When people think of art, Mennonites might not always be the first group to come to mind. Yet as Magdalene Redekop points out in Making Believe: Questions About Mennonites and Art, creativity through the arts is very much a part of Mennonite life, whether as a means of confirming identity as part of a community or as a means of questioning what it means to be a Mennonite.

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When people think of art, Mennonites might not always be the first group to come to mind. Yet as Magdalene Redekop points out in Making Believe: Questions About Mennonites and Art, creativity through the arts is very much a part of Mennonite life, whether as a means of confirming identity as part of a community or as a means of questioning what it means to be a Mennonite.

Redekop is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Toronto and has been a presenter on the topic of Mennonites and writing. She is also the author of several books, including Mothers and Other Clowns: The Stories of Alice Munro.

Artwork that can be hung on walls or displayed on shelves is a major focus of the book, including such visual artists as Wanda Koop, who founded Art City here in Winnipeg, and the author’s own sister, Elizabeth Falk. The text also features discussions of writing ranging from Thieleman J. Van Bracht’s 17th-century Martyrs Mirror to modern writers such as Rudy Wiebe and Patrick Friesen.

Music is also represented in a discussion of Ben Horch, known for his part in commissioning the Mennonite Piano Concerto by (non-Mennonite) Victor Davies. The author points out that ironically, at least one of the traditional "German" songs that make up the concerto was originally composed in English.

The idea of identity is central to the book as the author examines the ways in which her subjects have embraced or ignored their Mennonite heritage as a faith, an ethnic identity or both. "Identity is always in process, something that we create while interacting with others," she writes. While some authors and artists have used their creativity to address their Mennonite heritage, others have not.

In her chapter on the "Mennonite Renaissance," Redekop discusses a crisis in representations of Mennonites going back to the 16th century in Switzerland and the Netherlands, and how people have confronted these ideas. Until the second half of the 20th century, Mennonite participation in the arts was limited but has flourished since then, with poets such as Sarah Klassen and Di Brandt taking their place alongside other writers, painters and more.

Even then, Mennonites have not always known how to represent themselves, as Redekop points out in her chapter "Location, Dislocation." Here she discusses the limitations of the collection Harvest: Anthology of Mennonite Writing in Canada, with its large sections in German, as well as the Mennonite self-portrayals in Rhubarb magazine and other publications.

Many readers might be intrigued or puzzled by the comparisons Redekop makes between Mennonite literature and other works, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, while her connection of Reformation leader Menno Simons with the trickster tradition could be especially jarring to some readers. The topics in the book are wide-ranging, covering both the place of Mennonites in the wider artistic community and the author’s own reflections on various aspects of Mennonite history and heritage.

Despite its length and somewhat academic style, Making Believe is a relatively accessible book. The author’s personal anecdotes and frequent references to her own sister’s work help to balance the academic segments of the book, while the extensive historical and literary references give the book an important place in scholarship.

With an extensive bibliography and index, together with photographs of artwork that the author discusses, the book is a useful resource for students of art or Mennonite history, or for anyone interested in learning more about the subject.

Susan Huebert is a Winnipeg writer, editor and pet sitter.

 

Susan Huebert

Susan Huebert
Elmwood community correspondent

Susan Huebert is a community correspondent for Elmwood

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