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2 new Church History Museum exhibits show faith through global eyes

SHARE 2 new Church History Museum exhibits show faith through global eyes

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church History Museum's two newest exhibits celebrate Mormons all across the globe, said curator Laura Allred Hurtado.

“Jorge Cocco Santangelo: Sacred Events From the Life of Christ” and “Light & Life: Stories and Photographs of a Global Faith” both opened on Thursday, May 17, at the downtown museum.

Argentine Jorge Cocco Santangelo is the artist behind the first exhibit, a series of 21 paintings of events in Jesus Christ's life, starting with his baptism and ending with his ascension to heaven.

Myriam Verbauwen, wife of Argentine artist Jorge Cocco Santángelo, enjoys a display of her husband's artwork at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Myriam Verbauwen, wife of Argentine artist Jorge Cocco Santángelo, enjoys a display of her husband’s artwork at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Hurtado said her first introduction to Cocco's art was at the 10th International Art Competition in 2015, when she saw one of Cocco's paintings, titled “The Call.” This competition, Hurtado said, is designed to build the museum's collections, especially in underrepresented areas. The collection didn't have much art from Argentina, even though The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints thrives in that country.

"It was realistic enough that the story was easy to assess, but the form was so different and had these kind of complicated motifs of color,” Hurtado recalled. “It didn’t feel like an obvious choice. It felt new and it felt fresh.”

The Church History Museum acquired Cocco's “The Call,” which was painted in a style he calls "sacrocubism." Sacrocubism portrays sacred subjects in the style of Pablo Picasso's cubism, using “color blocks, primary shapes and geometric lines,” according to a news release from the LDS Church.

Cocco described his style as more “musical” than traditional religious paintings.

“The musical notes, they touch us, they move us and we can’t explain,” Cocco said. “This type of painting is more spiritual than just telling the story of how they were dressed or how was the actual landscape.”

But Cocco was quick to say he doesn't want to detract from other styles of religious art — he, too, has painted in a more traditional style — he's just “searching for something else.”

The museum's other new exhibit, “Light & Life,” features photographs of 34 Mormons in 24 countries across six continents, taken by LDS Church photographers Cody Bell and Leslie Nilsson between 2013 and 2017. The exhibit is a collection of some of Bell's and Nilsson's favorite photos.

Bell said they often took the photos on the side after completing assignments for LDS Church magazines.

"Light & Life" exhibit photographer Leslie Nilsson, right, is interviewed by Scot and Maurine Proctor at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

“Light & Life” exhibit photographer Leslie Nilsson, right, is interviewed by Scot and Maurine Proctor at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

“Most of these pictures don’t get chosen to use for the church products because they’re shot in a little bit of a different style,” Bell said. “This is kind of just things that we liked, things that haven’t normally been printed for the church.”

Bell and Nilsson said the people they've photographed over the years have inspiring stories, many of which they've recorded and saved.

Photos of members in LDS Church magazines, Bell said, are often “used fairly anonymously, where it’s just a face representing a concept.” But each photograph in “Light & Life” is accompanied by a short story or direct quote from the subject.

“To have that connection of their story to the photo is really powerful,” Bell said.

Nilsson said the photos printed in LDS Church magazines are often cropped. But the photographs in “Light & Life” are displayed as they were taken, capturing candid moments in natural light and without cropping or retouching.

"Light & Life" exhibit photographers Leslie Nilsson, left, and Cody Bell pose for a portrait with some of their photos in the background at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

“Light & Life” exhibit photographers Leslie Nilsson, left, and Cody Bell pose for a portrait with some of their photos in the background at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

“Really, we’ve gone through a lot of effort to make sure that it’s just as honest and authentic as can be,” Nilsson said.