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Sunday, October 3, 2021

Imaging Pilgrimage: Art as Embodied Experience by Kathryn Barush


Imaging Pilgrimage: Representations of Sacred Space in Contemporary Art

by Kathryn Barush published by Bloomsbury Visual Arts 2021

In her book Imaging Pilgrimage, Kathryn Barush brings together the study of medieval representations of pilgrimage to a number of contemporary art that is created after a pilgrimage and intended to act as a catalyst for others to experience, grace, healing and contemplation.  I am so honoured that she included my work with sacred altars and pilgrimage into this beautiful and enlightening book.

Images from Kathryn Barush's Instagram posts

One of the chapters in the book is dedicated to 'South African artist Hettienne Grobler (Sri BhaktymayiMa), who creates shadowboxes of assemblages of souvenirs collected
from Lourdes, in dialogue with medieval art which is rooted in the same impulses
of memory, imagination, and devotion.  

In addition to Marian imagery, Grobler also draws from Bhakti theology, and widening the aperture, her work forms an important case study to show that art that
engages two or more traditions can be used as a window into a dialogical
approach to comparative religion.'

The chapter is sub-divided into

'How and why an apparition was first 'made material''

'Mary, materiality, and message: a pilgrimage through art'

'Water, water everywhere! The Lourdes replica tradition

'Bhakti the essence of this love relationship that one experiences with the Divine.
I think one can describe bhakti as 'being absolutely madly in love.'
At first one is in love with God and the realizations that God is 'in love'
with you; then this expands and you start to see love in everything
and eventually you see the 'face of God' in everyone and everything.'

'For Grobler, 'love' is the foundation of her personal beliefs and the visual
expression it finds, and she acknowledges that this means that she can relate
to many religions and paths.  

As with her other Marian art, Grobler's Black Madonna deck has been a deep dive
into this imagery and a prayerful experience.  It has also been a way to explore
'how far back racism has been forcefully applied and internalised. One cannot really separate the Black Lives Matter ideology and the Black Madonna and I have at times felt such
awe that this deck is being created in these times'
Her social media posts with images of these works-in-progress have been interspersed
with essays on the Black Madonna as a way to celebrate Black Lives.
Although less overtly political, Grobler's project has every
potention to be a powerful tool for reflecting on, and advocating the
abolishment of, anti-Black racism through the Hindu and Catholic
theologies that her work engenders, via both her artistic process
and the iconological content.

Kathryn first approached me a few years ago and we have had 'conversations' online
and through email.  This is an incredible book;  Katryn has a wonderful way of using
language and she has opened my eyes to the incredible wealth of medieval texts and
research and her own incredible understanding and sensitivity to art as a vehicle of religion across all traditions.  This in-depth work has underscored all that I experienced within myself.  I regard
myself as 'one who walks between two worlds' and Kathryn is a kindred soul.

Dr Barush is Thomas E. Bertelsen Jr. Associate Professor of Art History and Religion

Dr. Barush received a D.Phil. from Wadham College, University of Oxford in 2012 and has held positions as Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and as curatorial assistant at the Yale University Center for British Art.  She is the author of the monograph Art and the Sacred Journey in Britain, 1790-1850 (London: Routledge). Shifting the focus to the present day, Dr. Barush's current book project (Imaging Pilgrimage: Art as Embodied Experience, Bloomsbury Visual Culture) explores the transfer of 'spirit' from sites to representations through a critical examination of contemporary art (including assemblages of souvenirs, built environments, and reconstructions of sacred sites) created after or during pilgrimages with the intent to engender the experience for others. 

Dr. Barush takes an interdisciplinary approach to art history and is especially interested in expressions of belief across a number of religious traditions. She values a contextual and hands-on approach to learning - her students closely study ritual objects and sacred artworks up-close and in person wherever possible. Such objects, especially in places of prayer and worship but also as re-contextualized in the secular space of public museums, offer crucial insights into the study of historic and contemporary lived religion, devotional practice, and popular piety.

In addition to her research and writing, Dr. Barush is an advisor to the British Pilgrimage Trust and a member of the advisory network of the Yale Center for Material and Visual Cultures of Religion. She is also an avid walker and has led a group of graduate student pilgrims along the Camino Ignaciano in Spain.  

Follow Dr. Barush' adventures and research on Twitter @pilgrim_travels

From the website of the Graduate Theological Union -  https://www.gtu.edu/faculty/kathryn-barush

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