This spring, Unspoken Requests: A Survey of Works by Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts doctoral student Andrew Hendrixson, Th.D. ’26, was installed in the 00 Westbrook Hallway, transforming it from a monotone sea of beige to a panorama of color, texture, and mediums. The gallery, a remarkable visual and textile encounter, includes full-scale oil paintings, a salon wall, ink-and-acrylic paintings, colored-pencil drawings, and hand-stitched suits on wooden armatures.

The installation, which officially launched on April 17 with a public lecture by the artist, has garnered interest and positive comments by members of the Divinity School community. “By expressing himself in several artistic modes—drawing, sculpture, quilts, watercolor, etc.—and using a wide range of materials, the artist demonstrates the expansiveness and boundarylessness of beauty,” said Chinwe Edeani, M.T.S. ’25, a photographer who is completing the Certificate in Theology and the Arts alongside her degree. 

Hendrixson has exhibited in Los Angeles, New York, and Ohio but has never served as his own curator and installer, and he found the work of curating this show a worthy task. “Showing in a basement hallway,” Hendrixson says, “is a bit of a ‘risk’ in that it is an odd and unlikely place to engage work, but it is a challenge I enjoyed and found imperative to keep imagination from calcifying into too carefully measured efforts.”

Andrew Hendrixson headshot

“Making art is not, it turns out, entirely different from standing to ask unspoken requests.”

A product of the school of contemporary artists and contemporary approaches to artistic pedagogy, Hendrixson intentionally crafted the exhibit to include a wide range of forms and pieces. The exhibit’s texture resists thematic description and imperative interpretation. “Given the survey of works,” he says in the gallery’s introductory material, "the exhibit is not unduly concerned with achieving a thematic cohesion beyond works that bear more evidence of a mind thinking than of a mouth asserting.” The variety in form and the lack of a polemical arc invite viewers to experience the works rather than interpret them.

“People are always asking, What is the artist trying to say?” Hendrixson said during the public lecture. “I don’t think good artwork seeks to say something so much as it seeks to be something.” This focus on experience and mystery were what led him to pursue a doctorate at the Divinity School. After completing his M.F.A. and teaching studio art for a time, Hendrixson matriculated through the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, where he studied with Christian Wiman and Molly Zuckerman Hartung. Both Wiman and Zuckerman Hartung accentuated the need for encounter—they exhorted students to sit with the work of art for long periods of time, to repeat the caring gaze, to set aside preconceived notions and encounter art prior to theorizing.

This sort of immersive approach urged Hendrixson to learn more about the theology of art and mystery. He wanted to explore how language works theologically and how art works in concert with the Holy Spirit. The work of art is mysterious in its transformations, much like the Spirit. It echoes how the Spirt works in the body and in the Trinity. Now, into his third year of doctoral work, Hendrixson has found theological study complimentary and incredibly enriching to his artistic vocation. “I have friends in the program who are beautifully eloquent,” he says, “and that is not always my strength. Sometimes my hands in their making are more articulate than my mouth in its speaking, but the doctorate has furnished me with the chance to refine my thinking, my speaking, and my art. I’m very grateful.”

The gallery’s title comes from the tent revivals of Hendrixson’s childhood when “there were prayer requests for ailing health, an upcoming job interview, wayward children. Sometimes though, someone would stand and say, ‘Pastor, it’s unspoken.’”

“Making art,” he says, “is not, it turns out, entirely different from standing to ask unspoken requests.”