Student art exhibit embodies passion and spirituality

By Leslie A. Banks

Marius Sidau warns his English is not so good, and to bear with him as we sit down to discuss his upcoming artist reception at Madonna University. But that is the first and last time I acknowledge or even think of Sidau’s Romanian accent.

Considering he just moved to the United States four years ago – with no prior knowledge of English – Sidau not only communicates very well, his ability to convey the passion he holds for his spirituality and artwork is moving, to say the least. Every utterance is filled with such expression and emotion, the words themselves are barely necessary.

Sidau’s unbreakable faith and artistic talent combine to deliver a vast exhibit of Byzantine iconography. An arrangement of Sidau’s personal creations along side an ancestral collection of religious icons is currently displayed in Madonna University’s gallery through Nov. 15.

During the artist reception on Thursday, Oct. 29 from 5 to 8 p.m., guests can meet the artist while perusing the exhibit and enjoying refreshments.

For more than 10 years, Sidau has acquired these icons as family heirlooms or as treasured finds across Europe. “Religious icons are windows into heaven, connecting the physical and spiritual worlds,” said Sidau. “I am excited to share with the community my perception of these sacred images of faith.”

While his collection of ancient icons is for presentation purposes only, original creations by Sidau are available for purchase and proceeds will be donated to the new Franciscan Center for Science and Media. “I’m strictly doing it because it is my passion, I really believe in this,” said Sidau.

Currently residing in Southfield, Sidau is a Sociology major at Madonna University. Though initially enrolled in the Fine Art program, he changed his major to better fit his future goal to pursue a doctorate in Cultural Anthropology.

Sidau elaborates on the exotic place he comes from in Northern Romania, joking that more than just Dracula comes from Transylvania. “A part of Transylvania that is not as known and should be are these very old artifacts that are the Byzantine icons,” said Sidau.

In the same breath that he reflects on brilliant relics from his home country, Sidau’s voice shifts to a far more dire tone as he describes the setting of his childhood.

Sidau remembers a time when his country was ruled by an atheist regime whose main purpose was to destroy any faith in God by means of assassinations and destruction of churches. The communist government accepted nothing accept its official – atheist – doctrine.

If reported to the authorities for practicing religion, soldiers would arrest the perpetrator and throw him or her in jail within hours. Sidau had family imprisoned just for believing.

A vivid memory of when Sidau was a young boy involves a two-dimensional drawing of Mary that he created – a child’s rendering similar to icons displayed in the Madonna University gallery. When Sidau’s father found the drawing, he threw it into the fire to protect his family from government infiltration.

It pained his father to destroy the spiritual piece his son had crafted with heart and soul. But even at a young age, Sidau understood the circumstances and it only made his faith stronger on the inside, where it could never be burned by the flames.

“For the communist regime in Romania, their most undesirable and most unpleasant individuals were people like me – people who kept their faith in spite of the persecution and in spite of everything the regime did against them,” said Sidau.

“If they destroyed our churches, we built others. If they throw us in prison, there are others on the outside that stood against the regime.”

It’s clear to see his deep-seated faith developed as a result of the less-than-pleasant environment growing up. But admirably, Sidau’s childhood experiences contribute to a soulful strength in his character and an enduring confidence in his beliefs.

Though Sidau is a Byzantine Catholic and recognizes Madonna University is a Catholic institution, he makes it clear he is not trying to encourage one faith over another.

“I’m not trying to promote Catholicism, what I’m trying to promote here is an idea,” said Sidau. He emphasizes the notion that no matter what religion an individual chooses to practice, he or she should make faith a priority in life; his biggest fear is the loss of faith across the nation.

Though his spirituality runs deep, Sidau does not wish to persuade guests who come to view his art, maintaining the whole embodiment of America is the ideal of freedom. He prefers to just let spectators peruse the exhibit and wait for them to come to him if they have questions.

“The place where this kind of art is coming from is so ancestral, and so impressive in itself that I think that no words of mine will ever describe in the right way, this kind of art.”

Sidau has experienced a spiritually guided lifestyle the average born-and-raised American never will. He had the opportunity to visit monasteries in Romania, Italy and Ukraine where he worked for a while.

The experts at creating Byzantine icons are nuns and monks who spend their whole life perfecting this style of art. During his travels, Sidau had the privilege of learning the process from monks.

“It becomes quite interesting and beautiful when you have such a person who has worked with Byzantine iconography that will be willing to show you how to do it,” said Sidau.

He explains the art is neither Romanian nor Russian; it comes from Byzantium, an empire that existed after the fall of the Roman Empire.

It’s a very simplified and spiritualized art with two-dimensional depictions of holy characters. Real gold and bright, beautiful, colors are used to induce the idea of the heavens.

Contrary to the illustration of the figures, the finished pieces are often three-dimensional with embossed metal and multiple layers of mixed media.

“This kind of art is supposed to give you peace and calm because it is sacred art,” said Sidau. He stresses that while many of the icons are created with large amounts of precious metals and materials, the sentimental value invested in these objects is much higher than the material value they are worth; they represent the picture of Byzantine faith.

Even though the icons have such spiritual beauty, tradition and symbolism behind them, they are often functional objects, as well. Sidau’s collection includes a 1910 gospel book and other salvaged scripture pages that were actually used in mass.

In the short time I spoke with Sidau, he offered a comprehensive bird’s-eye view of his journey through life leading up to the present. To know Sidau is to know his passion for faith, and the means of his expression through art. To speak to Sidau is to be inspired by him artistically and spiritually.