Giving Shape to Faith

In “The Doubting of St. Thomas — after Caravaggio,” Thomas reaches forward, touching the wound in Christ’s side as though its palpability made it more real than it had been before. This is a shared experience for the art lover: sculptor Nena Bryans offers tangible expressions of her faith, which in turn make faith itself more real and gripping than before. Her exhibition of sculpture, “Giving Shape to Faith,” inaugurated the new gallery space at the Erdman Hall Conference Center from November 2 to December 6.

All of her works deal with people. From Bible stories to modern families, her characters are diverse and complex. “Women at the Tomb” offers a close look of three faces, subtly expressing surprise, fear, and peace. They are looking not into the tomb as we usually imagine it, but out of the sculpture and into our world. Hanging opposite, “Haitian Breadline” depicts whole families, all drawn by the same tiredness, and symmetrical in their hollowed, empty bowls.

Bryans culls her visuals from biblical stories, the artistic tradition, and modern life, but also from the work of theologians. Quoting Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi, one caption reads: “A procession of angels pass before man when he is traveling, … saying, ‘Make room for the image of God.’” In Bryans’s sculpture “Make Way for the Image of God,” children, businesswomen and men, and even a dog follow after the angel, and her point is made.

While some of Bryans’s sculptures are more cognitive, others are borne out of a more vulnerable expression of emotion. An adult face emerges from amidst folds of cloth as though swaddled, sleeping with the peace of a child. Two giant, gentle hands hold this sleeping form in “Rest in the Peace — after Kathe Kollwitz.” It is here that Doubting Thomas finds balance. Though we probe and question, we are still able to close our eyes and relax in the love and security of God.

Copyright 2000 Princeton Theological Seminary
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