Ceremony and ritual are foundations of modern society. The desire to create meaningful words, movements, and sacred spaces is hard-wired into us and created by people of all cultures and backgrounds. Throughout most of human history — all over the world — we’ve integrated one animal into those rituals: the chicken. From symbols to food to sacrifices to developing vaccinations, the chicken is the most ubiquitous but overlooked creature essential to our existence.
When domesticating chickens from their jungle home in Southeast Asia, warlords consulted chickens when deciding whether or not to go to war. The likenesses of chickens decorate our kitchens and denote fertility and manhood and cowardice. Today — when you drive down any highway in Indiana — you’ll see long, windowless barns with slow-moving fans inside above thousands of chickens raised for mass consumption. The idiom “you are what you eat” rings true.
When you open The Chicken Chapel of Love’s hand-carved wooden doors inscribed with the latin phrase Vide cor meum (See My Heart), you’re greeted with stained glass windows filtering the east-rising sun, gilded gold, walls of woodburnt symbols bv Nasreen Khan, neon lights, red velvet curtains, taxidermied roosters, warm wood church pews, wax candles of all colors — some lit, some melted. The space represents the heart of humanity, the heart of the chicken. Our destinies and fates are overlapping and intertwining like those with whom we choose to share our lives.
The Chicken Chapel of Love is a sacred art project by Big Car co-founder, Shauta Marsh. It was created to honor the divine feminine and belief systems that center around nature. Artist Jason Gray was commissioned to design the chapel, carve the doors and altar cabinent. Nasreen Khan was commissioned for the wood burning works in the Chapel, Julie Xiao for the mural on the east facing wall of the chapel.
From Danté’s La Vita Nuova
While thinking of her (Beatrice)
A sweet sleep came over me
I am your master
Here is your heart
And on this burning heart
(she) obediently fed
Then I saw him (Amore) leaving in tears
Joy became bitterest lament
I am in peace
I am in peace
See my heart
The Chicken Chapel of Love is made possible by IHCDA, Patronicity and supporters like you!
About Shauta Marsh
A social practice artist, curator, writer, author and researcher, Marsh’s work centers around artist-run culture, race and urban renewal through the lens of the arts, censorship in red states, popular culture’s influence on the pursuit of utopia, urban/rural relationships and artists’ social roles. She writes and produces the Social Alchemy radio programs on 99.1 WQRT LP-Indianapolis, creates public art projects and events via Big Car’s placemaking program, Spark and leads the APLR program. Working with artists who explore identity to bring about social change, she specializes in rapid response exhibitions. She has curated over 50 exhibits with artists including Carlos Rolón, Saya Woolfalk, LaToya Ruby Frazier, etc.
About Nasreen Khan
Nasreen Khan (she/her) is a writer, visual artist, teacher, and mother. She grew up in West Africa and Indonesia and has recently made a home in Indianapolis. Her teaching and artistic practices, rooted in questions of equity and earth-based spirituality, grapple with questions of belonging; celebrate cultural margins; and confront colonization, racism, and misogyny.
About Jason Gray
Gray spent the Sunday mornings of his childhood sitting in church, pretending to pay attention, but more likely thinking about Godzilla than God. The ritual and symbolism still sunk in. His most recent body of work — a collection of monster reliquaries — explores the relationship between a vessel’s appearance and the sacred object it houses. Gray received his BFA in Furniture Design at Herron School of Art in 2011 and his MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014. He currently lives and works in Indianapolis.