In the center of the 21c lobby, a miniature mosque and cathedral are displayed opposite each other. They are intricately constructed — the arches, domed rooftops and steeples erected with tremendous sculptural detail.
It’s only upon closer inspection that you realize these and all the religious icons, relics and models in this exhibition are built from weapons and ammunition.
That’s how artist Al Farrow chose to instigate conversation about the complicated historical intersection between organized religion and violence in his traveling solo exhibition “Wrath and Reverence.”
Two of Farrow’s pieces have been in the 21c permanent collection for some time: “Menorah IV,” a menorah constructed from steel, guns and bullets; and “Study for a Mosque Reliquary,” made from guns, bullets, 24-karat gold and steel.
“These pieces have been shown in other shows at 21c,” says Alice Gray Stites, chief curator and museum director. “In 2013, we did a show called ‘Aftermath: Witnessing War, Countenancing Compassion,’ and these were two of those most thought-provoking pieces.”
Later that year, Stites says, they were approached to loan work to and participate in a traveling solo exhibition of Farrow’s work, organized by the Crocker Museum in California.
The result is “Wrath and Reverence,” an exhibition that is as technically masterful as it is culturally resonant.
“You have examples of Christian churches, synagogues, mosques, menorahs, Catholic relics,” Stites says. “He is an equal-opportunity critic of organized religion — not of faith but the historical connection between organized religion and violence, using religion to not only discriminate, but to bring violence on others.”
The centerpoint of the exhibition is “Bombed Mosque,” a model constructed in the “central dome plan of 15th Century Islamic religious architecture.” It further incorporates elements of Islamic art through foliage designs and intricate patterns. The structure is tiled with a mosaic of polished brass and oxidized brass shell casings, which take on a cyan tint. Two machine pistols stand in for front pillars, while smaller handguns outline the arched doors. The front of the sculpture is pristine; however, the entire back half is blown open, rock and debris littering the edge of its pedestal.
“Al wants to highlight not only the conflict between different faith traditions, but also the internal violence between different sects,” Stites says. “So to reference that, you see the crescent moon of the Sunnis up here.”
While Farrow’s commentary risks heavy-handedness, his attention to detail and stark intention make his work captivating.
“Revelation II” features a Catholic cathedral constructed, like the others, out of gun parts and lead shot. But hidden within its interior — barely visible through the church windows — is a facsimile of Albrecht Durer’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The woodcut depicts a passage from the sixth chapter of the Book of Revelation, which begins:
And I saw, and behold, a white horse and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him and he went out conquering and to conquer. When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another.
One piece stands in contrast to the rest: “Burnt Church,” made simply from three rifles salvaged from the World War I Battle of Verdun between the German and French armies.
“I think this piece out of all of them, however, speaks to how Farrow sources his materials,” Stites says. “Some of the guns he buys new from gun shows, some of them are donated — we can only guess what actions have been taken with them — but then others like these have a known past history, which I think allows visitors to truly contemplate violence both past and present.”
Al Farrow: Wrath and Reverence will be on view at 21c until July.