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Saying 'AMEN' to Peace and Tolerance

Fine Arts faculty member leads response to Catholic church-burning incident in Sudan

11/01/12
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Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts Khalid Kodi and several students hung pieces in the Bapst Library Gallery for an exhibition of artwork that will be used in the restoration of a Sudanese church destroyed by arson. (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Nov. 1, 2012

A trove of more than a dozen paintings en route to a Sudanese church undergoing restoration after being destroyed by arson comprise a current Bapst Library exhibition advocating universal acceptance and harmony.

The exhibition, on display in the Bapst Gallery through Nov. 11, showcases the work of the AMEN (Artists Movement to Engage Nonviolence) Project, an initiative launched by Sudanese-American artist Khalid Kodi, an adjunct professor of Fine Arts, in response to a Catholic church-burning incident last spring in a residential area in Khartoum, Sudan.
Supported by a number of groups at Boston College, Kodi is working with a multi-religious and multi-ethnic BC team of artists, including students and alumni, most of whom have taken his classes.

The group, which promotes peace and tolerance among all religions, has produced the works as part of a greater effort to rebuild the church, which also served as a prominent educational and residential facility.

The project, Kodi said, is rooted in universal principles of, and commitment to, peaceful co-existence and social justice.

“We are not so much replacing artwork but serving to help reconstruct a new and improved church for the people in Khartoum. The works themselves symbolize the unity and strength of religion, but the support network established by the AMEN Project reflects the ideology that we are all just people helping people.”

Over the summer, his team worked on a series of large-scale biblical paintings, which feature iconic religious images representing peace, harmony and tolerance. During the process, they received interest and support from local Sudanese community leaders and artists.

The paintings “range from traditional to modern, Western to African depictions of religious imagery,” according to Kodi. “We have a recreation of a well-known ‘Madonna and Child’ painting as well as an original work depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Some extend beyond biblical images and focus on political and religious leaders-portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Saint Bakhita.” Within the next few months the works will be shipped to the Sudan for installation. 

Kodi said the focus of his artwork is on “tackling issues concerning social justice and advocating universal tolerance of religion, ethnicity and culture. I closely follow ongoing issues in Sudan and often work on projects in support of spreading peace.

“When I heard what happened to the church in Khartoum, I knew a big project was needed; Sudanese community leaders, activists, friends and media (such as sudaneseonline.com), were thrilled that the project was underway. It’s this kind of collaborative work that is needed to end violent intolerance.”

In addition to the paintings they created, AMEN Project members conducted interviews with leaders in the fields of education and religion, who addressed the meaning of the church-burning incident, and the response of the AMEN Project.

Among those interviewed were members of the Boston College community, including Center for Human Rights and International Justice Director David Hollenbach, SJ, Professor of Theology and Department Chair Catherine Cornille, Professor of Fine Arts John Michalczyk, Associate Professor of Theatre and Arts Council Chair Crystal Tiala, and part-time Theology faculty member Raymond Helmick, SJ. The interviews are part of the Bapst exhibit, and are available for online viewing on the AMEN Project website, www.amen-projects.com.

“Many departments at Boston College were very eager to support us, including the Theology Department, the Jesuit Institute, the Institute for the Liberal Arts, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, and more,” Kodi said. “The team of artists dedicated their entire summers to complete the artwork. Everyone involved was so committed to the project — we all just wanted to do what we could to help.”

The Bapst exhibit, he continued, “is crucial not only for raising awareness about global issues, but also to emphasize that the student body has tremendous resources available to them for engaging in such projects. We gained support, both morally and financially, from various departments. So many people on campus played essential roles in developing this project.

“We are living in times of religious tension and intolerance,” he added. “The exhibition aims to spread this sense of collaboration and mutual respect.” 

In addition to Kodi, AMEN Project team members include seniors Sean Hackel and Anthony Ford, and 2012 alumni Kyle Craven and Diane Kim.

The exhibition is open during regular library hours. A reception will be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 4-6 p.m., with an informal discussion from 6-8 p.m.