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Losing His Religion: Brandt Eisner’s Dogmatica and Religious Recovery


Growing up in a religious home, Brandt Eisner’s very existence was a challenge to dogmatic Christianity. And now, in his new exhibition of twenty-six pieces filling ArtsPlace in Annapolis Royal titled Dogmatica, the Truro based artist is disrupting the religious assumptions that he — and many others — are and were shaped by. Dogmatica places Eisner, the artist himself, at the centre of his own religious narrative. The exhibit creates a space that not only reinvigorates the conversation around creative individualism, but challenges the normative expectations of a faith purposely stuck in prejudice.

human figures made of papier maché made from bible pages
Category Is - Sunday Best

Central to the exhibit’s theme is the piece Transfiguration: two images, one of young Eisner with braces proudly displayed in an elementary school photo and another of Eisner in 2023 in what could only be beautifully seen as Drag Jesus. The rest of the work, from the school desk chair covered in sharpened pencils to the mannequins covered in bible-paper-maché, fits between these two striking images of Eisner. The pain of the school desk states the artist’s origins; the pains of public school when you don’t seem to quite fit. Then, after finding confidence in his own voice, wearing passages of scripture as a fashion statement. Dogmatica states not only the issue with organized religion, but the beauty that comes from the individual’s recovery from it.

And then there are more challenging pieces like Micah: Resurrection. Another pair of images, they present an arm covered in self-harm scars, one with fresh scars and the other fully healed although still visible.

The two images are photographs with all but the arm blacked out with matte-black paint. The arms pop, stretching out to four or 5 times their size. The images remind us that, in Christ’s willingness to go to the crucifixion, we see stigmata (the spontaneous wounds that appear on the wholly devout) not as a miracle to be worshipped, but as a narrative to cover over the discomfort of discussing self harm. The two arms, both of the same person, are provocative in their abruptness. But, they speak deeper than just a commentary on mental health. They’re a testament to the ability to recover. While an inevitable part of recovery from anything — religion, drugs, alcohol — is scars, the images in their size and substance refute shame.

arms where suicide cut marks might be, but tally marks instead

The question we have to ask ourselves at the end of the exhibit is, why continue talking about something so harmful? Religion continues to play a central role in trying to ban drag, in demonizing LGBTQ advocates and communities, and threatening the safety and well-being of trans members in our communities. So why does Dogmatica engage? The answer lies in one of the must subtle pieces of the exhibit: An Eye for an Eye: Take What You Need. The piece is a portrait of Eisner with his right eye simply not there and instead just skin covering the socket. There’s no sign it was removed, just simply never present. The still present eye has a stoic look, implying both a calmness and a strength. Because, what religion thought it could rupture has proven unbreakable.

The fragility of faith isn’t in its mythology perpetuated, but the pettiness in which it thinks it holds power. What it searches to repress, the artist makes beautiful. Eisner doesn’t simply challenge religious dogma. He writes his own. And it’s a whole lot more powerful than Western Jesus hanging in empty cathedrals.

bejewelled purple jock strap with possibly a monstrance behind
Chastity Belt

Dogmatica is on display until May 27 at ArtsPlace in Annapolis Royal, open Tue-Fri 10 am-12 pm & 1 pm-4 pm, Sat 11 am-2 pm.

Brandt Eisner is a conceptual multimedia artist who grew up in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia. Eisner currently lives in Truro with his husband and two fur babies. He juggles his art practice with being the curator of the Ice House Gallery in Tatamagouche.

Eisner has worked in the creative industry for the past 31 years and received his BFA (Interdisciplinary) from NSCAD University in 2005.

Eisner is also known for his drag personas Lickity and Persnickety Splitt. Having performed as the Splitts for the last 16 years, he now produces sellout drag shows across Nova Scotia with business partner Marshall Feit. Together they created production and arts presentation company Eisner/Feit.