Inspirational art

The Crusader

The Crusader, Liam Benson



The number of entrants to the 2016-2017 Blake Prize is testament to the ongoing interest in religion and spirituality.

The 64th Blake Prize, Australia’s prestigious religious art prize, received a staggering 594 entries, which the judges whittled down to 80 finalists. Of those, 26 are part of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre Touring Exhibition, currently on display at Kinross Arts and Spirituality Centre at Toorak Uniting Church.

Lyndel Wischer, centre manager and curator of the Kinross exhibition, explained that the Casula Art Powerhouse seeks to offer a cross-section of the prize entries when it selects the pieces to tour.

“The artworks range in medium from painting to beautiful etchings to some wonderful sculpture and some very powerful photography,” she said.

“It tells us a bit about art history and the mediums that also, of course, relate to the theme.”

Kinross Arts and Spirituality Centre is an ideal location to exhibit artwork which invites conversation about religion and spirituality. Lyndel said it was particularly special that the exhibition coincided with Holy Week.

“In this quietitude of Easter we have time to engage with some of the deeper things of the art,” she said. “I was keen that our touring exhibit was shown over the Easter period so that people could see the connections between art and spirituality.”

That prompts the obvious next question about what kind of connections there are between art and spirituality.

“The commonality is that art can be a universal language, and I think for some people their faith or spiritual journey is also one that they would like to see as boundary-less and not caught up with other parts of society,” Lyndel said.

“One of the artists featured in this exhibition talks about art as being one of the best vehicles to speak about spirituality, because some of the more formal tenets of religion fall away and we get to a deeper heart of things. We become less concerned about judgement or large tracts of history.”

Lyndel is particularly moved by the words of Liam Benson, whose work The Crusader features in the exhibition.

Benson, in describing what led him to submit a photograph of himself wearing a veil, writes: “as the Australian community continues to diversity religiously and culturally, despite the contrast of difference, it is our community spirituality that allows us to process the bias and prejudices and find a common humanity based in compassion.”

His artwork is laden with meaning and for Lyndel captures the wonder of the Blake Prize, which she believes enables dialogue about religion and spirituality through the lens of Australian contemporary art.

“On that veil is a cross, and within that veil is a point at which Liam Benson stares at the viewer. That, for him, is referencing some of our Australian identity in terms of Ned Kelly and his armour. But of course, he’s also referencing Islamic faith, and within it he’s even questioning and talking about his gender identity as a gay artist.”

In partnership with the Centre for Theology & Ministry, Kinross Arts Centre and Toorak UC are providing tangible opportunities for dialogue about religion and spirituality at a special ‘Australia & The Divine Image’ Symposium over three days in May (11-13 May). People can attend across all three days or dip in and out.

The symposium opens with an atmospheric concert in the church. Other events include a series of art workshops and a panel discussion chaired by Dr Claire Renkin, art historian at Yarra Theological Union. The panel includes 64th Blake Prize artists, leaders in religious diversity in Australia and experts on the link between spirituality, wellbeing and the body.

People can register at


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