Sister Corita Kent fought for food justice with visuals
Sister Corita Kent was ahead of her time. A radical nun, activist and artist, her printmaking skills and artistic sensibilities were cutting edge. Despite having groovy famous creative friends and being part of a powerful institution— the Catholic church—Frances Elizabeth Corita Kent’s feminist, pro-civil rights, and pacifist politics made her a highly visible figure, yet kept her marginalized. Beginning in 1946, Iowa-born, L.A.-raised Kent taught in the art department at Immaculate Heart College (her alma mater, and now Immaculate Heart High School) in Los Feliz, until she left the order Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and moved to Boston in 1968. She died from cancer in 1986 at the age of 67.
Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent is the first formalized public effort to review the sweep of her life and career. The exhibition originated at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and has finally arrived on Kent’s home turf in Southern California at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
In this survey, audiences can see how Kent shed light on a particular issue that’s become a larger part of the cultural dialogue in recent years: food justice. Kent knew how important it was for everyone to have access to nourishing meals. Following is a selection of Sister Corita’s incredible own Pop Art brand of food-related imagery from the exhibition, which is on view at PMCA through November 1st.
— Jessica Ritz
Sister Corita wound send her students from IHC across the street to the Market Basket grocery store at the southwest corner of Franklin and Western (where a Rite Aid now stands), where she found inspiration in items ranging from iconic American processed foods packaging to fresh produce signage. In crafting her own Pop Art approach, she mastered serigraphy printmaking techniques to deconstruct imagery and text in ways previously unseen.
In contrast to a certain influential artist of the time with whom Kent’s work is inevitably compared, her sensibility had “a more literate quality” than Andy Warhol, said Sasha Carrera, the Creative Consultant (and former director) of the Corita Art Center in Los Feliz. Sister Corita would “juxtapose bold graphics with intimate text,” quoting her favorite writers such as E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, and Gertrude Stein, in addition to making pop culture references.
She appropriated “Madison Avenue signage for her own ecumenical purposes,” explained independent curator Michael Duncan, who co-curated the exhibition with Ian Berry of Skidmore College in collaboration with the Corita Art Center. In this case, borrowing General Mills’ “The Big G stands for goodness” logo and ad slogan works as satire and a call to action, speaking to multiple aspects of physical and spiritual nourishment.
“The slogans of Wonder Bread were perfect for her” and provided “an early way of commenting on consumerism” when contrasted with a quote from Albert Camus, Duncan said. This period in her career dovetailed with LBJ’s War on Poverty and the introduction of the Great Society programs, too.
“There’s always humor, and always sophisticated formal qualities” in Sister Carita’s output, Carrera observed.
Want to take some bread and toast and other Sister Carita souvenirs home? Then pick up the Bauer Pottery mugs available in the museum’s gift shop.