“My art,” Cai Quirk says, “is an expression of my faith.” Though photography is a central focus for Cai’s art, their work stretches across categories to weave myth-like stories. “Stories have power to reach beyond our brain and into our emotions and our bodies and our souls, our hearts, and in that way they can connect us in deeper ways to each other, to ourselves, to the earth.”
Cai has attended Quaker meetings since they were five days old, and sees their art as part of a lifetime engagement with continued revelation, which includes ongoing discovery about gender, identity, and spirituality. “It feels like the Divine is very much pulling this to be out in the world,” they explain, “opening the doors to wider understandings.”
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Cai Quirk: One of the pieces of ministry that I’m carrying is around stories, and whether those are written or spoken or visual or sometimes musical I love to think about how they can elicit deeper experiences sometimes than facts or figures can. Stories have power to reach beyond our brain and into our emotions and our bodies and our souls, our hearts, and in that way they can connect us in deeper ways to each other, to ourselves, to the earth. And so they have real power as well to connect us deeper to Divine.
The Spirituality of Storytelling
My name is Cai Quirk. I use they/them/theirs or ey/em/eirs pronouns, and I currently live in Ithaca where I started going to Quaker meeting when I was 5 days old.
My art is an expression of my faith. Some of it is what God is leading me to do, to bring out in the world, and some of it is experiential piece that bring me closer to the Divine and to the earth. There are experiences as I do the photoshoots of the photography project that I’ve been working on for about four years now that is going out into nature and letting my thoughts fall away. Being led through the woods or the dunes or wherever I am and I’m often led to a particular place to do a photo, and once I’m there I set my equipment to the side and sit with the space, settle into Quaker worship. And so the photograph is very much a collaboration with myself and the earth and it feels like a co-creation with Divine.
One of the photos in the project is called “each twilight” and in it I am reaching around a tree looking at this opening in the tree where there’s light emanating out of it. When I first saw this tree as I was walking through the woods. That was what immediately called to me– was this opening, and I didn’t yet know where my body would be positioned in relation to it, I didn’t yet know that there would be light inside but the opening was very much pulling me and so in setting my equipment down and sitting there facing the tree asking basically permission– is it alright if I co-create this image with you? This image then later, as I was thinking about how I would create the titles for the images, which are each as though they’re pulled out of the middle of a story (a lowercase phrase or a few words or one word) I began writing a story, and it emerged into a myth that became a part of the project as a whole. It was originally just the photos and then it became clear that the myths, these written stories in mythic form, were meant to be a part as well.
Gender, Art, and Spirituality
For me gender is very connected to being a Quaker. It’s a similar kind of looking deep inside for one’s inner truth and not necessarily following what society says, “oh, this is the right way to do things.” So that deep inner searching has led me in various directions at various points in my life related to gender. It fits in very well with continuing revelation because what I understand myself now as gender fluid/genderqueer, that was not how I understood myself at different points and that doesn’t make those points invalid, it’s just that’s where I was then and this is where I am now and that is an expression of my faith. At the same time, the photos themselves are about gender mixed with spirituality and mythology and nature and storytelling, and inviting new and nuanced ways of looking at gender and so it feels like the Divine is very much pulling this to be out in the world and to have influence on how folks are looking at gender and opening the doors to wider understandings.
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The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.