. However, these people live in the black-and-white photos, where the churches have fallen into disrepair or have been torn down completely. They have nowhere to go to now except the state churches, where the government controls what they hear, and they can’t worship God as they please.

“Matter + Spirit” is a gorgeous exhibit of what faith can spawn in the hearts of artists. The Chinese traditions of art yield beautiful pieces that speak to faith that cannot be restricted despite living under a state that constantly tries to control it.