Drawing on relationships

Exhibition inspired by artist’s world travels, explorations of culture and faith


Advertise with us

What others might see as a diverse exhibit of creative work, artist Ray Dirks envisions as a network of interwoven relationships drawn from years of meeting people around the world.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2022 (185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What others might see as a diverse exhibit of creative work, artist Ray Dirks envisions as a network of interwoven relationships drawn from years of meeting people around the world.

“What interested me the most was trying to get to know ordinary people,” the 67-year-old Dirks says about a retrospective of his work now showing at the Mennonite Heritage Centre (MHC) Gallery at the Canadian Mennonite University.

“We’re all created in God’s image. We’ve all equal and we should be known and respected.”


The MHC Gallery is hosting a retrospective exhibit of the work of the gallery’s founder and curator, Ray Dirks. Dirks retired after 23 years in summer 2021. The show, Thankful: Moments, Memories and Some Art, runs until Jan. 14, 2023.

The exhibit of 75 paintings, drawings, collages and photographs created by Dirks over five decades runs at the gallery until Jan. 14, 2023.

Set up in reverse chronological order from the entrance, the exhibit includes pieces from large projects and exhibits Dirks co-ordinated over the years, pen and ink illustrations for magazines, calendar art and photographs from his many international travels, including a stint as an election observer in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. Several works from his series of paintings on the experience of refugee Mennonite women also featured in his book Along the Road to Freedom: Mennonite Women of Courage and Faith dominate the main floor gallery. Two of his childhood drawings show just how far he’s come, both in style and in subject matter.

“I drew the Flintstones as hockey players because that’s what I was into in those days,” recalls Dirks of his 11-year-old self.

“Most of the time I was drawing as a kid, it was a way to deal with emotions and to escape (the reality of) having a very ill mother.”

Most of the exhibit features portraits of various sizes, including one of his mother just before her death in 2005, many accompanied by information explaining how and why the works were created.

“Often the story leading to the piece is more important than the artwork,” says Dirks, who founded the gallery in 1998 and retired in 2021.

Those stories — and the emotions they convey — are evident in Dirks’ portraits, says longtime artistic collaborator Manju Lodha, who has worked with Dirks on educational workshops and the recently released book A World of Faith and Spirituality. The pair also won an award for their interfaith work in 2018.

“The people in his art speak to the audience,” explains Lodha, a practising Hindu and Jainist who has also exhibited her work at the MHC Gallery.

“Very few people can do that. His art is full of feelings.”

During his tenure as curator of MHC Gallery, Dirks invited artists from across religious traditions to display their work and engage in conversations about faith and diversity, mounting more than 150 exhibitions over 23 years.

“Yes, it’s an art gallery but a whole lot of what happened in the gallery had nothing to do with art,” says Dirks, whose goal was to open the exhibit space to people of all faiths and cultures.

“We start with art, but that’s a way to reach much deeper into a community and deeper in a faith tradition.”

That’s a direction gallery director Sarah Hodges-Kolisnyk plans to continue. She’s fielding exhibit proposals weekly, with many artists eager to be part of a gallery that is known for its intercultural and interfaith focus.

“My goal is to continue making it a space where people can engage in dialogue and tell stories over art and foster community through art,” says Hodges-Kolisnyk, who took over the job in April.

For Dirks, decades of making art with others and hearing their stories have deepened his own spirituality first nurtured in the Mennonite church.

“Where I find comfort is in mystery, not in certainty,” says the B.C.-born father and grandfather.

“When I look at art that really isn’t telling you what to think, if you spend time with it, you can take in what you want.”


The Free Press is committed to covering faith in Manitoba. If you appreciate that coverage, help us do more! Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow us to deepen our reporting about faith in the province. Thanks! BECOME A FAITH JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.

Brenda Suderman

Brenda Suderman
Faith reporter

Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.

Report Error Submit a Tip

The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.


Advertise With Us