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Sacred Spaces: Devotional Images and Photography by Alex Harris

April 1, 2008 - February 28, 2009

Blessing Family Gallery

A figure of the Virgin Mary on a chest, a delicate rosary hanging from a door handle, and a colorful tin cross gracing a bedroom wall are personal and intimate manifestations of faith. Devotional images within the home are a tangible link between the physical and the spiritual. They tell us of an individual’s or a family’s relationship to God and the heavenly realm. Whether it is a simple altar, a grouping of images or a single item, these objects of intrinsic divine force are believed to protect the home and symbolize respect and reverence for the saintly.

The Santos are Back!

The Fine Arts Center was one of the first institutions in the country to collect, study and exhibit Hispanic arts of the Southwest. Museum founder and benefactor Alice Bemis Taylor began collecting New Mexican religious works in the 1920s and eventually gifted her treasured collection to the FAC when it opened in 1936. Today, this collection is considered one of the most extensive and high-quality Southwestern Hispanic collections in the country.

After many years on view in exhibits such as the beloved Sacred Land: Indian and Hispanic Cultures of the Southwest, many of these delicate pieces required conditioning and cleaning. We have spent many months in a comprehensive process to prepare the artworks for exhibition while safeguarding them for years to come.

In this exhibition, examples of devotional objects from the Hispanic collection are shown alongside a series of color photographs by Alex Harris. In 1972, Harris made a rural Hispanic village high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains his home. For over twenty years, he documented the lives and culture of this Hispanic community. The vibrantly painted homes of village elders and the elaborately decked and customized low-rider cars of the younger generation reflect a tradition of self-expression that unites the material with the spiritual by endowing everyday objects with love, beauty, and blessed meaning.

Intimate sacred spaces in Hispanic homes have a long and rich history. They testify to centuries-old pre-Hispanic traditions of indigenous groups such as the Maya, Toltec and Mexica creating domestic altars to their deities. After the Spanish arrived in the Americas, bringing their own Catholic sacred imagery, a distinctive and unique syncretic style of private devotion emerged. The representations of faith that developed incorporated both Christian and indigenous elements. Home altars flourished in the 19th century when Mexicans living in territories annexed by the United States felt disconnected from the English-speaking Catholic Church. Historically, the presence of religious imagery has permeated all aspects of life in Catholic-Hispanic cultures throughout the Americas.

These selections of inspiring devotional images, complemented by the intimate scenes of spiritual life captured in Harris’s photographs, speak of generations of artistic and cultural customs. Still today, a home life surrounded by visual elements of faith conveys an important aspect of Latino identity—a vital tradition deeply rooted in religious devotion.