• Tianyi Jia

"Confess": an Art Exhibition Reflects on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Churches

The ongoing crisis of sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the last few decades has been worldwide, from Australian country towns to schools in Ireland and cities across the United States. The Los Angeles-based Irish artist Trina McKillen has grappled for years with this worldwide crisis. In September 2018, Trina McKillen’s art exhibition - Confess - at Loyola Marymount University's Laband Art Gallery gave voice and visibility to the brave survivors of sexual assault.


One of the main reasons that drove Trina McKillen to create the art exhibition is her strong Catholic background. McKillen was raised in a faithful Catholic family. She reveals that she had seen priests in her house a lot when she was growing up, and she had had nothing but reverence for them. After the scandals had been exposed, she had a hard time looking priests in the face because she could not stop thinking about what has been happening to the children. So, McKillen decided that she had to do something about this.


The art exhibition Confess at the Laband Gallery was imagined as a big church with three separate chapels: "Bless Me Child for I Have Sinned," "Stations of Hope," and "The Children."


"Bless Me Child for I Have Sinned" - the chapel of transparent confession


Trina McKillen started working on this piece as early as 2010. It is suggested in the title that McKillen wants to make something to reverse the power dynamic between a priest and a child.

"Bless Me Child for I Have Sinned"

The chair on the left(the child’s side) is covered in white linen and edged with crocheted lace. The color- white - symbolizes purity. McKillen said “[she] wanted to give the idea of hope even in the fact of this horrific sin." This piece is a life-size confessional. The materials used include wood, gold, glass, and metal, which adds masculine features.


The kneeler

On the right side(the priest’s side) is a kneeler. It is made up of 3,600 nails. McKillen reveals that the process of confession was very scary and shameful for her when she was a child. She added the kneeler because the abusive priests need to kneel down and confess to the survivors of their abuse.



There are four hinges, two on each door. On the priest's side, one of the hinges shows a snake juxtaposed next to a cross. This detail symbolizes the priest's exploitation of power. On the child’s side, one hinge has an image of a lamb, and the other has one of the Sacred Heart, which shows the purity and softness in those children.


"Stations of Hope" - A chapel of healing and light


McKillen began "Stations of Hope" in 2008 and finished it in 2013. This work is a dark space that holds 14 framed stations with a set of faint twinkling lights in each.

"Stations of Hope"


These little squares made out of Irish Belfast linen look like poultices, which are bandages used in healing. In the dark room, the poultices look like clothes that are protecting something precious. The tiny lights inside are dim, conveying the fragility and vulnerability of those children who experienced sexual abuse. However, once in a while, some of the lights brighten. Through those lights, McKillen wants to convey that there is always hope.


"The Children" - the chapel of haunting


This chapel is a small, red-curtained room containing twenty altar server garments and twenty communion dresses. McKillen created this sea of garments to represent the children who have been abused. These garments hang by filaments threads from the ceiling. The air currents in the room sway these garments occasionally, creating a “ghost-like” nature in the scene. “The children were silenced,” McKillen comments on the room, and she was, “compelled to create something that would not keep the children hidden any longer.”


https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2019/02/07/confess-profoundly-spiritual-art-exhibit-tackling-abuse-crisis

https://bellarmine.lmu.edu/irishstudies/events/confessaninstallationbytrinamckillen/

https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/confess-irish-artists-exhibit-reflects-clergy-sex-abuse-children

https://www.trinamckillen.com/press-releases/confess

https://www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/essential-lessons-conducting-grand-jury-investigations-clergy-sexual-abuse

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-44209971

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