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Faith through the eyes of an artist


May 5, 2003
MC Canada release by Allison Peters with Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man.— Ray Dirks sees his faith through the eyes of an artist, and God as the ultimate multi-media art director.

Dirks has been able to witness first hand God’s art direction as he’s traveled to 16 countries on five continents, gathering art and taking daily life photographs of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ members for an exhibit at the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) global assembly this summer in Zimbabwe.

In 1998 Dirks asked MWC if the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery could coordinate the “Our Family” exhibit for the Zimbabwe event. The photographs depicting everyday Anabaptist/Mennonite life will be accompanied by artworks by artists from each participating country. The exhibit will eventually go on tour and result in a book.

Larry Miller, executive secretary of Mennonite World Conference, says this exhibit reveals both the unity of the global church and the diversity of the people within it. "In it, we catch remarkable glimpses — through the eyes of artists from around the world — of the faith journeys through good times and hard times of brothers and sisters scattered across the MWC family of faith."

When he travels, Dirks makes a point of staying with ordinary people in ordinary places, seeking connections with artists while consciously avoiding tourist hotspots. “I want to get to know the people, their daily activities, their food, and their congregations. Staying with ordinary church members allows me to get a better picture of their lives. By North American standards most of my hosts have not been well-off, yet they share so openly and generously of whatever they have. It’s a tremendous witness, very humbling and always an honour for me to stay with such wonderful folks.”

Dirks has been curator of the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg since it began running exhibits full-time in 1998. He’s also been involved with art in a variety of places, most recently as Artist in Residence at the Overseas Ministry Study Center and research fellow at the Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. As a research fellow from September to December 2002 he had opportunities to speak and exhibit his own work.

The Gallery displays six different exhibits per year, showcasing both local and international artists from a variety of backgrounds. As part of the art community of Winnipeg, the Gallery offers something a little different without competing with other galleries. “It’s generally not art for art’s sake,” says Dirks, “but rather art about issues and ideas.”

Dirks sees that art can be a vital part of the church as well as the community. As an official part of Mennonite Church Canada, the Gallery works to show that art has value for the church. “It is a chance to meet God,” says Dirks, “it can work the same as music or literature in that way.”

Dirks and his wife Katie live in Winnipeg with their daughters Lauren (18) and Alexa (15). They attend Jubilee Mennonite, a dual-conference congregation.