Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Controversial art comes to rest at Ketchum church

Express Staff Writer

Esoteric, religious art is not a common sight in the Wood River Valley. But among those who encourage interfaith gatherings and talks, there is an open mindedness that allows for such rare sightings to be made public. The Rev. Brian Baker and Rabbi Martin Levy invited visiting sculptor Royce Mallasky to temporarily install his piece "Ebony Ensemble" in St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum.

Tonight, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m., a viewing of the piece and an interfaith discussion about it is being held. Levy and Baker will be joined by Theresa Gregory of Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church. Everyone is welcome to attend the discussion.

"It's very evocative," Baker said of the piece. Indeed, "Ebony Ensemble" is a high glass table, which is held up by a mix of religious icons and material.

The crucified body of Jesus Christ acts as a beam that connects Abraham and the Virgin Mary at each end. Christ's face is bronze, and he wears a silver crown of thorns. In turn, he rests upon a bronze Star of David and a bronze crescent moon. The silver nails were made by an Albanian Muslim, Mallasky said. The ebony for the three figures comes from Nigeria, Madagascar and the Congo.

Mallasky lived in Ketchum for 15 years some 23 years ago. He built the compass at the intersection of Fourth and Leadville streets in Ketchum for what was to have been a pedestrian area. He currently lives in France.

"I got to thinking about how when we were growing up deities are set up high, God-like if you will," Mallasky said. "Jesus is usually portrayed as a white northern European when he was actually black or Arab. I wanted to bring the entities down to a level, to make people think about them. It's an intellectual thing."

He sent the piece here with some other work that will be for sale. The artwork took months to arrive. He was held up in Washington, D.C., for two weeks due to Department of Homeland Security procedures and other political issues. Mallasky said there was concern he "would ferment social unrest vis a vie art."

It was shown once before, in Berlin, where the piece was broken in a protest melee.

There is a lot of religious unrest in Europe, he added. He intends to tour with the piece to encourage more interfaith discussions.

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