by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “April” Phan Khanh Linh, a senior from Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, is not a Christian. But her art speaks eloquently of how Christians should understand the quality of mercy.
Linh took highest honors for art at the 2016 Archbishop’s Invitational High School Art Exhibit held from March 1-8 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
The 51 pieces of art on display — including sculpture, sketches, paintings and photographs — were produced by students from six Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
This was the third annual exhibit, which was sponsored by the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas, the Catholic Fine Arts Council and the archdiocesan office of Catholic schools. The theme this year was “mercy,” in accordance with Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy.
“Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, in 2009, asked us to form the Catholic Fine Arts Council,” said Lesle Knop, executive director of the CFNEK and the CFAC. “It’s his intention that we involve educators, as well, in elevating the arts to the forefront of our attention and our experience.”
The student artists came to the pastoral center on March 2 to meet and pray with the archbishop, view the exhibit and receive awards.
There were eight awards: Archbishop’s Choice, Superintendent’s Choice, five Juror’s Choice and one Popular Choice. The judges were John Derby, Eva Reynolds and Andrew Julo. Each of the eight winners received a certificate and $100.
Why have a student art invitational?
“Bishop Robert Barron recently gave a talk in which he said, ‘Lead with the beautiful,’” said Knop. “One of the ways that we can evangelize and help the archbishop fulfill his key initiatives for the next 10 years is to instill among our budding artists that yearning to create works of art for the glory of God, and to lead with the beautiful as a tool for evangelization.”
Most of the students are Catholic, but not all of them. Some student artists — particularly those from Asia — are Buddhist or have no religion.
“A lot of our students at Maur Hill-Mount Academy are not Christian,” said Mike Farrell, art instructor at the school. “This contest is a way for us to share the Gospel with people who have never heard these stories before, and take the Gospel back with them around the world.”
“The picture of the prodigal son was done by Jinfeng Xie from China,” Farrell continued. “I explained the story and read it to him, and he totally came up with that picture out of his own head. It’s an amazing picture. He never heard of the story of the prodigal son before.”
The winner of the top award — the Archbishop’s Choice — is a talented artist from Vietnam. “April” Phan Khanh Linh, a senior from Maur Hill-Mount Academy, had two works in the exhibition.
“I’m not a Catholic,” she said. “I came to this school to study English. I think religious art is a different way to express different kinds of emotions. . . . [It] brings faith to people, and love, [and helps people] think about the world.”
Where does Linh get her artistic inspiration? For the painting, “It’s Hard to Forgive,” she drew from her own emotions.
“April Phan is a natural artist who is going to go on and study art,” said Farrell. “For her, this is another feather in her cap. She wins a lot of awards because she’s good and she deserves those awards. Art just flows out of her.”
Daniel de Luna, a junior from Maur Hill-Mount Academy, won the Superintendent’s Choice award. His picture-like wood sculpture “Sinnergism” depicts three doors of a confessional. It employs a play on the word “synergism.”
“It means two things trying to work out something,” said de Luna, who is from Mexico. “When we go to the sacrament of reconciliation, we try to work things out with God, asking for forgiveness. Since he is merciful, he always listens to us and is always there for us.”
Nicole Gomric, a senior from St. James Academy in Lenexa, won one of five Juror’s Choice awards. Her winning photography piece was “Mercy: Bringing Light into the World.”
“I created a collage of different photos of what I believe mercy to be in everyday life,” she said. “I created it to show that, through Christ, in ordinary situations, great things can come.”
As part of the event Father Kent O’Connor, pastor of Our Lady of Unity in Kansas City, Kansas, performed original songs on the guitar during a multimedia presentation that included the students’ art. Invitational juror Andrew Julo gave a lecture about historical depictions of mercy in art.
Participating students came from Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kansas; Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park; St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park; St. James Academy in Lenexa; Immaculata High School in Leavenworth; and Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison.