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Sister Corita

Sister Corita (1918-1986) was a member of the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles and an influential graphic artist. She used bold typography, vivid colors, advertisements, lettering, logos, slogans, texts, mass media, and quotations from sources ranging from the Bible to the Beatles to create social and spiritual messages that commented on the cultural and religious issues of her era. Today, a new generation is rediscovering her work, attracted by what has been called “her festive involvement with the world” and her interest in “blurring the line between art and life.” The current exhibition of a selection of her prints at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC is drawn from the collection of Rev. Robert Giguere (1918-2003), a member of the Society of St. Sulpice. Watch an audio slideshow and listen to an interview with Kathryn Wat, curator of the exhibition “R(ad)ical Love: Sister Mary Corita.” Photographs by Patti Jette Hanley. Edited by Fred Yi.

 

KATHRYN WAT(Curator, National Museum of Women in the Arts): Corita’s art from the 1960s, which is based in advertising, has this great pop appeal to us today in our media-saturated culture. All of this art spins off of her intense emotional response to the issues of her time. In the ’60s, of course, here in America you’re dealing with the Vietnam War. This is certainly on everyone’s mind, and in addition the civil rights movement, which was very close to her heart. She’s in the middle of this maelstrom and seeks to make sense of it from her perspective as a nun.

I think that the tenor of the 1960s involved a push-pull with religion. There’s a work in the exhibition called “People Like Us Yes.” It includes text by Father Maurice Ouellet, who was active in the Selma marches in 1965, very high profile. And so, yes, you did have men and women religious who were involved with the politics of the time, but you also have this pop culture that is exploding with music and drugs and activities that seem sort of antithetical to, as I say, mainstream religion. So I see Corita involved in this push-pull that was happening across the spectrum in the 1960s.

There are works in this exhibition that feature texts from the Bible. There are several works that incorporate Proverbs. She quotes from many Christian authors, and so the Christian content is in the exhibition. But the way that she turns it and twists it by juxtaposing it with secular content and certainly with secular imagery that she’s drawing from popular culture is truly unique.

A work called “Wide Open,” and Corita incorporated, she sort of blends two texts. One, this psalm, Psalm 24 verse 9, with a speech that Lyndon Johnson gave to Congress about the issues of poverty in America. And so she took those two texts and combined them here in an amazing print.

Corita was looking for words that would be very evocative and that would lead us to a different place. So she would extrapolate those words, those phrases, in some cases, the images, and contextualize them in a way that made them spiritual and engaging.

Corita’s print about John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII incorporates the logo of the Sunkist citrus-growing company which was actually based in Los Angeles, and she also printed in some lemons and what looked to be limes, incorporated those elements into the print. She often used the word “sun” or an image of the sun to signify a person or an idea that she found particularly enlightening or clear-eyed, someone who was a visionary.

She certainly understood the outside art world and that it was distinct from her and different from her. She was interested in it, she engaged with it, but she stayed her own course. She had a certain task that she wished to accomplish through her art, and whether it was fashionable or favored by the art market, she wasn’t so interested in. I would say she had to have been the least naive nun that I can think of for sure.

I think that we feel that we’re living in dark times, and we look at this work, and we see someone who is creating supercool art that is very hip, but that is filled with a sincere spirit, and I think that’s tremendously appealing to all of us, not just art-goers and art-lovers, but all of us.

  • Alexandra Carrera

    For more information about Corita, please visit the Corita Art Center — which houses the largest collection of Corita’s work as well as an archive of ephemera and information about her life. Part of the Immaculate Heart Community, Corita’s former order, the Corita Art Center is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Corita’s art and teaching. We sell original serigraphs and facilitate exhibitions, including the present one at NMWA. Visit us at http://www.corita.org

  • Alexandra Carrerea

    For more information about Corita, please visit the Corita Art Center which houses the largest collection of Corita’s prints as well as an extensive archive, footage from which was used in this film. A project of the Immaculate Heart Community, the Corita Art Center is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Corita’s art and teaching. We sell original serigraphs, provide educational opportunities and facilitate exhibitions, including the one featured at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. For more information, visit our website at http://www.corita.org.

  • Nancy Walton-House

    Thank you for this introduction to Sister Corita’s work. It is certainly creative, impressive, integrative and directly related to the issues of her day. She reminds me of today’s young Jesuits at The Jesuit Post http://thejesuitpost.org whose “site is about Jesus, politics, and pop-culture, it’s about the Catholic Church, sports, and Socrates. It’s about making the case for God (better: letting God make the case for Himself) in our secular age.” We need more innovators like them.

  • Sidney Lawrence

    Wow. As a Berkeley student in the ’60s who subsequently went into contemporary art, this touches me on several levels. Like the era’s Rock Concert posters, these works sizzle with color; like Black Power and Vietnam protest art, they hit you with a message; and like Pop Art, Op Art and Minimalism, they delve into new realms of form and thematic expermentation. I recognize several of the posters from the “old days” but never knew (or remembered?) who made them. Sister Corita’s determination, skill and gentleness in carrying God’s message in the toughest of times is nothing short of miraculous. Kudos to NMWA for presenting this exhibition.

  • Barbara Loste

    As a former student and biographer of Corita, I suggest you look at her extraordinary work as an art teacher in the book “Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit,” co-authored with with Los Angeles graphic designer Jan Steward. This book is a must for all teachers of art, women’s studies professors, and anyone interested in creativity, multiculturalism, and leadership. Those of us who studied with Corita –and many who didn’t– have been forever changed by her compassionate work.

    Barbara Loste
    Life Stories of Artist Corita Kent (1918-1986): Her Spirit, Her Art, the Woman Within (Dissertation, Gonzaga University Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies, School of Education, 2000)

  • Tamar

    I’m a child of the sixties who lived in Cambridge, MA, during that era, and have had a lifelong love for this brave, brilliant cultural icon who transcended the false divide between religiously-observant and secular lives. Sister Corita affected this then freshly-minted Head Start teacher-educator in ways, I hope, that brought light and joy to my students, their families, and communities. Thanks for the segment.

  • Haydee Borre

    I have seen so much mudslinging coming from both sides, so many untruths spoken by both sides. I just don’t get what has happend to respect by both sides. I don’t expect it to get better until after the election and who knows if it will change then. It truly is disheartening.

  • The Door In The Wall Inc.

    We are actually selling “NOT MUCH OF A WEAPON” an Original 1966 Serigraph by Sister Corita. It was donated to our organization to raise money for the Disabled and their Families. We are a Ebay giving works Non Profit. Our Website is http://www.ditwtexas.org there is a link there to our store.