On a large canvas, 18 local artists' pieces reflect multiple religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islamic faiths — illustrating the unity and connection across religions.

The Interfaith Prayer Wall, a 6-by-9-foot canvas created last year by Twin Cities artists, was on display at a Jerusalem art gallery and at the University of St. Thomas until April 20 and will be displayed at the Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota June 21 to Oct. 1. It's also viewable online, part of a virtual exhibit launched this year.

In an increasingly polarizing, contentious time, the artists hope their art bridges divides and inspires calm.

"I think it sets a tone of welcoming different faiths," said Aimee Orkin of Minneapolis, an art teacher and Judaic artist. "It's not enough just to go to our own synagogue, our own church or our own mosque. We need to connect to each other, respect each other, learn from each other and create community that is interfaith."

The 18 artists are from the Interfaith Artist Circle, a group formed in 2015 from the Jewish Women's Artists' Circle (go to interfaithartistcircle.com). The canvas features a backdrop painted by Orkin of religious architecture modeled after Solomon's temple, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and a prayer niche, or mihrab.

"It's just like a magnet. People are really drawn to it," said Orkin, who took a sabbatical from teaching at the Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School for the project. "I think that there's a big place for art in building bridges."

The Interfaith Prayer Wall's online presence, a shift necessitated by COVID-19, is part of a broader new virtual exhibit called Visual Prayer, launched this year by the Interfaith Artist Circle, University of Minnesota Libraries, the Jay Phillips Center for Interreligious Studies at the University of St. Thomas and Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at St. John's University. It can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3tgoIys.

Hend Al-Mansour, an Arab-American artist in St. Paul, created paintings both for the online exhibit and the prayer wall depicting Islamic women, including Fatimah, the daughter of the prophet Muhammed, and Hafsa, one of his wives. Art, she said, can help address growing racism during the pandemic.

"It's an example of how we all can coexist," Al-Mansour said. "It speaks to what everybody is going through right now ... art is a treatment for that I think, an antidote."

The Interfaith Prayer Wall was one of the first exhibits in St. Thomas' new Hoedeman Gallery of Sacred Art. The gallery is part of the Iversen Center for Faith that opened in September 2020 for students of all faiths to gather.

For some Catholics, it was controversial to include other faiths, said the Rev. Larry Snyder, vice president for mission at St. Thomas. But with just 40% of the Catholic university's students identifying as Catholic, he said the school has boosted work welcoming all faiths. Campus ministry was expanded to include a Protestant chaplain, Jewish rabbi and Muslim chaplain.

"[The center] was a huge statement on St. Thomas' part that this is important enough for us that we're building this building to be a resource," Snyder said. "It's a way of respecting that there is truth in other faiths as well and how can we walk with each other."

Before the display of the prayer wall ended at the gallery, students often stopped to see it as they walked to class.

"It really has become an impetus for exactly the kind of dialogue we were hoping would happen," Snyder said. "As Catholics, we have a strong tradition in art. But so do other traditions, and how do we learn from each other and celebrate each other?"

The prayer wall was replaced by a collection of crucifixes. Another rotating exhibit is a collection of Christian art on loan from the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis until September. The center is open to the public from 6:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The Interfaith Prayer Wall will be displayed next at the University of Minnesota, inspiring a broader community to reflect on their own spirituality, said Deborah Ultan, arts and design librarian at the U and co-curator of Visual Prayer.

"These images are representative of different faiths and ideas of spirituality, but they fit together and these artists worked together," she said. "I think it's very symbolic."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141