Corita Kent’s Iconic ‘heroes & sheroes’ Series to Premiere in the Bay Area
Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art hosts these works that mark a key turning point in the artist’s life and work. In words and images, they capture politically charged events and social movements of the late ’60s.
MORAGA, CA – Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) is pleased to announce heroes and sheroes, a touring exhibition of artworks made by Corita Kent between 1968 and 1969. On view from September 13 through December 10, 2023, the twenty-nine serigraphs reflect the politically charged events and social movements of the ’60s and mark a key turning point in the artist’s life and work. The opening of heroes and sheroes represents the first time this body of work has been publicly received on the West Coast.
Corita Kent (1918–1986) was an American artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. At age 18, Kent entered the religious order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, and attended the Immaculate Heart College where she also taught from 1947 to 1968. Her extraordinary vision and artistic skills, combined with her passion and exuberance as a mentor and teacher, helped transform the small college into a dynamic mecca for artistic innovation and a singular model for community and social engagement.
Kent is most known for her bold and colorful silkscreen prints promoting messages of faith, acceptance, and love. Throughout the ’60s, her work became increasingly political, urging viewers to consider poverty, racism, war, and other social injustices. During this decade, Kent rose to national prominence as a public figure. The Los Angeles Times designated her as one of the Women of the Year in 1966, and the following year she was featured on the December cover of Newsweek with the lead story, “The Nun: Going Modern.” With this exposure came increased scrutiny of her outspokenness. The conservative Archdiocese of Los Angeles mounted intense pressure on both Kent and the Immaculate Heart of Mary order over the changes they were making under the directives of Vatican II. In the summer of 1968, Sister Mary Corita would take a sabbatical from Immaculate Heart College, subsequently leaving the order and seeking dispensation from her vows.
In the same year, she began producing the heroes and sheroes prints, completing them in 1969. Reflecting on the social and political movements of the time, heroes and sheroes demonstrate not only Kent’s advocacy but also her acute awareness of how historical events were framed and disseminated through mass media. Combining newspaper and magazine images with poetry, song lyrics, and quotations from the religious left alongside Kent’s own writings, her heroes and sheroes address issues such as the civil rights, labor, and anti-war movements, nuclear disarmament, and the political assassinations that defined the 1960s. Works like the cry that will be heard reflect the urgency of the moment, imploring the viewer to “give a damn about your fellow man.”
Other works, notably american sampler, position themselves as acerbic critique. Utilizing the colors red, white, and blue, Kent riffs on the tradition of the “sampler,” a piece of embroidery used to demonstrate a variety of needlework techniques. Here, Kent’s sampler repeats the words AMERICAN, ASSASSINATION, VIOLENCE, and VIETNAM in stacked lines that resemble the stripes of the flag, using shifts in color to highlight different combinations of words such as SIN, I, and NATION. The work’s last line prompts the viewer to consider their own individual and moral responsibility, posing the question “WHY” next to the answer: “WHY NOT.”
The twenty-nine works comprising heroes and sheroes reflect the enduring spirit that led artist Ben Shahn to call her a “Joyous Revolutionary.” The series simultaneously highlights the potential of new life, a belief in the power of collective action, and the joy that exists in the everyday. Shying away from blind optimism, Kent instead emphasized the importance of hope in works like a passion for the possible, employing the image of an energetic crowd with arms extended upwards in peace signs. Positioned above the photograph is a text from activist and clergyman William Sloane Coffin, which still resonates over fifty years after its making: “...hope demands that we take a dim view of the present because we hold a bright view of the future, and HOPE AROUSES AS NOTHING ELSE CAN AROUSE A PASSION FOR THE POSSIBLE.”
The series simultaneously highlights the potential of new life, a belief in the power of collective action, and the joy that exists in the everyday.
heroes and sheroes is organized in collaboration with the Corita Art Center in Los Angeles, corita.org. At SMCMoA, the exhibition will open concurrently will Lisa Congdon’s Hold it Lightly. Congdon’s exhibition speaks to the impact of Corita’s work in approaches to design and generating hope through creativity. SMCMoA will hold an opening reception on September 14 from 4 to 8 p.m. Admission and programs to the museum are free and open to all. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., September 13 through December 10, 2024. On November 20, the museum will be open from 2 to 5:30 p.m. for festivities in alignment with Corita Kent’s birthday. SMCMoA will be closed November 22–26 in honor of Thanksgiving. Additional programming can be found on the museum website.
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About Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA)
Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) is a landmark for art in Northern California, with a permanent collection of over 5,000 objects. Inspired by its founder, Brother Cornelius Braeg, the museum cares for the nation's most comprehensive collection of William Keith paintings. The museum offers educational and programming opportunities with rotating exhibitions twice a year for the College and the surrounding community. SMCMoA is located across the street from the Soda Activity Center at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA. Programs and admission are free for all. Public tours begin in September and will be offered Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Please contact the Saint Mary's College Museum of Art at 925-631-4379 or at email@example.com for further inquiries. More information can be found at stmarys-ca.edu/museum or by following us on social media @smcmoa.
About Saint Mary’s College of California
At Saint Mary’s College of California, we inspire minds, engage with the world, and create opportunities for students to find their lives transformed. With small class sizes and professors who know you by name, the Saint Mary’s experience empowers students to thrive—whether you’re an undergraduate or a professional looking for the next step in your career. Founded in 1863, the University is proud of our Lasallian heritage and how it fuels teaching and learning in an inclusive and wonderfully diverse community. More than 3,600 Gaels study on our Bay Area campus nestled in the rolling hills of Moraga, just 23 miles east of San Francisco. US News and World Report puts SMC among the top five regional universities in the West. You’ll also find Saint Mary’s highlighted in the guide Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change The Way You Think About Colleges—the only Catholic college and the only university in California to make the list.