The Truth About The Pop Art Nun, Corita Kent

In June 2021, Los Angeles voted to conserve a landmark of the city's rich art history. Artnet reports that the city council felt that the former studio of Corita Kent, aka the Pop Art Nun, would better serve the community intact, rather than by being demolished to make way for a parking lot. The vote officially designates the studio as a historic landmark, protecting it from development interests.

Corita Kent was born in 1918, and she joined the Roman Catholic order known as the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary after graduating high school. According to The Conversation, the order was exceptionally open-minded. They often hosted social justice activists like Dorothy Day, and even welcomed religious leaders from other faiths to come to their L.A. campus to give speeches. Kent and other nuns in the order advocated for civil rights and feminist causes, and they also experimented with artistic techniques like silkscreen printing. But it wasn't until Kent attended an exhibition by a popular artist from the era that she found her true artistic calling.

Corita Kent was inspired by this pop art superstar

As Smithsonian magazine notes, the catalyst that really sparked Corita Kent's artistic drive came in 1962, when she went to see the work of the pop art innovator Andy Warhol. His work inspired her to create with the bright colors and prominent textual and culturally germane characteristics of the genre, and soon Kent was known by the nickname the "Pop Art Nun." She worked in her L.A. studio from 1960 to 1968, but her art led to conflict with the church. One conservative cardinal reportedly called her work "weird and sinister." So she left the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1968 and moved to Boston. A couple years later, fed up with the Catholic church's opposition to civil rights advocacy and other social justice issues, many of her former sisters also left the order and formed their own nondenominational Christian fellowship called the Immaculate Heart Community.

Kent went on to produce the series "Heroes and Sheroes," a set of prints honoring activists such as Cesar Chavez and Coretta Scott King. Her legacy is still remembered to this day as one promoting fairness and equality. Christina Morris of the national Where Women Made History campaign called her work "intentionally bold and challenging, to both the public and the Catholic church, awakening them in the 1960s to pressing issues of racial and social injustice." Kent continued to create activism-oriented art until her death in 1986.