RADICAL ACTION Art Show Sheds Light on Dorothy Day's Inner World

Manhattan College's O'Malley Library Gallery hosts exhibit inspired by social activist.

When Kevin Ahern, Ph.D., professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, met artist Kristi Pfister at an art show on Staten Island earlier this year, he was immediately impressed by her work. Pfister’s art was inspired by Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a tireless social activist. Dorothy Day Art

Ahern, the director of the new Dorothy Day Center at Manhattan College, invited Pfister to bring her work to the O’Malley Library Gallery, where it has been on display since September 18.  The show is called RADICAL ACTION: Tracing Dorothy Day. The exhibit closes on December 16. 

On Pfister’s website, she describes the show as “an installation of suspended fabric columns, marble mosaics and mixed media work that explores the duality of Day’s radical actions and her spiritual self. The mosaic’s concrete strength contrasts with translucent columns that contain patterned tracings of fragmented drawings.” 

Pfister’s admiration for Day goes back decades. In 2005, she was one of 13 artists to create an exterior wall mural titled “When Women Pursue Justice,” in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Her contribution was a 13’ by 10’ protest poster of Dorothy Day.

“Dorothy Day has been a source of inspiration for many artists,” said Ahern. “There have been many different icons, etchings and paintings made of her, that speak to her lasting relevance to the present moment. The artwork of Kristi Pfister, who has used different types of mediums, is an exceptional example of an artist who finds inspiration in the extraordinary life of this inspiring New Yorker.” 

Pfister said her Day-inspired series of mosaics combine “symbolic images associated with Dorothy Day and fuses them with motifs that are part of the inherited pictorial vocabulary of mosaic design. They explore the duality of what is seen and unseen and Day’s lifetime of radical actions.” 

Ahern has invited members of Day’s family and groups who know little about Day’s legacy to the gallery. They have all found meaning and inspiration in Pfister’s creative work. Kristi Pfister at O'Malley Library Gallery

As co-chair of the Dorothy Day Guild Advisory Committee, Ahern has been deeply involved in the guild’s efforts advocating for Day’s canonization. The Vatican is considering Day for sainthood. 

By David Koeppel