Meeting artists faith-to-faith

While some believe we are now in a post-faith era, religion continues to have a huge effect on many aspects of life – particularly in an increasingly multicultural society where globalisation has seen the world’s cultures, languages and belief systems thrown together.

This month, Brimbank City Council in conjunction with The Brimbank Maribyrnong Interfaith Network Committee (BMIN) is showcasing a collection of works from local artists on the theme of interfaith dialogue at the Arts Space Gallery in Sunshine. The exhibition is called Faith 2 Faith and is funded by the Victorian Department of Immigration and Citizenship through the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program.

Brimbank boasts one of Melbourne’s most diverse municipalities with residents from over 60 ethnic backgrounds who practice more than 20 different religions.

“Council hopes this exhibition will help the community break down barriers and empower them to develop meaningful inter-cultural and inter-religious relationships, and to speak out and address racism and intolerance in their immediate groups and throughout the wider community,” Brimbank Administrator Peter Lewinsky said at the exhibition’s opening event.

In the 2011 Census, just 46.9% of the region’s population listed Australia as their country of birth. Unsurprisingly, the artworks consider the effects of multiculturalism as well as interfaith dialogue.

Artistic expression allows the artist to ‘say’ what perhaps can’t be said through language. Going beyond words, visual arts can communicate not just ideas but feelings and emotions; we get an impression not just a concept. A boundless array of reactions can be triggered by one piece of artwork and so the capacity for ‘dialogue’ through art becomes limitless.

'Persephone' by Athina Bakirtizidis Singh

'Warholized' images by Carti Sash Emmanuelle Somerset-Beauverie

From an idyllic painting of a mother and daughter, Christian and Hindu respectively, with a dove flying overhead – to colourful ‘warholized’ images of Saint Mary, the works explore the modern implications of a multi-faith society.

Artist Midori Takahashi sees the value of different cultures coming together in a cooperative atmosphere through such events. She has two paintings in the exhibition.

“I converted to Islam a few years ago. I was raised Christian Catholic. I understand both sides to it. I think events like this are good as all the different cultures are coming together and are all really supportive of each other,” she said.

Midori went to a Catholic school run by nuns. She was interested in the way science intersects with religion and began asking questions which, she says, went unanswered.

“For a few years I had no religion. Then I started doing various religious studies and found Islam. Before, it was a grey area to me – I didn’t understand it at all. Then I realised it was very similar to the Christian teaching and it’s the same God. It’s not really a different thing, it’s just God.”

'Embracing Allah' by Midori Takahashi

'Ventokosque' by Midori Takahashi

Midori’s painting ‘Embracing Allah’ colourfully depicts the joy she receives through her faith, with depictions of Arabic text, music notes and plants. Her second painting ‘Ventokosque’ shows two Japanese people going to a mosque in Venice, Italy – highlighting the modern-day’s potential for ethnicities, cultures and religions to mix in unique ways.

Another painting, ‘Together We Can’, has a distinctly Christian message and imagery. The scene is of a multi-coloured paper chain of people holding hands – perhaps pulling each other up – from a pile in a bin to the mouth of a megaphone lying on a table. On the wall of the scene are several framed pieces – the three crosses from the crucifixion of Jesus, a hand holding the Earth, and a plaque which says ‘Micah 6:8’.

The latter is a reference to the following passage from the Bible: ‘He has shown you, O people, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ In the words of the artist, Rachel Hanna, the painting is about the importance of connection regardless of gender or cultural background.

A sculpture featured in the exhibition combines the physical symbolism of Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad in one thorn-crowned and long-earlobed head – a reference to the similarities or at least continuity that can be found between the three major religious figures. The artist, Hartmut Viet, hoped the sculpture would point to the positive common ground between the religions’ spiritual and humanistic beliefs.

Other artworks focused on one religion, exploring the way its practice has changed, adapted and reacted to the diverse multiculturalism of 21st century Australia. A series of photographs entitled ‘Halal’ showed a Muslim woman sitting with a range of objects on a plate in front of her; a hot dog, a can of Pepsi, a teacup and saucer, and a meat pie. According to the artist, Shadi Sabet, the purpose of the piece was to open up dialogue about the contrasts between eastern and western cultures.

The exhibition also contained multimedia instalments such as an audio recording of people answering the question, ‘What does faith mean to you?’ as well as a static crucifixion image on a television screen. The latter, as explained by artist Colby Cannon, is a reference to ‘post faith society’ and the part the media now plays in filling the role of moral arbitrator.

Larry Marshall from the Uniting Church’s ‘Uniting through Faith’ attended the exhibition.

“The strength of this exhibition is its focus on young emerging artists from our multicultural community. This allows the art to become truly relevant as a means of story-telling, as a means of asking open-ended questions and imagining more peaceful multi-faith engagements across old divisions,” he said.

“Art is both a gentle and powerful means of engaging the ‘other’. Words relating to faith are so loaded that the written word can often be misunderstood or misinterpreted.”

Larry believes the artworks – by young and talented voices emerging from the diverse community of Brimbank – celebrate the deeper understanding that comes from interaction with the ‘other’.

“[The artworks] critique the violence and racism of the past and point to the peace-building and respect for difference which is possible in our multi-cultural, multi-faith and multi-lingual reality in Melbourne,” he said.

“My congratulations to all the artists and to Brimbank City Council for sponsoring this exhibition of youthful artistic voices.”

Faith 2 Faith will run until 29 March at Sunshine Art Spaces Gallery, 10am-2.30pm Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. For more information visit sunshineartspaces.com.au

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