Sacred Art and the Journey Toward Justice

Join the Medieval Institute and the Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College for the third in our webinar series on pilgrimage – Pilgrimage for Healing and Liberation. Sacred Art and the Journey toward Justice will consider the sacred art of pilgrimage routes and contemporary iconography. How do icons facilitate an encounter with the divine and with the beloved neighbor? In whose face do we see God? Artist Kelly Latimore joins us to discuss inclusive representation and Black-Brown iconography as a subversive element within the Christian tradition.

Pilgrimage for Healing and Liberation is co-sponsored by the Department of Africana Studies, the Department of Theology, Program of Liberal Studies, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion, and the Notre Dame Initiative on Race and Resilience.

Speaker:

  • Kelly Latimore, artist

The third virtual event in the Medieval Institute’s Pilgrimage for Healing and Liberation series explored the sacred art of iconography and its intersection with racial justice. This event was moderated by professor Richard Klee, Affiliate Faculty member of the Notre Dame Initiative on Race and Resilience. Klee spoke with artist and iconographer Kelly Latimore from Saint Louis, MO. Latimore’s icons often mix classic orthodox iconographic imagery with figures representing the marginalized and the oppressed among us here and now. Latimore’s icon “Refugees: La Sagrada Familia,” in which the flight to Egypt is interpreted as Latinx immigrants crossing the desert, adorns the cover of Pope Francis’s book, A Stranger and You Welcomed Me. Latimore has also created a diverse array of icons of unexpected saints such as poet Mary Oliver, congressman John Lewis, and Mr. Rogers. To begin, Klee and Latimore discussed Latimore’s journey as an artist and important themes in his work. Their conversation was followed by an opportunity for questions from viewers.

Latimore studied religion and art at Greenville University. He started painting icons in 2010 while a member of the Common Friars, a small monastic farming community in Athens, Ohio. The community runs Good Earth Farm, which grows produce for local food pantries. That experience took his “spirituality from transcendence to communion, engagement, and embodiment” and taught him “that the way we use things is of the utmost spiritual significance” (6:06). Latimore became curious about icons, which are “written images” that point toward the person of Christ or the saints. He began tracing the lines of the old masters, like the medieval Italian painter Cimabue, teacher of Giotto. These artists of the past have “done the work of holy pondering” and continue to inspire Latimore (12:48).

Klee noted the influence of medieval perspectives on the body in Latimore’s icons of Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis entered into the suffering of the poor and oppressed and his life made “the invisible” presence of God “visible” in the world outside church walls. Latimore’s art is also influenced by the witness of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Day’s life and example show that the work of caring for your neighbor is work that we can all do. As Day saw the face of Christ in the urban poor, Latimore makes icons that identify Christ with immigrants, refugees, and the homeless poor living in tent cities. 

Latimore is currently working with parishes that want new representations of Christ as Black and Brown. In America, the dominant image of Jesus is of a blonde and blue-eyed white man. If church art only shows God and authority as white, then how do people of color see themselves in Christ, and how do people who are white see people of color? (36:31) Some of Latimore’s Black/Brown icons have provoked resistance. He made the icon “Mama,” an image of the Pièta representing George Floyd and his mother, not only to mourn Floyd’s death, but also to ask viewers: What are we going to do so that mothers are not continually losing their daughters and their sons, who are unjustly murdered by the State, just as Mary did 2,000 years ago. (26:49) The pushback that icons like this one receive can be productive when it generates dialogue around racism and xenophobia. Sacred art can help us name the racism within ourselves and name the ways we are not loving our neighbor well. (30:03) 

Latimore believes these hard conversations need to happen if we’re really going to be a church that is welcoming of everyone. “To deny the image of God in anyone is a complete denial of the Incarnation.” (37:54) Moving forward, he hopes to foster dialogue around representation and inclusion within the church.

Visit the event page for more.


  • Art can be a placeholder for a community’s thought, prayer and action. (9:54)
  • If you’re looking for Jesus, go walk through your neighborhood, and you’ll find him. (17:57)
  • By carrying the tradition of iconography into the present, “we can learn how to see Christ right among us. (19:17)
  • The experience of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus 2,000 years ago, that is still happening to the homeless poor, to the refugee who is fleeing violence in their homeland. (19:36)
  • The seeds of genuine love are planted in the most ordinary acts of giving someone soup or a warm bed to sleep in. The Holy Family is among us here. (22:15)

  • “What it means to be human is about learning how to be more present.” (Kelly Latimore, 6:40)
  • “As we’re working the land and caring for our neighbors, how do we be people, in Jesus’ words, that can continue to consider the lilies of the field?”  (Kelly Latimore, 9:12)
  • “Making the invisible visible is work that I hope to continually do with iconography by displaying images of people who are in the margins here and now, and that could be in plain sight.” (Kelly Latimore, 15:16)
  • “As we struggle with the image of God, we’re struggling with something that’s also within ourselves.” (Kelly Latimore, 27:41)
  • “Representation really does matter.” (Kelly Latimore, 34:16)

Religion and PhilosophyAnsari Institute for Global Engagement with ReligionBlack Brown IconographyCushwa Center for the Study of American CatholicismDepartment of Africana StudiesDepartment of TheologyDigest151Digest152Digest175Digest178digest222Kelly LatimoreMedieval InstituteNotre Dame Initiative on Race and ResiliencePilgrimageProgram of Liberal StudiesUniversity of Notre Dame

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