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The real meaning of icons

WAG working with gallery for exhibit based on religious art

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Art educator Rachel Baerg is pictured holding up an icon. The Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery is hosting a new exhibit, Embracing the I-kon, from Sept. 20 to Nov. 9.

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Art educator Rachel Baerg is pictured holding up an icon. The Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery is hosting a new exhibit, Embracing the I-kon, from Sept. 20 to Nov. 9. Photo Store

The Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery is hosting an art exhibit called Embracing the I-kon from Sept. 20 to Nov. 9.

Traditionally spelled as ikon (the Greek word for "image"), an icon, in this context, refers to an image of the divine and sacred, representing windows into heaven. Iconography comes from Eastern influences and Christian symbols and signs. This exhibit features work from Ukrainian iconographer Vera Senchuk and five contemporary Winnipeg artists whose work is "icon-inspired."

"There are all sorts of steps to create a ‘real icon’, and I don’t go through those steps," said Ray Dirks, one of the artists whose work is included in the exhibit. "I just sit down and paint, that’s why I consider myself to be inspired by icons."

Rachel Baerg, an art educator at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, is curating the exhibit. Baerg said there is a strict canon for "writing" or creating an icon, consisting of 21 steps.

"Traditionally, an icon is not based on the imagination of painters, but based on the word of God," Baerg said. "The iconographer uses their skills in the services of the church, ensuring the work conveys church teachings. Each stage is done with reverence."

According to a list of the eight main steps of creating an icon, written by Senchuk, an icon could take anywhere from a week to several months to complete. Patience and discipline are necessary qualities an artist needs to make an icon.

Dirks comes from a Mennonite background in which there isn’t an iconography tradition. Dirks created three large paintings inspired by icons, sending them to Mennonite churches all over North America to see how people reacted to them.

"These are things people aren’t used to having," Dirks said.

"If I ask my teenagers (what an icon is), they’re used to the word ‘icon’ in reference to technology," Baerg said.

Although unfamiliar to many people, Baerg ensures that iconography is still alive and, more importantly, is necessary for the world we live in right now.

"The majority of us see about 3,000 images per day. We’re saturated with images and we’re a consumer-driven world. I think people are looking for something that allows us to stop and think," Baerg said. "I think people are seeking spiritual images."

The exhibit opens at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20. There will also be a workshop with Senchuk on Oct. 24 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. The gallery is located at 600 Shaftesbury Blvd.

For more information about Embracing the I-kon, email Baerg at youth-programs@wag.ca

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