Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Studio series: 1 in 6 (Hunger)

1 in 6: Hunger © Karen Thiessen 2010
In 2009, Ray Dirks, curator of the Mennonite Heritage Gallery in Winnipeg, Manitoba, contacted me about a group exhibition. It was summer and I was up to my eyeballs in work, so I ignored it. Thankfully Ray was persistent and he encouraged me to read the proposal, so I did. Then I started laughing, really laughing: a Mennonite organization was commissioning two artworks for a show that would travel across Canada and they were paying a decent fee. If you're Mennonite, you'll understand my surprise and amusement (Mennonite + visual art + money = laughter). If you're not, please let me explain. First: Mennonite churches are full of brilliant singers and musicians, so congregations emphasize music as a form of artistic expression. The visual arts are often under-developed and misunderstood, and artists are few and far between. Second: Mennonites are both frugal and generous, giving loads of money and volunteering thousands of hours to good causes like Mennonite Central Committee, Ten Thousand Villages, Mennonite thrift shops and more. Mennonites rarely commission artwork and offer to pay a proper price for it: generally, if they want it, they want it for free or for very little. 

Obviously I said yes -- this was history in the making. I was one of 19 artists from across Canada and around the world commissioned to make artwork for a show called Just Food which addresses the right to food from a faith perspective. Ray Dirks invited me because he knew my work would be a bit different and not so literal. Both are true.

1 in 6: Hunger is made up of six 8" square panels collaged with images of our over-consumption of food, fuel, and material goods. In my research I learned two troubling statistics: one in six people in the world are hungry and one in six people in the world are overweight. As I thought about it, I realized that those of us who have so much are also hungry. We are hungry for love, acceptance, respect, and community and we consume food and things to try to fill that void.

The Just Food exhibition has already travelled to three galleries in Manitoba and is now at its first stop in Ontario. It is on display at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo until September 27, 2011 during the regular viewing hours of 9 am to 7 pm, Monday through Friday, or by appointment (call 519-885-0220).

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