Mormon Art Doesn’t Mean Utah Art

When I was in my teens, Mormon literature was going through an adolescent phase, with clichéd romances asking such earth-shattering questions as “Will they get married in the temple or not?”

Amidst the feel-good-because-I’m Mormon literature were some genuine breakthroughs, however: Don Marshall’s The Rummage Sale and Douglas Thayer’s Under the Cottonwoods. But we still had miles to go. And we have come a remarkable distance in the forty years since then. Thayer’s recent novel The Apple Tree completes a story (“The Clinic”) found in Under the Cottonwoods; Levi Petersen has left an indelible mark, and young LDS authors are proving themselves in the national market. (Many have stories in the forthcoming fiction anthology Dispensation.) I am pleased with our direction, and I foresee even greater things on the horizon.

But now I have a new goal: Mormon art (meaning literary/cinematic art for the purposes of AML) which enlarges our borders to reflect Latter-day Saints’ experiences all over the world.

I take the challenge from Jacob Chirwa, a remarkable man in Zambia, named the country’s best actor in 1999. When I asked him about African Mormon art, he said this:

Currently I have as yet to see any form of artistic manifestation in the church around us. I have always felt that there hasn’t been enough encouragement for the local artist to showcase their talent. I have noted with concern some performances that some sections of the church have put up when they have activities but the bottom line has been that there has not been a desire to take the work seriously. One reason for this is the belief inculcated in the people that the only approved art manifestations are the ones coming from Utah. And so we sit to watch videos of stories of conversions as our missionaries do their work. This is well and good but I feel that watching a local missionary at work in any outside place would impact positively on our youth. I work in situations that expose me to a lot of challenges vis a vis the perception of the church in the eyes of the outside community, but all they see is me with no back up information in both print and electronic media. At times we are told that broadcasting anything about the church that is locally would be wrong so obviously that creates a set back in developmental efforts. I maintain that without electronic visibility we have mountains to climb in terms of growth. Though there may be literature by LDS I have as yet to read any in Zambia.

Granted, there are some displays of international art hosted by the Church Museum or shown at the Conference Center periodically, and we certainly have stories about American missionaries serving in far off places. But it’s not enough for me. I want to see Zambians telling their own stories, Mexicans telling theirs, etc. I want to read the poetry of a new convert in the Netherlands, and to see a film by some gifted Mormon in Denmark.

My purpose in this blog is not just to say that it’s time to expand our borders, but to request help in doing so. If you know LDS writers, artists, filmmakers or playwrights from other countries, tell us about them. All the world’s a stage. It’s time for a global casting call.

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6 Responses to Mormon Art Doesn’t Mean Utah Art

  1. Margaret,

    I look forward to hearing more from you in future posts about international Mormon letters. Keep it coming!

  2. JA Benson says:

    Thank you Margaret for your endeavors to bring diversity to the US American LDS experience. Wonderful first post and I look forward to reading more.

  3. Th. says:

    .

    I’ve been looking for a while now, but all I’ve found are a couple French authors. I refuse to believe there aren’t more. (Though I can easily believe they remain unpublished.)

  4. Ed Snow says:

    Harmut Weissman’s Betrachtungen, a kind of European/German Sunstone, was published in the 1990s. I don’t recall how long it ran. I imagine some of their contributors went on to further literary ventures.

  5. Randy says:

    Margaret, Thanks for including not just thoughts about this but a call to action as well. That truly is what we need more than further pontificating, which has been going on for decades (as far as I know). I’ve had similar thoughts, as you know, so a few months ago I founded a social networking site for LDS filmmakers all over the globe. It’s at http://ldsfilmmakersnetwork.ning.com/ and at present has 83 members. There are geographical as well as professional groups, so the idea is that people will indicate they live in Utah Valley or Africa or Mexico or wherever and that they are an actor, caterer, accountant, screenwriter, gaffer, director, or whatever. Then, after we’ve grown into a much larger membership, people can start casting and crewing their films with LDS talent-so it can help provide networking, employment, feedback on a screenplay or rough cut, a strong casting database, that kind of thing. And I mention it here because it can also help connect us throughout the globe and, hopefully, even catalyze a project like you’re talking about; there are already some members in Australia and the Middle East, for instance. But part of the problem–why the membership is still so small–is that LDS filmmakers don’t tend to be the same sort of people who read the press release on sites like A Motley Vision, or here. So what I really need is someone near Orem to promote it at the LDS Film Festival next month. Anyway, I encourage everyone to have a look, sign up, and let me know what you think. And I, for one, would love to help write or produce the first LDS-themed feature from Zaire…

  6. Katya says:

    Ed,

    It looks like BYU’s holdings for [i]Betrachtungen[/i] go through 1999 or 2000.

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