Witnessing through the visual arts

Indian-christian-artist

An interesting article on an Indian Christian artist:

Jesuit Father Roy Mathew Thottam looks every inch an artist, from goatee beard to cream-colored kurta, the long shirt so beloved of poets and artists in India, and the jeans that complete the picture.

Balding and looking older than his 45 years, the priest from Kerala is a small figure in the corner of the big hall of the Kolkata Salesian center. But there is nothing diminutive about his work, or his ambition, as he captures yet another “innerscape” – a reflection of the socio-cultural political reality felt deep within his own heart, as he describes it – this time of Mother Teresa.

It is Father Thottam’s first visit to Kolkata, a guest of a three-day artists’ camp at Calcutta archdiocesan social center. He arrived armed with his favorite dark colors, eager to sample the air which Mother Teresa breathed for more than 60 years.

His eyes sparkle as he shares his convictions about Christian art in India, and his mission to proclaim the Word of God and evangelize through visual arts. “From the beginning, the Christian community has made use of art forms to propagate the faith and give expression to their belief in Christ,” he says.

“Many of the Christian symbols originated from the catacomb paintings. From the beginning, there was a lot of encouragement and dynamic progress in the Christian community as far as the visual arts were concerned.”

Father Thottam holds degrees in fine arts from Christ Church university in Canterbury, in the UK, and folklore from Palayamkottai. He spent a year with veteran Indian Christian artist Jyoti Sahi, learning from and working with him. He has had five solo exhibitions of his paintings and four group exhibitions. Based in the Jesuit Institute for Religion and Culture in Cochin in Kerala state, the priest has been prolific, producing some 600 paintings over the past 20 years.

He speaks passionately about the history of Christian art but points out that the Church in India only ever showed a lukewarm interest in it because the development of indigenous theology was more “verbal” than visual.

As we move from the hall to the lawns of the social center, Father Thottam turns his attention to the Church’s views on visual arts. Excitedly he cites a letter Pope John Paul II wrote to the artists of the world – a great inspiration to the priest – which he says speaks encouragingly about artists and their role.

This encouragement of the arts has continued under Pope Benedict XVI, who asserts that artists can see the inner life of the world and the Gospel, says Father Thottam.

He chooses his words carefully to summarize the theology of Christian art. “Every art work is an incarnation of the Word and the values of the Kingdom and we have a role to bring out these values for society, which can kindle the heart of many for Christ.”

The role of Christian artists in India has changed, he says. “There was a time in the Church when the written Bible was not available to the people. The themes were depicted through paintings, so that common people could understand the Bible and Church teachings.

“In modern times, artists deal not so much with the description of the Bible but are more concerned with the interpretation of the Word. They take the ‘word’, reflect and meditate on it, and explain or interpret according to the socio-cultural reality they live in, according to each one’s experience of God.”

He calls his artistic search a “pilgrimage, journeying through the interior world, lives of the people, and the reality I live in. It is to do with a spiritual quest. In fact, every art is spiritual; it is something like meditation.”

But the Christian community in India “does not have a system of educating our children and community about the arts. We need to educate the people, and teach them to savor the artistic sensibility in them.”

Tribal communities, many of them Christian, on the other hand have a deep and almost instinctive knowledge of the power of rich artistic life.

“Art is alive in communities such as the Madhubani and Warli. As a result visual arts, music and dance are part of their social life and their worship.”

Father Thottam says he hopes the Church in India will soon see the sense in using visual arts in the fields of the catechism, spirituality and liturgy.

There are signs of stirrings of this understanding with some making use of art in retreats and many religious men and women taking up art courses.

“Slowly it is picking up momentum,” he says, but this must be a shared experience as, together, artists can contribute a lot to the movement.

“Artists can create awareness of ecology through visual arts, and challenge communities,” he says, but only if the official Church can learn to remember its rich artistic roots.

Source: UCA News

Christian Art: From Fear to Faith

From-Fear-to-Faith-Howard-Lyon

Last week I received an email from Shari Lyon drawing my attention to this painting, "From Fear to Faith," by her husband Howard Lyon.

I love the play of light here. Howard writes:

The account in the Gospels of the Savior calming the tempest is a compelling witness of His power and authority over the elements, His compassion and testimony of His divine nature.  The story is also a lesson for us of the power of faith.

As children of our Father in Heaven, we will all face trials in this life.  There will be times when the sea is raging around us.  It may feel as if we are destined to fail, that the storms are too great and that we are helpless to save ourselves.

This painting depicts a range of emotions that we may all relate to when the trials come.  Note the disciple on the back of the boat.  He is trying to save himself, bailing water from the boat.  He looks out at the storm, overcome by fear.  As a result, he sits in darkness, he cannot see the Savior.  The next two disciples are still trusting in their own strength, trying to right the mast and gather in the rigging, but they have started to turn to Christ and are entering into his light.  Standing behind the mast, this disciple has just let go of the sail.  After having done all that he could, he is turning towards the savior.  His faith is displacing his fear.

The next three disciples are focused completely on the Savior, faith has nearly pushed their fears away.  They look in wonder at their Lord, standing calmly before them, Master of all.  Lastly, we come to Peter, kneeling at the feet of Christ.  Just a moment before, the storm raging, he had the faith to lay his fears completely at the feet of the Lord and he was blessed with peace.

We will all face difficult moments in our life, when it feels that all is lost.  We often try to save ourselves, but when we turn ourselves over to the Lord, having done all that we can, He will save us.  We will hear those magnificent words spoken in our hearts,  “Peace, be still.”

Shari writes that her husband is changing direction this year and there'll be more Christian art coming in themonths ahead. For more see Howard Lyon Fine Art.

Christian Art: Indian Jesus

The-dedication-of-jesus-satheesan-a-k

"The Dedication of Jesus" by Satheesan A K.

I found it at Fine Art America where it says, "This painting is done in the traditional mural art style of Kerala, India. This style of art is normally done on the walls of temples and churches and depicts stories. The artist, Satheesan A. K., has worked on the walls of temples in Kerala for several years. In 2008 Satya Global Arts commissioned 10 canvas paintings on the life of Christ. This painting shows Mary bringing Jesus to the temple for dedication. Simeon is holding Jesus, with the Anna is in the background."

You can buy some of his art here and browse Indian art by other artists in my online collection of Asian Christian art.

Jesus Trippin’

Jesus-in-an-Indian-Temple Success! Finally found the source for a whole bunch of paintings on the so-called "Lost Years of Jesus" that I've been coming across over the last year. It features images of Jesus in India, Jesus at Stonehenge, Jesus in Tibet, Jesus at Gracelands … okay, just kidding on the last one. Anyway, you want to see some trippy art, see the Lost Years of Jesus.

 

The Holy Trinity of Liam Neeson

One_liam_in_three_persons_by_ninjaink-d2xo6ll

Benjamin Wheatley sent me this image last night: "One Liam in Three Persons" by ninjaink

The artist writes: "As a Catholic, and as a Christian in general, I'm often asked (or told) to explain the nature of the Trinity (one God in 3 Persons). It is a bit of a mystery that takes time and study to completely understand. So I came up with this example, albeit an imperfect one: Liam Neeson. He's one guy, sure, but if you watch three of his movies at once, he's ONE Liam, an actor, representing THREE persons… at the SAME TIME! Thank you, Liam Neeson, for helping us to (hopefully) better understand through an imperfect analogy the perfect nature of God."

Imperfect, ya. Modalism

Made me laugh though.

Sai Baba and the Christ question

Sri_Sathya_Sai_Baba

I was talking to one of our Sri Lankan members the other day when he revealed that Sai Baba was a much bigger influence amongst the Hindus of western Sydney than I'd realised. 

For the uninitiated Sai Baba is an popular Indian guru who considers himself greater than Christ:

"Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and others were not Avathars. They had some divine power. Only in India are Avathars born, because only in India are the Sastras understood." (Dr. John Hislop. Conversations with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Ch. XL, p. 133)

This gives me much to ponder.