The Body of Empathy

CONWAY, Ark. (September 17, 2018) – Ellis Hall, the new home to the Department of Religious Studies and Department of Philosophy at Hendrix College, for the next year is also home to a dozen works of art that ask viewers to ponder how they empathetically engage with the human body as it’s depicted in portrait paintings.

The Body of Empathy opens on Sept. 19 from 4 to 8 p.m., with a guided descriptive walk through the exhibit at 6 p.m. It is an internationally juried show of environmental portrait paintings by six different artists: Donna Festa, Karen Fleming, Nina Jordan, Eva O’Donovan, Emily McIlroy, and Niamh McGuinne. The year-long show is jointly curated by Professor Matthew Lopas of the Hendrix Department of Art, and Dr. James Dow, associate professor of philosophy, director of the Marshall T. Steel Center for the Study of Religion and Philosophy, and chair of the College’s neuroscience program.

The theme of The Body of Empathy explores whether viewers can empathize with characters or personas in paintings. Can looking at the human body in a painting be a type of ethical witnessing of sentiments in human life: joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, pride, shame, guilt, resentment? How does engagement with paintings cultivate empathy differently than perspective taking with people?

“Hendrix College’s mission statement suggests that we aim to cultivate empathy. Recent discussions in aesthetics have focused on whether art can provide a distinctive opportunity for the cultivation of empathy,” Dow said. “Since religious studies and philosophy share common ground in thinking about the importance of empathy for values, care, and community, we hope that the show will provide an opportunity for a conversation about ideas of empathy considered from a variety of perspectives.”

Following the opening reception, the exhibit will be available for viewing weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the academic year, then on a limited basis through the summer of 2019.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit

Artists of Hawai‘i 2015 Update

More on the upcoming Artists of Hawai‘i exhibition, opening July 2nd, 2015 at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Artist Emily McIlroy, assistant curator of arts of Hawai‘i Healoha Johnston, Jensen, and Love take in McIlroy’s ‘Sky Burial’

Artist Emily McIlroy, assistant curator of arts of Hawai‘i Healoha Johnston, Jensen, and Love take in McIlroy’s ‘Sky Burial’

With the opening of Artists of Hawai‘i 2015 less than two months away, many of the artists are in the home stretch. Last week, curator of contemporary art James Jensen made a round of studio visits to check on their progress.

Emily McIlroy
Just down the hall from Trangmar is Emily McIlroy, whose 7- by 13-foot painting Sky Burial was laid out on the floor in the center of her studio. Like Trangmar’s work, Sky Burial is deceptive at first glance. The work appears to depict the beauty and grace of seemingly harmless hummingbirds, yet upon closer inspection, a darker and more chaotic element is revealed.

The work is an attempt at reconciling how two polar-opposite qualities can exist in the same space. How can beauty and grace exist with chaos and violence? How can something be so fragile yet so aggressive? The dichotomy inherent in these questions is something McIlroy has explored since the loss of her twin brother in 2007.

How can hummingbirds represent these ideas? “They look harmless and gentle at a glance, but up close they show a darkness, they’re very combative towards each other,” says McIlroy. “When you blow these creatures up, they look like warriors.”