Jesus of the People
About Janet McKenzie *Including Video*
Jesus of the People
Late in 1999 Janet McKenzie’s painting “Jesus of the People” was selected winner of the National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus by judge, Sister Wendy Beckett, host of the PBS show “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting”. In the words of Sister Wendy, “This is a haunting image of a peasant Jesus – dark, thick-lipped, looking out on us with ineffable dignity, with sadness but with confidence. Over His white robe He draws the darkness of our lack of love, holding it to Himself, prepared to transform all sorrows if we will let Him.”
Ms McKenzie’s position as winner has been life-altering as well as humbling. Her goal was to create a work of art in keeping with her beliefs as a person and artist, and inclusive of groups previously uncelebrated in His image especially African Americans and women. She hoped “Jesus of the People” might remind that we all are created in God’s likeness. The worldwide welcoming celebration of this interpretation of Jesus and the gratitude expressed to her – as well as the onslaught of negative responses – affirm her belief that this work, this particular vision of Jesus, was meant to exist now.
Jesus of the People receives responses from people all over the world. This touching poem was written in 2013 by a very special young woman, Kaeley J. McEvoy, and sent to Janet McKenzie, who is honored to share it here.
Portrait of Jesus at Six A.M.
This morning I woke up with a brush in my hand, determined to deconstruct the image of a mono-toned man who only reflects one side of salvation.
The hieroglyphics of hierarchy have bleached your blemishes With despotism and domination since before I was conceived But this morning, it will change.
This morning, the silenced voices of my own ancestors will dance Through the hues of your hair.
This morning, the persecuted presence of lost populations Will thrive through the tones of your countenance.
This morning, the cries of the Cherokee Will ring through the satin of your garb, And the voices of bigotry Will be silenced through the shading of every lost seeker.
This morning, the beauty of night and noir and noise will eradicate all limitations of my salvation and my canvas will capture the beauty of each color in the world.
This time, the truth and hope and glory found in the every drop of dew and in every morsel of majesty will come alive on this easel.
This time, the splendor of my savior will seep into sources it has never seen because the brush I use has been erected by the fingers of fluid faith.
This time, I will paint your face the color of water, Your skin the hue of a night sky, Your body reflective of each person who has ever seen beauty in the moon.
Kaeley J. McEvoy
Used With Permission
Kathy Gibbons Director of Marketing, African Province, Society of the Holy Child Jesus, presenting the Holy Child Sisters in Oghara, Delta State, Nigeria, a framed reproduction of Jesus of the People for their school, Our Lady of Nigeria.
“Much of the church’s energy, and new vocations, have moved from Europe and the United States to the Third World, so perhaps this work of art is a preview of how Christianity will flourish, and what kind of divinity it will look up to, as the next millennium unfolds.” Michael Farrell, former editor of the National Catholic Reporter (1999-12-24)
“McKenzie’s portrait of Jesus created great controversy, since the model for Jesus was an African American woman…While many people responded to this portrayal of Jesus with gratitude for its inclusiveness, some were angry that this Jesus was not more traditionally white, male and beatific.” Lois Eby, commentary, Vermont Public Radio (2002-08-21)
“Who is this Jesus? There was something strongly masculine about it, and yet there was a feminine gentleness, compassion, eyes that held a depth of meaning – looking at me. I had never been able to see these qualities in any other depiction of Jesus. Yes, I had read of Jesus’ compassion, but the visual has a totally different effect from the written word. As I was held spellbound in front of the painting, I began to ask myself: Was this a man or a woman?..He was dark skinned, bore a high-cheek bone structure, and lips – while very typical of an African American, it could be a Dalit face, a Tribal Indian face – the marginalized face of society – particularly women…This was a Jesus for the dark continents, the dark spaces in society, the darkness in our lives. This Jesus was definitely one with the poor, the outcasts, the marginalized and women.” Valerie Maysie D’Souza, (India) “Jesus of the People” – The Role of Art in Theological Reflection, “In God’s Image”, Asian Women Doing Theology (2002-12, vol.21, No. 4)
“I have recently seen your prized work of Jesus in a magazine (Jet) and I have to say every time I look at it I almost cry. I have to admit I was surprised to see that you were white, but making my Jesus, our Jesus, of color, even surprised me more. I hope this picture will let everyone in this world know and finally realize that Jesus was not blond –haired and blue-eyed, but made in all of our images, together. Thank you…God bless and good night” - email sent to the artist from a 17 year old young woman (2000-01-05)
If you are interested in purchasing an image of "Jesus of the People" click on Reproductions.
or call (802) 723-4122