Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing
The Michaelhouse café in St Michael's Church is the perfect setting for an exhibition that seeks to open up conversations about art and interfaith relations.
by Emily Chan
Saturday 28th April 2012, 15:15 BST
In preparation for Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing five students of different faiths were brought together for a scriptural reasoning session in which they looked at Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Sikh and Buddhist scriptures, using their study to produce artwork on the theme of salvation.“It was a personal response,”that theology student Laura Kettle and her two co-curators said they were looking for from the students.“You’re not trying to say, ‘This is what my religion says.’”
One of the organisers, third-year theology student Laura Solomons, explained that the team behind the exhibition had wanted to take the scholarly process of scriptural reasoning and put it in to a more accessible form: “I think anyone who goes along to [scriptural reasoning sessions] is already quite engaged in their faith. One of the things we really wanted to do was try and find a way to […] make it approachable and personal”. Laura Kettle concurred: “That’s what we thought art could add because […] by looking at a piece of art you immediately have a response, and everyone can get something out of it.”
The textual foundation of the work produced is particularly evident in the pieces by the two professional Muslim artists Samir Malik and Siddiqa Juma who headline the exhibition. Indeed, they draw attention to this foundation in the exhibition guide where a comparison is made between the impressive patterning of rich colour and Arabic calligraphy in Juma’s work and the “ancient illuminated Qur’ans now proudly housed in museums around the world.” This description points to something that is at the heart of the exhibition – that while ancient relics sit untouched in museums, here the creation of and reaction to art is a way in which engagement with scripture can actively take place.
In addition to the student project, the ‘inter’ part of ‘interfaith’ can be found in Malik’s artwork, which, rather than just focusing on Islam, also incorporates the teachings of St. Teresa of Ávilia,the Japanese Buddhist poet Issa and theS panish poet Antonio Machado.
The curators were keen to emphasise that the exhibition does not stop with the art on the walls. Materials are available for everyone at the Michaelhouse café to express their own thoughts. There is going to be an open scriptural reasoning session and a calligraphy workshop, which will be run by Malik at Kettle’s Yard.
It is important for the organisers that the exhibition is non-exclusive and able to connect with people who are not of a particular faith. The girls spoke about the influence of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas on their project. The eight walls of the chapel are filled with huge paintings by American artist Mark Rothko,whose art is able to provoke a sense of the spiritual, even though he himself didn ot have any religious beliefs. Laura Solomons said that people would “whisper” as they walked past his work. She and her colleagues are thinking about including an atheist or agnostic artist when the process is repeated in St John’s Church, Waterloo and the Old Naval College Chapel, Greenwich for the Olympics.
The current exhibition takes full advantage of the space offered by the Michaelhouse: the mezzanine floor beneath the gothic arches of the 14th century parish church allows the art to be viewed from a number of different places. And with the multiple views that already come from the different scriptures and different faiths one finds one really has been given “New Ways of Seeing”.
Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing is at the Michaelhouse Café until 6th May. For more information about the exhibition’s events, visit http://interfaithart.blogspot.co.uk/