5 Wounds by artist Bettina WitteVeen at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York

5 Wounds, an installation by artist Bettina WitteVeen, is part of the groundbreaking The Christa Project: Manifesting Divine Bodies on view at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York on view until March 12, 2017. Co-curated by Eiko Otake and Hannah Wolfe Eisner, The Christa Project presents the work of 22 artists, who explore the language, symbolism, art, and ritual associated with the historic imagery of the Christ and the divine as manifested in every person—across all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities. WitteVeen will do an artist tour of her installation on November 15, 2016 from 10 am-noon.

WitteVeen’s compelling installation pays tribute to the sacrifices that five women activists made for freedom, truth, and justice. A portrait of each woman surmounts the cruciform sculptures, manifesting the symbolic bodies of the resistance fighter Sophie Scholl, the Civil Rights activist Viola Liuzzo, the Native American Rights activist Anna Mae Aquash, the co-founder of the world’s first Green Party Petra Kelly, and the Pacifist and social theoretician Rosa Luxemburg. 5 Wounds transforms a side chapel of the cathedral with five life-sized that form a phalanx in front of a bronze sculpture of St. Michael (the most militant of the seven archangels). These visually and emotionally arresting sculptures return to the origins of the cross as an African symbol, the Tree of Life, later appropriated by Christianity, and form a visually poetic grove of hope and resurrection in the chapel.

The iconological and symbolic significance of WitteVeen’s 5 Wounds is the way that it inverts the gender bias of the traditional Christian narrative. Sophie Scholl, Viola Liuzzo, Anna Mae Aquash, Petra Kelly and Rosa Luxemburg are the redeemers who died for our sins. As WitteVeen comments,

“It is my belief that the five stigmata of contemporary society—totalitarianism, racism, greed, militarism and nuclear armament—can be cauterized by a concerted effort that comprises service to nature, activism on behalf of others, establishment of just institutions, and an empathetic mind. However, the body politic cannot be healed nor dignity restored for all until we have rid the world of atomic weapons.”

While art will always have its timeless dimension, and WitteVeen’s source materials draw upon history, there is an alarming sense of the present raised by the installation. At a moment when human rights violations are in the news not just from distant lands but in our own backyard, the sacrifices of the five fearless advocates have particular resonance. The vivacity of their portraits and the immediacy of the images made by the artist recently at the sites where their lives ended give the art a feeling of immediacy.

WitteVeen’s earlier installations of photographs and sculpture have garnered critical acclaim and reached broad audiences in Germany, France and New York. A year ago at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, her epic work When We Were Soldiers Once and Young was called by one critic “brave and brilliant.”