Raised in an evangelical, Baptist church on Nova Scotia’s South Shore, Brandt Eisner attacks the hypocrisy, oppression and persecution in organized religion from a queer, male perspective. For all the playfulness and humour in Eisner’s assemblage art at ARTSPLACE, Annapolis Royal, N.S., to May 27, Dogmaticais a surprisingly emotional show where the artist explores individual pain and damaged lives.

Eisner unflinchingly examines self-harm in Micah-Resurrection, an artwork of two colour photographs of a person’s lower arm, palm turned out. One arm shows the bloody slashes of self-cutting, the other the white scars of healing. “It’s a friend of mine who grew up in a similar situation—self harm, suicide attempts, alcohol addiction,” says Eisner. “It’s the possibility of a healing process from the overwhelming need to, in many ways, destroy yourself. He’s not ashamed of his scars.”

There are multiple meanings and references in Eisner’s work; the cuts in Micah-Resurrection also suggest the wounded Jesus, a radical man condemned by a rigid, religious establishment. Eisner describes himself as a “spiritual” person who feels figures like Jesus and Buddha had “pure intentions” but he is against the destructive use of dogma.“There is very little discussion about the impact of religion or society on the queer community and the millions and millions of queer people who have been lost because of a religious belief system.”

An Eye For An Eye – Take What You Need, photograph by Brent McCombs (AlterEgo Photography), 24 x 36 inches, Courtesy Brandt Eisner

Eisner displays his own healing and self-acceptance in Transfiguration, which shows a school photograph of himself as a smiling boy with braces next to a picture of his adult self in drag as Jesus, a radiant, strong, serious figure with welcoming open palms. This show is full of religious imagery and biblical references; it’s as if a revolutionary got into an ornate Catholic cathedral and switched everything up—bibles, candles and images of Jesus.An entire wall is filled with plates, plaques and prints of Jesus, with his face and hands whited out: Savior Complex: Made in Whose Image? is a piece stressing the omnipresence of Christianity in values and judgements so pervasive people no longer question their source.

Eisner frequently manipulates bibles covering them in uncomfortable burrs, scarring them with bullet holes and attaching them to guns. Missing in Action is an open antique bible shot through like Swiss cheese. It makes me think of my great-uncles in the First World War who even as they went mad or died in the trenches believed in God’s will. It also brings to mind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which is heavily veiled in religious and anti-gay dogma. Eisner speaks directly to American gun violence, disproportionately aimed at 2SLGBTQI+ people, in two Thoughts and Prayers sculptural pieces involving a shrine-like abundance of partially melted, white candles, a toy gun and an adorable rocking sheep covered in melted wax that drips over its eyes.

In Sheep’s Clothing, sheep skin, repurposed textiles, silk flowers, rhinestones, jewelry, miniature disco balls, 30 x 17 inches, Brandt Eisner

He again draws on the bible’s numerous references to sheep for a piece about identity, In Sheep’s Clothing. The woolly side of a hanging sheepskin represents conformity but the flip side is a fantastic, floral, glittery, pink and blue celebration of a free and unique individual. Eisner uses rhinestones, sparkle and pink “to represent queerness and I use a lot of floral imagery because it speaks of my history.”

He was a competitive floral arranger as a teenager. “That led me to art through assemblage and the gathering of things and creating something out of them and, in this case, telling a story.” Eisner, now 48, came out to his family at 24 after years of guilt, confusion, therapy and trying to “pray the gay away.” His parents struggled but “over the last few years I’ve had a fantastic relationship with Mum and Dad.”

Bound To Fail-Pray The Gay Away, vintage lamp, braided cord, 8.5 x 6 x 4 inches,Photo: BrandtEisner.

The Truro-based artist and curator has owned two galleries, graduated with a BFA in Interdisciplinary Arts from NSCAD University and is currently curator of The Ice House Gallery in Tatamagouche. Dogmaticais a fun, clever and clear show, full of passion and warmth. Eisner wants anyone who has ever felt “otherness” to find power in his message. “No one is immune to the struggles of hyper-masculinity, bullying, the impact of dogmatic religion, body issues, injustice, expectations, exclusion, unhealthy family interactions, or simply not fitting in. I want the viewer to bring their own history to my work, for theirs is as valid as mine.”