"Spank Me father For I have Sinned" by Ralph Perrine is a demonstration of a reverend, whipping his congregation into submission, with soul-scalding condemnations. "It's pure abuse," said Ralph. "Some love it."

Finding joy in a
journey of profanity

A church art exhibit
explores the clash of beliefs
among different religions

Nancy Arcayna

Rev. Michael Young views art as a form of education. And, although some members of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu congregation have occasionally been offended by some of the works that have gone on view in the church's Gallery on the Pali, he has no intention of discontinuing displays because the grumblings of a P.C. posse, as is happening with the current show by Dina and Ralph Perrine, "The Sacred and the Profane."

"The whole point of art is to grab people's attention," he said. In the gallery's 35-year history, "no piece of art has been removed or turned down for display based on its contents.

"If people are pissed off, it means that something useful is happening. They need to talk about things, not cover them up," he said.

Photographs by Dina Perrine include "Tattoo Cross" where a young man is getting an exact replica of the tattoo that the late rapper Tupac Shakur had on his back.

That's tough talk for a reverend, but because most religions are based on the struggle between good and evil, he said he sees no reason to avoid the controversial.

"We have migrated over religious, political and philosophical landscapes," said Ralph Perrine, who says the couple's work is not meant to be a form of "Christian bashing," as it has been accused of being. "We have gone through a religious journey together and gradually peeled away the layers."

Dina was raised in Hawaii in a strict Catholic household. Ralph grew up with rigid religious practices in South Carolina's Bible belt.

"We used to categorize everything as either sacred or profane," said Dina. "Now, I realize that it was only my point of view. We used to have a narrow view of religion, now we have a more balanced view."

"The Sept. 11 events were considered sacred acts to a large group of people around the world -- but to us, they were profane," Ralph said, believing Western society needs to create better patterns for religion, one that "doesn't have violence and conflict in the recipe.

"I don't think we are down on church -- we think it's a necessary part of society."

The problem the Perrines find is that religions have clashing beliefs. "The nature of humanity is a dichotomy between happiness and sadness, great beauty and great tragedy. If you focus on one and forget about the other, basically it's a form of insanity. People are denying reality," said Ralph, who has spotted this flaw in churches around town. A lot of our artwork reflects a well-traveled viewpoint," he said.

DINA'S PHOTOGRAPHS focus on the symbolism of the cross and its effect on our daily lives. "The cross is a very powerful icon, she said. "It's been around for centuries and there is nothing like it. It brings out some kind of emotion." If someone is wearing a cross or has a cross tattoo, people tend to ask why. Any other charm or symbol would probably not invite a second glance, she said.

"Cleavage Cross" combines the seductive image of cleavage with the holy image of the cross.

"Mexico Cross" is among the photos. She found it in a cemetery, decorated with shards of broken pottery by family members. It was one of the most beautiful crosses she had ever seen. "I am continually haunted by the image of a person breaking plates in order to create this exquisite tombstone."

"Little Door" is a photo of a Catholic church, with cross imagery everywhere. "There is something about little doors that attracts people," Dina said. When she researched the title on the Internet, she found everything from references to "Alice in Wonderland" to songs, sculptures and day spas.

Certain viewers may experience a spiritual dilemma when viewing "Cleavage Cross," in which Dina pairs the seductive image of a woman's cleavage with the holy image of the cross.

One of Ralph's favorites works is a mixed-media piece entitled "Spank Me Father For I Have Sinned." The painting is an attempt to uncover what goes on in a lot of churches and represent nothing new to those who keep up with the numbers of pedophile priests turning up in the news.

In the work, the reverend's robe is parted to reveal a dominatrix outfit. Church members are whipped into submission as they are threatened with judgment and shackled by guilt. "It's reminiscent of what goes on in an S&M bar."

Dina chuckled, "It's funny because some people in the picture look like they're enjoying it. Some people may not be able to live without that kind of structure."

"The Truth" an acrylic piece on canvas by Ralph, offers another thought-provoking viewpoint. In it, different groups of disciples search for the "flower of truth." The leaders guide them to one petal as if it were the entire flower and squabbles erupt among the groups.

"In the distance a ladder offers a full view, but no one climbs it," said Dina.

According to Ralph, a song that Everlast wrote for Santana inspired "Monster Under My Bed." In the battle over and individual's conscience, a person has a monster whispering in one ear while an angel provides comforting messages.

The abandoned "Greenville Mission Building," photographed by Dina Perrine in South Carolina.

"A lot of influences in the world tell you to be happy, to cheer up or that (whatever you're going through is) not so bad. In spite of that, you go through times in your life where you are confused or overwhelmed by things," Ralph said. "At funerals, people even try to say cheerful things. In our previous religious experiences, you weren't allowed to be angry, sad or afraid. We were supposed to be on a spiritual high -- not like the other humans that had no hope. For me, that was not an honest viewpoint."

Ralph said he has found his real purpose in life and it didn't have anything to do with the church, which the Perrines still attend.

"We don't hate church -- we don't hate Christians," said Dina.

"We would never discourage someone from going to church, added Ralph. "The concept of God is here to stay. We are always trying to figure out how things work and the miracle of life."

The Perrines would like to see others step outside the box and evaluate situations.

"Exposing people to new ideas that are different form their own is good for them," Ralph said. "Christian life is sometimes reduced to procedures, but God is bigger than anything that fits in our minds."

"We both crave inspiration and are always soul searching," Dina said. "The funny thing -- I'd categorize myself as a Christian. And, I know many other Christians like me. We all just need to search for our own personal relationship with God."

'The Sacred and the Profane'

Art and photography by Ralph and Dina Perrine

When: On display through Sept. 26
Where: The Gallery on the Pali, The First Unitarian Church of Honolulu
Call: 526-1191 or visit for a sneak preview

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