The Role of Artists When Peace and Justice Are Scarce

The artist behind the graphic design of the images for the Novena for Peace and Justice is Angelo Alcasabas, a parishioner of the Chruch of St. Francis of Assisi.  His genenrosity to share his talents made a huge impact on capturing visual attention of the participants of the Novena. He now describes his creative process while he engaged with social justice issues in the context of prayer and reflection throughout the Novena project.

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Senior Art Director Angleo Alcasabas

QWhat is your work and profession? How long have you been a graphic artist and any background you can share to help readers appreciate your artistic talent?

AA: I am a Senior Art Director and designer at a creative marketing agency that’s unique for creating content and strategies that target and empower the LGBT community. I’ve been creative ever since I was child, always inclined to take my thoughts and make them real somehow. My interests range from fine arts to digital media, and even music. So when I have an idea, I think in those forms.

Q: How did you come up with the concept for your graphic designs for this project and how did you decide on the elements and color schemes?

AA: The concepts for each illustration were inspired by what I read in each essay or statement. I read them a few times to see what phrases and thoughts arose to the surface and provided me a direction to take the illustration. I also took into account my reaction to the subject. In doing so, I created a visual that not only supports the article, but articulates my personal view on my the issue. The colors derive from “American” colors but adapted to be more eye catching. The style is very graphic in order to be simple and clear, but retains the natural shapes to be tangible and recognizable.

Q: What thoughts, feelings and ideas came to you while you were crafting each graphic representation for each novena day of prayer? How were they helpful or not helpful in the process?

AA:  One question I had for myself is what will I do to forward these issues beyond just crafting these illustrations. For my creative process, I had to read the essays too, and in doing so, I am participating and therefore called to do something. I am still asking myself that, and I am sure many people reading these will encounter the same challenge. I am glad that I can use my gifts of design and art to help causes, but I personally feel that I need do more beyond the computer or the pencil.

Q: Of all the pieces you created which one is your favorite? You can include the ones that weren’t published.

AA: I like them all for various reasons, but the one that got me thinking a lot is the racial justice one. I feel it is a good marriage between symbols (blind justice and the cross) and illustrates the essence of God’s love which is blind to our differences. In addition, the cross seems to personify Jesus with his arms holding us equally. This concept came quickly into my head, but I didn’t realize it’s full depth until I finished.

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Graphics for Day 6 of the Novena: Racial Justice

Q: What do you think is the role of art in pursuing social justice and how do you think artists ought to respond to this new era of legitimized and normalized exclusion?

AA: The artist, through his or her lens, translates what he or she sees in the world. Some artists choose to keep their thoughts to themselves, but in today’s climate, there is greater need for the artist to be thought leaders and to help others to see things they may not otherwise notice or care about. Art is a visual articulation of a reaction, a feeling, and an idea, or even 50 ideas. In terms of social justice, it’s role is to carry and communicate those thoughts to create solidarity and bring awareness to issues. The artist therefore is messenger and a champion of ideas. If we recall the image that illustrator Jean Jullien made after the Paris shootings (a combo of the peace symbol and the Eiffel Tower), it was shared like wild fire and we saw quickly how many people were unified in support of Paris during that time. In addition, the reason why quote images do so well on Facebook through shares and likes is because people feel it echoes what they have in their head or what they already said to others. Art therefore can validate and support people. In the end, art and the artist have the power to make the world a better place.

Q: How does your faith impact your art and how does art impact your faith?    

AA: My faith impacts my art through the process of creating the art. Sometimes, I start something and I have no idea what or where the answer is. Faith comes in when I trust that in the end, I will find the answer. In one way or another, I do find a solution, sometimes when I least expect it. The power of art, like music, is something magical. It reminds me that God is present and works through the things we create. Our work is an extension of us, so if we are “channels” of God’s love and peace, therefore our work functions the same way.

Q: What are your take-aways from this project?

AA: Use your gifts or what you are good at to speak up and take action. We are all powerful, and if we trust in God, anything is possible.

Meanwhile, apart from his job, Angelo continues to seek and welcome opportunities throughwhich he will be able to reach out those who have not realized their empowered state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art by Design; Green by Nature

The Eighth Work of Mercy — Care for Creation will be defined by creative initiatives that take the level of design beyond the box and into an appreciation for ecology within the creative process of restoration.

Bernadette Sarouli had worked in a packaging  firm in the San Francisco area until June 2015. Her office window used to face the back of her building where she saw deliveries and garbage pick-ups day in day out. It dawned on her how many oil containers, cartons and slats came in and out of their food service provider’s kitchen. Her curiosity consumed her so that as early as 2012, she had already started her research and development on a design whose goal was to totally eliminate waste.  She discovered that those oil plastic containers were unrecyclable and ended up in landfills due to their exposure to air contaminants. Worse still, billions of these oil containers and packaging wastes occupy volumes in landfills apart from the water bottles that form islands in our oceans. “I thought about this huge problem but I remembered how David defeated Goliath. In my mind I believed I could do something about the problem.”  Hence defines the start of Bernadette’s creative process.

Armed with her patented stainless steel fustis, Bernadette quit her job after three years of research and development. Still in the San Francisco area, she and her husband Lane Landry, placed betas for their company, Eco Refill Systems, LLC.  Somewhere in the process they discovered something more signficant in the cooking oil distirbution system.

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Author, Br. Ramon Razon with CEO and innovator, Bernadette Sarouli and her husband and Industrial Officer, Lane Landry

The problem was not only about the plastic oil jugs but all the packaging it included that inhibited these items from being recycled once they were exposed to air contaminants and residual oil. The food service industry would never spend more than they have to just sanitizing these units and packaging. As a result, they moved to integrate delivery and distribution into their business so that food service providers who place their orders would only have to turn the spout of the stainless steel fustis and let oil drip unto the cooking pan. This ushered the inception of the closed oil distribution system which meant total convenience to service food providers for the same cost but minus the hassle and waste when using plastic oil jugs.

The company’s goal is to eliminate all packaging wastes in the delivery of cooking oil to food service centers in the San Francisco area by providing a

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Bernadette’s patented design of a stainless steel oil fustis

closed oil distribution system. Whereas the open oil distribution system exposes oil and its containers to air contaminants, the closed system guarantees that delivery is done directly from bulk storage to kitchen users. This system radically eliminates any use for packaging. Eco Refill Systems delivers and replaces empty oil fustis as often as any food service provider needs to. Bernadette went to Twitter San Francisco and presented her service to their cafeteria. She had not have the chance to  finish her spiel yet when Twitter director concluded, “This is a no brainer. We’re on board with this.”

Currently their business is confined to the San Francisco area and is growing steadily. As it is, they are able to eliminate 14,383 plastic gallon containers annually from being abandoned to landfills. This does not count the plastic lids and labels, the contaminated carton packaging and residual oil that are eliminated altogether. Their business has no competition and they have still a long way to go in engaging the food service industry to consider their company’s impact on the industry’s green practices. However, Bernadette and Lane are genuinely passionate about their quest to take down a Goliath in a systemic environmental degradation through their closed oil distribution system.

Eco Refill Systems’ goals are to refill, re-use and restore. Of these is a striking statement that comes from restore: “Our vision captures the ideal of food waste returning to the farmers whose hands and backs nurtures the earth.

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Refilled stainless oil fustis ready for delivery; completing a 100% zero waste  distoribution cycle

This is the cycle that completes our mission and lends California our sustainability philosophy.” This embodies the integral ecology (Laudato Si , #137) which Pope Francis exhorts us to realize – to integrate care for creation in our concrete locations in society and within our relationships. The redemptive value of integral ecology hinges upon our compassion to direct and fashion our ablity to design and create solutions that bind the wounds of the Earth and of our relationships to one another. Bernadette and Lane started their company not only with the needs of the planet in mind but also of the people living in this planet. They have their hearts burning with urgency behind the Eighth Work of Mercy.

 

 

 

 

The Art of DeMoss: Angels and Their Pizzazz

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is a fascinating sacred space packed with symbolic art work that inspire worship and prayer. The tapestries are of course world-renowned. However, a very subtle but striking showcase are the candelabras that are buttressed on the walls of the nave.  Taking a closer look, I felt hooked into deciphering the type of personalities these angels represent.

Max DeMoss drew his inspiration from actual interviews with people who identified angels in their lives in the form of their friend, neighbor, and family.

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

It is impossible not to feel welcomed by this angel with his/her head tilted along with his/her body; right arm extending and left arm about to reach out with an open palm.  The angel is snub-nosed, has eyes that are almond-shaped, and has high cheek bones connoting Asian features. The  delight and warmth in the angel’s smile seem to break a long wait for a friend’s arrival. Notice the folds of the angel’s robe while lifting his/her knees to communicate excitement. Were the angel able to leave what seems to be his/her wings in the candelabra just to come forward and welcome, it would.

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

I had to second guess what emotion this angel is trying to convey. The angel’s bronze clothing provides an effective material to communicate precise body motion. Probably male, this angel seems to stand still, with his jaw dropping as if shocked to find someone unexpectedly in an unusual circumstance. Yet, one hand is out-stretched, the other holding his halo/crown of light. Concern and surprise seem to capture what this angel depicts but certainly he is planning his next step on how to approach the viewer. This angel, like the previous one is outward-bound, ready to approach the viewer’s vantage.

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Angel Candelabra by Max DeMoss, LA Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels; photo by Ramon Razon, OFM

With outstretched arms, this angel’s body is not just floating but ascending. This angel seem to express a desire of taking the viewer unto a place where his/her gaze is fixed. A serene, calm, and joyful face with Latino-African-American features, this angel evokes an unmitigated satisfaction of someone who understands his/her mission and is ready to take anyone up with him/her.

There are nine more candelabras in the nave.  To have these candelabras buttressed at the same place where the people of God are gathered and seated in order to worship is a significant message on the role of angels. Max DeMoss, conceptualized these angels through the lens of how people understood the role of other human beings in their lives as angelic. So yes, these angels are speaking to anyone in human terms.  Terms that are easy to understand, such as welcome, concern, open, joyful, calm, shocked, excitement — all real aspects of ourselves that help us to be less false and truer to who we are. I am convinced that the role of angels is exactly to help us realize our true selves in whatever journey we are in.  Surrounded by these angels in the nave of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the people of God are being supported and challenged to be who they really are before God in the Sacraments. This is the light which angels share with everyone.

Not a Pious Fable on Obedience

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

In postulancy, Jim Scullion, OFM introduced us to visio divina. It is lectio divina but instead of words, we use images from scriptures to reflect on the Word of God. He showed us Tanner’s Annunciation and one interpretation has always stood out for me. Sergio, a former classmate, interpreted Mary seen here clasping her hands, as being overwhelmed by the thought of becoming the mother of God. And that perhaps this event took longer than it did for us to read the entire passage. Sergio saw Mary mulling over Gabriel’s message and argued that it might have actually taken her the entire night to wrestle with her doubts on how this could be fulfilled in her. Finally came the break of day and she said yes, not because she relented but because she finally embraced mystery. I am now approaching my 3rd year of vowed life and Sergio’s reflection has only gotten more relevant for me.

The more I reflect on this passage especially in moments when I struggle with my vow of obedience, the more I am convinced that this event was never meant to be a pious fable on obedience. For every hope and struggle that deepened my appreciation of this passage, one thing has become clearer to me — the heart of the matter of this event was Mary’s struggle to hold the tension between her own doubts and her desire to follow God, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” she challenged Gabriel. Her obedience is as significant as the process she went through to embrace something beyond her understanding. To me this is the real basis of her humility.

Lesley Hazleton, an Islamic scholar, commenting on the significance of the Prophet Mohammed’s doubts upon his encounter with Allah has this to say about the similar process which Mary wrestled with and I quote, “Abolish all doubt and what’s left is not faith but absolute heartless conviction, you’re certain that you possess the truth and this quickly devolves to dogmatism and righteousness. By which I mean a remonstrated over weaning pride in being so very right.” We see none of this in Mary but a consciousness of her limits and doubts. For us it is our tendency to be right, I know this to be true for me because of the ego I sometimes cannot let go of. This is why I am convinced Mary is so crucial to our understanding of our Franciscan identity.

I borrow from the wisdom of one our friars. Convinced that he had all the answers when he missioned in Japan, Flavian Walsh confessed, “I came to Japan knowing all the answers but no one was asking me any questions! I began to read again the writings of St. Francis…Francis was saying that the missionary simply must live among people and make the divine quality of the Gospel visible…Who would not wonder at the man or woman who goes about the world without judging others? …It dawned on me that I do not need to have all the answers. I was simply called to live among people as a Christian, to listen to them and serve them.” It’s already challenging to realize that I do not have all the answers but more challenging than this is listening to the beat of God’s heart among the people I serve and encounter whether inside or outside the friary. This is because the way I listen to that beat is also influenced by my own prejudices, bias and personal history. It’s likely that Mary also had her own concept of the role which women like her played in God’s plan of salvation. To be part of that plan is just something beyond her. Luke echoes Mary’s sentiments in the Magnificat – “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.”

Mary’s divine quality was characterized by her role in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Fulfilling her role was not natural. She also struggled through God’s plan of salvation, wrestling, questioning, but always walking with God in humble service. Her next move was to visit and accompany her cousin Elizabeth, also embroiled in this unfathomable plan of salvation. Yes, God’s design is often unfathomable and it creates tensions and yearnings that sometimes we can never describe in words even in our own prayer. What do we do?

Gabriel assured Mary, “The Holy Spirit will overpower you.” Paul wrote a similar affirmation to the Romans, “But the spirit himself intercedes for us in groans too deep for words.” Paul’s take on the action of the Holy Spirit convinces me that the Annunciation is not about a narrow focus on Mary’s, “be it done to me according to your word”. Such approach on obedience can disenfranchise us of the struggle we go through to give our all to God, and in effect disenfranchise the work of the Holy Spirit in us. God’s plan of salvation continues to unfold with the same force of love that fulfilled the incarnation of Jesus Christ so that our struggles, our human brokenness more than our strengths and abilities remain the target of that force – “because he has remembered his promise of mercy.”

Every time I end my prayer and reflection on this passage I ask God a question, “So what now? What do you want me to create out of this struggle? How can this serve you?” The answers I get vary. Sometimes, I get the impression that the Holy Spirit himself has a very complex mind, almost like that of an artist. I can’t blame Mary for challenging the Angel Gabriel for being so vague. Yet, I find that God’s heart is always simple and always loving. I hope we all encounter God’s heart as we wrestle with our life’s toughest questions in relation to others and ourselves. Only through God’s heart can we really hold all the tensions that result from our attempts to give our all to God. To me that is what makes a well-discerned obedience. Happy Feast!

St. Francis Inn: The Art of Fellowship

St. Francis Inn: The Art of Fellowship

I am near the end of my two-week stint at St. Francis Inn and so much has happened since I got in last week. I want to capture my experiences of course by featuring Art forms at the Inn which impacted me most.

Untitled (Seraphic Angels on Rusted Tin) by Robert Lentz, OFM; Arrangement by Fred Diliger, OFM

Untitled (Seraphic Angels on Rusted Tin) by Robert Lentz, OFM; Arrangement by Fred Diliger, OFM

The artistic collaboration between Fred Diliger, OFM and Robert Lentz, OFM speaks of the fellowship that can happen through the gift of art. Fred received a four-piece icon on rusted tin from Robert, and he took the pieces to create an Easter arrangement that to me, elevated the three angels to signify the Trinity. This easily easily resonated Rublev’s Trinity icon.  The difference is that here,  Francis can be seen claiming the invitation to sit in the fellowship of the Trinity. This fellowship is extended to all people at the Inn.  Fellowship is a value that permeates all those who serve at and benefit from the Inn.

St. Francis of Assisi Taming a Wolf by Brian Ames

St. Francis of Assisi Taming a Wolf by Brian Ames

I never tire of viewing this mural  because it always holds a relevant message.  The heavy lines and stark contrast of colors draws my attention to Francis, the wolf, the empty beer can, the heroine syringe, the dead man’s profile, the bars, and then the squirrel and the dove.  The theme of redemption, taming the wolves or demons of our brokenness, finding gentleness and compassion in the midst of hard realities — all  these invite our truest self  to join and welcome others to the table of fellowship.  I bet this mural will always invite and inspire hope to all who come to the Inn.

"Smile Jesus Is at the Door" Eye Piece Poster for the Door

“Smile Jesus Is at the Door”
Eye piece poster for on the door of the Inn

And then for some reason, I just thought that the simplicity of this sign juxtaposed to the other art forms at the Inn makes the dynamism of life so present.

The courtyard is always teeming with activity from food  pick-ups and drop-offs to lines for meals.   Our feathered friends are seen here taking their share of the crumbs.  The Peace Pole is located at the courtyard’s garden.  Spring flowers bring a vibrant ambience to the guests who eat their breakfast at the courtyard.

"Feathered Friends" Pigeons at the Corutyard

“Feathered Friends”
Pigeons at the Corutyard

Peace Pole at the Courtyard

Peace Pole at the Courtyard

Yesterday, news reached us that long-time guest, Danny Burghart died due to a brain trauma.  No one knew  how he got the trauma but he was dead on arrival.  Life support sustained him for a while but he finally expired. His remains were cremated afterwards.  Dan has had a long struggle with alcohol.  Everyone knew how hard he tried. In the end, he could only give his best effort which really was not enough to save him.  Bill DeBiase, OFM at Mass this morning said a beautiful prayer that captures the essence of the Feast of the Ascension, “that Christ who has Ascended to heaven conquer the demons that plagued and burdened Danny.”

Obituary Notice at the Inn for Danny

Obituary Notice at the Inn for Danny

What gives art so much depth and meaning at the Inn is the thought that these art forms are present and ready to be appreciated through the life encounters of the people who pass through this place. Whether it be loss or gains, tragedy or success,  hate or love, the fellowship or Agape that happens everyday from the table of the Lord’s Supper to the tables at the Dining Room, starts and ends at this sacred space which breathes art:

Easter Chapel Arrangement by Fred Diliger, OFM

Easter Chapel Arrangement by Fred Diliger, OFM

Here Br. Fred integrated, some earthy objects like rocks, wood, fiber, fire/light to compose an Easter altar.  A drape of white linen hanging on the cross fixes the gaze of the community on Christ’s Resurrection, the goal of every activity, relationship, struggle, hope and aspiration of all those who come to the Inn.

Even More, God Is Mother

John Paul I, during the Angelus on September 10, 1978 made the controversial statement, “God is (our) father and even more He is (our) mother.”  The entire Christian world of course wondered what he was saying and many in the Vatican curia were convinced that he was just confusing the people of God.  What did he mean by that? Is God really mother?  Maybe it is true that God is our Father and he is truly even more our Mother.  I’ve been reflecting about it and I thought of my own mother and how her role in my life reflects the motherhood of God which John Paul I is talking about.  Then, I found Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son”. I think this captures my own stirrings accurately.

I would like to borrow some observations from Sr. Wendy’s reflection on Rembrandt’s piece.  A most notable aspect for Sr. Wendy is the red cloak that “comes out like a womb protecting the son”. This is so useful when reading the response of the father to his son. The son by his own fault and recklessness has been reduced to nothing: tattered clothes, worn out shoes, shaved head.  He is no longer nothing though because the love and mercy of his father has given him back his dignity.  In contrast is the other son, a man of fairness and the law looking through a trajectory of disapproval.  I whole-heartedly agree with Sr. Wendy that the father and the son are lost in intimacy.  Other observers notice  that the left side and more feminine hand of the father is the hand that really brings his son closer to him.

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“Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

I am convinced that love and mercy are truly feminine gifts and abilities.  When we, as men say that we are not really feminine, we lie about or simply dismiss the intrinsic feminine qualities we are endowed with.  Without the feminine in us we are sub-humans.  The role of our mothers is to make sure that we don’t end up as sub-human species and no other art work has communicated this to me than this.

I’ve seen how my mother has accomplished this role over and over again; through her sacrifices, even through the presents she sends me meticulously wrapped and packed, the prayers she offers for me, her every energy of love and goodwill. All of them have made me more genuinely human enough to love and show mercy to myself and others.

Isaiah 66:12-13 and Hosea 11:1-4 speak about God as mother who holds, feeds, comforts and heals her children.  The force of the feminine left hand of the father in Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son” simply stands as a reality in the picture against a backdrop of justice and disapproval.  Finally, the motherhood of God wins.  Easter has come and our mothers have brought us out of their womb to celebrate God’s triumphant motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day!!!!

Relentless, Reckless, Indiscriminate Love

Christ Crucified; Northern European (Possibly German), c. 1700; Ivory

Christ Crucified; Northern European (Possibly German), c. 1700; Ivory

Let me be clear.  I am against the use of ivory for any ornamental or decorative purpose because they come at the expense of killing countless elephants.  This piece dates back in the 1700’s when mindfulness regarding care for Creation was not part of the consciousness of 16th century Europe and the invasion of non-European countries was the “in” thing to do.

I found this piece displayed at the National Art Gallery and my camera played a trick that makes Jesus look like he’s dancing a 70’s gig.  The entire piece is anywhere between 7-10 inches.  Not that tall, so it really made use of the entire tusk, if that’s any consolation.

What is striking about this ivory sculpture is probably the detailed work of the anatomy, every muscle group, twitch of the shoulders, drop of the neck, stretch of the arm accounts for Christ’s willing gesture to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).  His hair and shroud suggests that the artist envisioned wind slapping the suffering or dead body of Christ upon the cross.   The face looks down to signal His surrender.

Everything about Christ’s body moves towards the viewer, and this may be the intention of the artist.  Unconditional love that knows only mercy as its limit, moves towards everyone who gazes on the crucifix. This is the story of Good Friday: relentless, reckless, indiscriminate love.  It’s tragic to think that this beautiful symbol comes from the destruction of a beautiful creature. Yet, love’s revenge is always love.  Relentless, reckless and indiscriminate love restores all things and makes them new.

I’m fascinated by the light that accidentally beams from Jesus’ index finger.  He seems to place a period  after his own life which has been entirely consumed by self-emptying love.  Finally, the people who walked in darkness has seen a great light (Is. 9:2).  Human tragedy finally finds its end as redemption floods into our human reality, and eternity is opened to all.