Art's oddity a cultural critique
Surreal images highlight tension with plain culture of artist's rootsBy Robert Rhodes Mennonite Weekly Review
Swartzentruber, who teaches art at Grace College in Winona Lake and attends a nondenominational church with his wife and children, said he hopes the paintings will “open up dialogue” about conservative culture, even while broadening public perceptions about who Mennonites really are.
Though he admits he has tried to make sense of the contradictions present in his native culture, Swartzentruber said, “I don’t know that that’s something I’ve managed to resolve.
“I think I’m just as confused as when I started … [but] I won’t revisit Mennonite culture in future work. I feel a closure to it, but the next work will have a spiritual dimension.”
The Goshen exhibit will mark the public debut of “Pop-Mennonite.” Viewers also can find it on the artist’s website.
Though it hasn’t been seen by a large number of people yet, “Pop-Mennonite” has made an impression on some of those who have.
In the May 16 Canadian Mennonite magazine, Ilse E. Friesen, an art history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., wrote: “[Swartzentruber] portrays the shortcomings of his own ethnic community, confronting and even caricaturing their systemic problems and troubling aspects, so that sins, temptations and depravities are not only characteristic of the secular world outside.”
Ervin Beck, a retired Goshen English professor who serves on the Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee, said
while the collection critiques conservative society, it does so fairly and also emphasizes positive aspects.
“It’s a provocative exhibit, a provocative work, [but] I think there’s also appreciative elements in it,” Beck said. “It’s the culture he came out of, so he knows it intimately. There’s a lot of context there.”
Because the images in “Pop- Mennonite” defy many common perceptions about art, Swartzentruber said he doesn’t expect the collection to have substantial appeal in the wider art world.
“I feel like my intention in doing this project was for myself,” he said. “It was very much for an audience of one… . Maybe there’s enough Mennonite in me [that] I don’t want to be part of the world market.”
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