Moved by still, silent subjects

May 31, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun art critic

There is something solemn, hushed and reverent about the eternally still figures that populate Adrianna Amari's luminous color photographs of Baltimore graveside statues, on view at the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown.

The silent stone angels and saints, with their century-old patinas of moss and grime, seem to speak through eloquent gestures of a higher realm, where there is no more death, no more sorrow, only the clear light of truth that shines out from these extraordinary pictures.

The statues offer themselves as guardian spirits on the threshold of life and death to guide the departed souls of this world toward the next and to comfort those left behind.

Amari's photographs will be published this month as part of Prayer for the Morning Headlines: On the Sanctity of Life and Death, a book of poems by the New York-based Catholic priest and longtime anti-war activist Daniel Berrigan, known to Baltimoreans as a member of the Catonsville 9 anti-Vietnam War protesters.

Amari, who holds a doctorate in psychology and works at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, met Berrigan several years ago in New England during a vigil organized to protest the war in Iraq. She had known of the priest's work since she was a teenager and counted him as a major influence on her life.

By the time she met Berrigan, however, Amari already had been photographing graveside statues in Baltimore for more than a decade as a result of a chance encounter at Green Mount Cemetery during the early 1990s.

"One night a visiting friend and I got lost while driving through unfamiliar neighborhoods and came upon a gothic structure surrounded by angels looming on a hill," Amari recalls in her exhibition statement.

"From that day on I photographed Baltimore cemeteries, driven to capture what I sensed in these surprising sanctuaries of silence," she adds. "The power of these anonymous bronze and stone testaments to ongoing love - of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters and friends - moved me time and time again."

In 2002, Amari suffered a brain aneurysm that left her blind in one eye. She stopped photographing, but by then she had created several thousand images of cemetery statues. Grateful to still be alive, she began to organize her pictures into what she conceived as an extended meditation on life and death.

But until she met Berrigan, Amari hadn't settled on a text to accompany the photographs. After their meeting on Block Island, off the Rhode Island coast, Berrigan offered to let her draw freely from his many books of poetry any verses she felt were appropriate.

"I had already started dog-earing pages in his books, but I was amazed during the weeks that followed to find striking connections between my images and specific poems," Amari recalls. "It was as if I had unknowingly been taking pictures for his poems all along."

Amari selected all the poems that accompany the photographs and edited the book, which is being issued by Apprentice House, the press of Loyola College.

Of her collaboration with Berrigan, the artist said she hopes it "will provide some beauty, compassion and contemplation of the profound meaning of each and every life and death, especially in these times. May Daniel Berrigan's lifelong efforts for peace and his poignant and powerful words be known and heard for all generations."

The exhibit runs through June 9 at Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave. Call 410-276-1651 or go to creativealliance.org.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

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