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Sacredness and Solidarity: A Conversation with Artist Janet McKenzie

By Jillian Ewalt

Janet McKenzie’s art has been displayed widely in galleries and museums, installed in worship spaces (including here at the University of Dayton) and reproduced on the pages of books. 

But McKenzie’s work occupies another important social space. It can be seen, held high above the crowds, carried by demonstrators marching in support of racial and gender equality and women’s rights. Most recently, a reproduction of her painting “Jesus of the People” was displayed prominently among the flowers, notes, candles, and memorabilia at the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis. 

The Vermont-based artist didn’t set out to create activist art or initially intend for her work to be associated with social movements. What she did want to do was to pay homage to groups that have been under-celebrated in sacred art.

‘Inclusion, not exclusion’

“My art,” she says, “presents Jesus and Mary and many others in diverse ways because the essence of Jesus is about inclusion, not exclusion. Every one of us is created beautifully, mysteriously and equally in God’s likeness.” 

The University of Dayton houses five of McKenzie’s works. An original commission, “Mary — Mother of Enduring Love” is installed in the northern devotional space in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Four additional prints — “Mary and Jesus with the Papel Picado”; “The Holy Family”; “The Divine Journey: Companions of Love and Hope”; and the award-winning “Jesus of the People” — are housed in the Marian Library’s collection of sacred art. To view and learn more about these works, see the image gallery below.

Celebrating Diversity through Marian Art

McKenzie says she is “called to present Mary in varying and inclusive ways so women worldwide may see themselves in her.” Mary, she says, is “familiar, beloved and a needed source of hope and inspiration in this very wounded world.” 

The appearance of her work in recent calls for justice and equality has been rewarding, she says, for the cause of racial equality is not only worthy, but long overdue.

“Racial justice can happen in many ways including sacred art,” the artist shares. “My hope is that the more familiar we become seeing everyone as created in God’s likeness, the less violence, racial prejudice and hate there will be.” 

For more information about McKenzie’s work, see her website. For more information about the Marian Library's art collection, contact Jillian Ewalt, librarian for visual resources

More artist interviews

This is part of a series of conversations with artists. Others include:

— Jillian Ewalt is an associate professor and librarian for visual resources in the Marian Library.


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