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Precursor To Bill of Rights Makes Its Return

QUEENS, NY.- In the new millennium, religion, its relation to the state and mutual respect are hot-button issues across the globe. In Flushing, Queens, this very conversation started 350 years ago with the Flushing Remonstrance. On view at the Queens Museum of Art (QMA) from April 6 through June 29, 2008, “This Case of Conscience”: Spiritual Flushing and the Remonstrance, explores the continued relevance of the historic document considered to be the precursor of the Bill of Rights within the vibrant and diverse neighborhood of Flushing. A document drafted and signed by 30 Flushing residents in 1657, the remonstrance to Governor Peter Stuyvesant denounced his persecution of the Quakers in Flushing and asserted liberty of conscience for adherents of all religions. The original document, on loan from the New York State Archive, will be showcased at the QMA where it will serve as a jumping off point for artistic examinations of contemporary spirituality. The Museum has invited nine artists and the public at large to respond to the Flushing Remonstrance and its birthplace, a thriving community of more than 200 religious sites that continues to reflect the tolerant ethos of its early inhabitants.

In “This Case of Conscience”: Spiritual Flushing and the Remonstrance the QMA presents the work of nine artists and a salon style installation of photographs contributed by the public to bring the legacy of the Flushing Remonstrance to life. Five artists ─Emmy Catedral, Takashi Horisaki, Sara Rahbar, José Ruiz, and Tattfoo Tan─ were commissioned to create projects in partnership with or inspired by religious centers in Flushing. The artists have been working closely with religious groups in the community to devise works that encourage dialogue about religious freedom and tolerance in today’s Flushing and beyond.

- In Germinalia, Emmy Catedral collects Weeping Beech saplings from various nurseries in the U.S. and plants them at various religious organizations in Flushing─the tree’s first U.S. destination on its journey from the Old World. The saplings are planted with mulch created from discarded paper materials from religious sites along Flushing's Freedom Mile.
- In Feel Free to Believe, artist José Ruiz transforms one of the Museum’s galleries into a make-shift space for religious practice or discussion. Religious groups and individuals in need of space are encouraged to utilize this sanctuary; visitors will be able to participate or observe the services.
- Takashi Horisaki works with different age groups of school children to replicate the experience of one’s fresh encounter with a religion. Set in stages of visual and verbal learning and processes, Horisaki’s project Meet Me At the Unisphere will culminate as a performance event: teenage docents will build a pavilion representing multiple religions based on childrens’ site drawings. Placed near the Unisphere, the pavilion will become a kiosk of faiths chaperoned by the teens who will communicate what they have learned about several religions through this project.
- Tattfoo Tan commandeers the Museum’s vending machines for his project Share-a-Prayer. The user-friendly machines will now dispense 25-cent sodas and snacks with a hand-written prayer collected from members of various religious organizations in Flushing. Visitors to the Museum will be encouraged to contribute their own prayer requests to a donation box; their used cans will be put on display to create an evolving makeshift altar.
- Sara Rahbar’s installation includes War, an ornate chandelier embellished with bullets and crystals, a humble prayer mat made from fragments of the American and Iranian flags and a massive American flag overlaid on a Middle Eastern Keffiyeh textile pattern.
In addition, four photographers ─Kim Badawi, Jenny Jozwiak, Stephanie Keith, and Scott Lewis─ have captured the religious diversity of the Flushing community through their compelling works. Their images depict a range of subject matter including a young boy’s solitary moment of prayer, a father and child in reflection, and a young mother nursing her baby while enthralled by a religious text. These and many other portraits on view depict neighborhood worshippers on their own terms.
A third key component of the exhibition is a salon-style installation of images depicting religious sites and celebrations in Flushing. An open call to photographers from all walks of life and religious persuasions has resulted in over 130 poignant images capturing the spiritual pulse of Queens including a Muslim street procession, a young girl resembling a Virgin Mary statuette and a man studying biblical text on his laptop.
R. Scott Hanson, Ph.D, a scholar of American religion, immigration and urban history, vividly showcases Flushing’s religious legacy in 203 Places of Worship in Flushing (as of 2007), a color-coded map revealing a vast religious landscape. Hanson has also contributed an illustrated timeline that traces both religious and immigration-related events in the area spanning the mid-17th century to the present.

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