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Multicultural Portrait Offers 'Jesus of the People'

Aired April 21, 2000 - 2:42 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Over the years, the image of Jesus has taken on many faces. The traditional version portrays him as a young, white man of European descent, a stark difference from some of the new multicultural versions.

CNN's Lisa Price reports now on one artist's unique rendition.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA PRICE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is not only the most recognized painting in American religious art; it is likely one of the most recognized paintings in the world.

JASON KNAPP, ART PROFESSOR, ANDERSON UNIV.: It can be found literally worldwide in a whole range of cultures.

PRICE: The head of Christ, with its flowing hair and peaceful gaze, has been one of the most dominant visual references of Jesus Christ since it was created by artist Warner Sallman in 1940.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER SALLMAN, ARTIST: The person of Jesus Christ took form in my mind, like a picture being sketched by an inspired artist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRICE: Cut to...

JANET MCKENZIE, ARTIST: The feather represents transcendent knowledge, and the Native American great spirit.

PRICE: Vermont artist Janet McKenzie...

MCKENZIE: This is the yin/yang symbol.

PRICE: ... moved by a different vision.

MCKENZIE: He wears the crown of thorns.

PRICE: When she painted Jesus as a dark, thick-lipped, androgynous figure. She calls the painting "Jesus of the People."

MCKENZIE: This is a very personal work of art. I did it for myself.

PRICE: Actually, what McKenzie did was enter an international art competition organized by the "National Catholic Reporter," a newsweekly editorially independent of the Catholic Church. The contest, called "Jesus 2000," was designed to find an image of Christ that's more reflective of today's multiculturalism, a concept some say not communicated by Sallman's works.

KNAPP: He had his critics while he was alive. Many within the black community felt that, perhaps, this was way too much an Anglo Jesus.

PRICE: Still, the paintings are cherished by generations of Christians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These images have been such a part of our religious culture, you know, I've seen them since I was a little girl, and I just thought it was so special to have a chance to share them with my children.

PRICE (on camera): Over the years, Jesus has been portrayed in many ways, as stern, peaceful, suffering, and by many different artists, from Matisse to Picasso to Dali to Warhol.

(voice-over): But neither those images, nor "Jesus of the People" is likely to ever rival Sallman's head of Christ, of which it's estimated there are more than a half-a-billion in circulation.

Lisa Price, CNN, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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