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From Terra to Verde Showcases 30 Years of Aritst's Work at Ogden Museum



Emma Boyce takes a look at an Ogden Museum exhibit that showcases an artist's reckoning of Catholic beliefs through the use of symbols gleaned from outside of a church.

 

From Terra to Verde, now on view at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art showcases three decades of work by Houston native Sharon Kopriva. At first, her work seems to teeter on the edge of sacrilege with multimedia depictions of decrepit bishops, comical nuns, sacred places built on bones and mummies. Upon a closer look, however, the devoted Catholic’s work seems more an admiration of faith, albeit incorporating some of the darker overtones of religion as times.  

 

“[Because of] the mummy they assume that it is a highly critical view of the Catholic Church although most of the pieces are, in her language, very celebratory [of Catholicism],” says Ogden Museum curator Bradley Sumrall, who has been working on her show for a year.   

 

A life-size papier-mache bishop sits hunched over in a velvet throne made wheel chair with the bare shell of a dog in his lap. With his head titled down from the viewer, only the dog looks out with empty eyes. Another figure, identified in the title as Torbio, a Mexican martyr turned saint, wears a mitre and stands with his eyes closed, perhaps in prayer. Skeletal fingers reach out from behind his purple robe and lift up the cross hanging around his neck.  

 

Her travels to Peru and Machu Picchu proved particularly enlightening and are evident in the treatment of her figures as mummies, a prevalent practice in ancient Peruvian culture, and the recurring Peruvian dogs, reminiscent of Pre-Columbian Nazca sculpture.  The dogs, a hairless breed native to Peru, were seen as spirit guides.  Almost extinct by conquering European, the dogs have made a small comeback.  According to Sumrall, Kopriva also breeds them.  

 

“She tried to justify her Catholic belief system with these pre-Christian systems; trying to make these mummies out of papier mache,” says Sumrall.

 

Their hollow faces, vacant expressions and grayish coloring make these figures look like they were freshly dug up from the grave. This is not the religious, life-reviving resurrection we’re used to. It is, however, a religious practice that pre-dates the Christian religion. 

 

“[She depicts] abstract landscapes where it shows the bones of the earth opening up in a cavity. She sees all of our human history underneath it. That’s our history and our past,” says Sumrall.  

 

Surrounded by looted tombs in Machu Picchu,  she found her fictional landscape had materialized around her.  

 

Kopriva repeats the cone shape of the mitre throughout her work, tying together 30 years of art into one clear collection.  In cathedrals overrun with forests, sitting on a foundation of sticks and broken rib cages, tall, gothic stain glass windows stand out as the only hint of religion for some audiences.  For Kopriva, however, after 9/11 and sexual abuse scandals in the church, religion showed its face in the forests of Idaho, not in the confines of a church.      

 

“It’s not in the buildings of the church but in the forests itself where she talks to god.  In her work, nature is overtaking the building. It’s a representation of what’s happening inside,” says Sumrall. 

 

Other sculptures play with Catholic practices like marriage or confession. The priest is asleep (or dead) in a confession box decorated with animal skulls. A papier mache couple marry under a painted altar, but it looks as if their bodies have already started to decay.  

 

“Most contemporary artists have a limited art reference to draw from; it only goes back to late renaissance if you’re lucky.  [Kopriva’s] goes from ethnographic objects, [that are] pre-Christian, to Velazquez, Francis Bacon, [and beyond],” says Sumrall.  

 

From Terra to Verde is on view through Jan. 7, 2013.

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

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Michael Weber, B.A.

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Linzi Falk

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Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

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