Every week, the Image staff curates a digital dispatch of compelling new books, music, artwork, and more, with personal recommendations, links from around the web, and a community message board with calls for art and job postings (not to mention exclusive access to Image discounts and VIP workshop registration!). We deliver these dispatches from the world of art and faith entirely free of charge. We call it: ImageUpdate.
And at the end of every year, we review the 100+ books, albums, art exhibitions, and other artworks shared in this e-newsletter and choose the ImageUpdate Top Ten. It’s an almost-impossible challenge to narrow our selection down to the ten “best,” and to make matters even more complicated, ImageUpdate strives to direct readers’ attention to new and emerging artists, and others we feel deserve your time.
That said, we’re pleased to give you the following list of outstanding work featured in ImageUpdate in 2016. Click the links to see the original issues with full reviews.
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Drag queens, Baroque art, R&B and pop music by women, haute couture, and Tilda Swinton. These are just a few of the non-literary influences that Derrick Austin draws into his poems, which, as you might expect, are lyrical, lush, larger than life, and even gaudy (with a wink). In the spirit of our richest religious traditions, these poems marry the humor and grief of being alive—that intersection where the human spirit begins to lift toward the transcendent. Trouble the Water is unsettling, sensual, musical, and enthralling: it is the rare book that’s both deeply necessary and a sincere joy to read.
Sedrick Huckaby’s exhibition Three Forbidden F Words: Faith, Family, and Fathers featured works that largely celebrate the Texan artist’s spirituality and African-American heritage. Huckaby’s works are guided by an artistic vision and vocation to affirm those—especially family—who would otherwise remain seemingly unseen. This exhibition was held at the Valley House Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Dallas, Texas, earlier this year.
In 1970 a book was published that had a huge impact on the ways that many Christians looked on the relationship between faith and the art of the past century. It was entitled Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by Hans Rookmaaker. It was something of a paradox: it was one of the first books within the Protestant and, more specifically, the evangelical world to take modern art seriously, and yet Rookmaaker took a declinist attitude toward modernism and thus his narrative fed a gnostic approach that refused to see much good in modernity—the world we have inherited. Now comes a long-overdue corrective in the form of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism, by William Dyrness and Jonathan A. Anderson. Yes, this is a scholarly book, but there is no jargon here and the writing is strong enough that you can get swept up in the larger narrative. This book signals an important mid-course correction in evangelical scholarship about modern art and it should become a staple textbook in college and seminary classes.
C.E. Morgan’s ambitious second novel, The Sport of Kings, tackles American racial history, from the first planters migrating through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky to the modern problems of drugs, prisons, and health care—all through the lens of horse racing. What at first seems like an unlikely frame reveals itself as a canny choice: horse breeding, with its obsession with lineage and bloodlines, is congenial to the mindset of the oldest Kentucky planter families, who use the notion of their natural superiority to justify their violent domination of land and people. She never forces the metaphor, but it’s hard to miss: in their alluring combination of massive strength and great frailty, the horses are like the nation.
The Multitude blurs the lines between history and myth, the carnal and the holy, faith and doubt, the living and the dead, portraying, maybe contradictorily, a clearer image of what it is like to live in this world. By the time we reach the title poem, we’re ready to hear these lines: “Listen, if Christ arrives to feed the multitude, / it won’t be the kind of miracle you expect.” Neither is this book; it is a different kind of miracle.
All we might hope for in a good coming-of-age novel, we get here—sexual awakening, righteous rebellion, family tension—with satisfying plot surprises at the right moments, climaxing up to the very last page. The novel’s core of secrets means that little can be described without spoilers, and in any case, some scenes are so radiant that they must be read; but suffice to say that the main character, Omi, is justified when she muses at the end of the book: “If I come back, reincarnated, I want to be a glow-in-the-dark snake in a cave in India… I have no doubt now that if a doctor opens me up for surgery… it’s not blood and bones they’ll find inside, but thousands of terribly bright years.”
It’s not every day you hear an album interspersed with gorgeous flash fiction. Slow Dakota’s latest album, The Ascension of Slow Dakota, is like liturgy in the sense that story and song lack typical barriers and containers, splashing together in a river of word and sound. As you listen, you get the sense that these stories could be sung, and these songs can definitely be read on the page.
Some of these poems send the reader into the bodies of men facing societal violence: T.S.A. profiling, drone warfare, torture. Elsewhere, we are sent into the bodies of Adam and Eve, and of a contemporary married couple who reunite as lovers after the toddler is asleep. Read this book for its mind, its heart, its art, and for Majmudar’s gift for revealing large things—centuries, cultures—in the versicolor burn of the perfect detail.
In these essays by a “failed missionary,” D.L. Mayfield immediately shows us that she is self-aware about what she calls her own “evangelical fervor.” But as the book unfolds, it reveals a person who fully inhabits what is best about that fervor: compassion, energy, and a willingness to look like a bit of an idiot in the name of love. The result is a captivating blend of personal essay, deeply humane portraiture, and social commentary that breathes love in every paragraph.
If a grain of sand is the vulnerable individual, a mountain of sand can have tremendous aggregate power. Ned Kahn’s work raises essential Jewish questions about building a reality of meaning, community, and generation. Kahn says of Negev Wheel that, “I’ll be using sand from the desert in Israel, which is a complex mixture of sands blown by the wind for centuries from all over the region. The idea is to take a piece of the desert, frame it in a circular enclosure, subject it to elemental forces (rotation and gravity), and then let it express its nature,” a complexity within unity, and constant evolution within permanence. The work is a poetic reminder of a culture’s survival and evolution through the changes and turmoil of history.
Read the full write-up here.
This exhibition is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, California, through January 8, 2017. For more details and a video of the artist discussing his work, click here.
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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.