Julie Hanna's "Life."
Julie Hanna

An exhibit of photographs by Santa Barbara college students and community members is currently on display at the University Religious Center (URC), an Isla Vista organization that has been offering a faith-based space to UCSB students for the last five decades. The URC also provides an interfaith link between several religious groups in Isla Vista, among them St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, the Hillel Jewish Youth Organization, and St. Mark’s Catholic Church.

Kevin McKiernan's "Cow, New Orleans."
Kevin McKiernan

To mark the Center’s fiftieth anniversary, the staff organized a photography competition, in which each entry must answer the question “What’s Sacred?” The URC received at least 100 entries, and selected thirty of these to exhibit at the Center. While a fair number of the photos feature traditionally sacred objects — a crucifix and a Buddha are prominent among those — subject matter ranges from the Israeli flag to images of nature to a TV remote control.

While the room used for the exhibit is not specially designed for the display of art, URC Executive Director and exhibit curator Patty Forgie has made the most of the available space by attending to how the images catch the eye when displayed against the walls, which vary in color and texture. One wall, composed of concrete bricks, has been filled with the most vibrant of the images, and the brilliant colors draw the eye instantly to this end of the room. One of these images, a shot of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, is the winner of the competition’s UCSB Student Award. The mountains in Marin Packer‘s photograph appear to glow, and the image is framed by a wooden scaffold in the foreground.

Jared Lindahl's "Ascent from the Tomb of the Virgin Mary."
Jared Lindahl

Nature images play a large part in the exhibit, but another interesting theme that emerges is that of family. First prize winner Julie Hanna‘s “Life” is a portrait of her grandmother taken a month before she passed away. Placed by Forgie on a wall reserved for photos of major life events, the black and white image captures hope and love and is as sacred as any image of a religious icon could be.

The exhibition is eclectic, and probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. And yet, the fact that each photograph was taken in a certain frame of mind draws them all together. The photos were taken literally all over the world, from Jerusalem to Antelope Canyon, Arizona, and from post-Katrina New Orleans to Bangalore, India. The subjects are disparate and the photography techniques differ. Perhaps it is Forgie’s skill in arrangement, and perhaps something more elusive, but the images fit together as well as many exhibitions of art created homogenously.

The University Religious Center is planning to continue exhibiting art related to its mission of interfaith amity. This show will hopefully be followed by another exhibit in the fall, tentatively titled Faces of Peace and composed of oil portraits of public figures who worked for peace, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Eleanor Roosevelt. If it’s as good as What’s Sacred, it’ll be an exhibit worth the trip to Isla Vista.


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