Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing

New inter-faith art exhibition hangs from a series of question marks for RUTH MARINER

Art edith kaufmann faith geni corbett hugo shakeshaft karandeep singh nandra Laura Solomons michaelhouse saba annwar samir malik siddiqua juma

Michaelhouse Cafe, 23rd April – 6th May 2012, FREE Entry


Monday saw the launch of ‘Art and Faith: New Ways of Seeing’ – a project set up by Laura Solomons, Laura Kettle and Rosalind Parker – three theology students who set out to take inter-faith dialogue away from the scholarly and into the realm of the aesthetic.

The exhibition is in two parts. First, a display of the work of artists who are interested in exploring the relationship between art and faith in their work. Second, a series of student works which engage with a form of ‘visual scriptual reasoning’, opening up a multi-faith approach to the theme of ‘salvation.’

In the downstairs gallery, Samir Malik’s collection ‘Listening at the shores of the Great Silence’, explores a set of meditations on the Spirit and the teachings of the world’s faiths, teachings that guide us to live lives sourced from peace, responsibility and kindness. Inspired by his love of Islamic calligraphy, Samir’s work uses classical mediums including ink and paint on paper and canvas, applied with a kalam (and cut bamboo read) and brushes. The works mix a level of symbolism with text, and abstract exploration, which was effective, but perhaps too immediate to truly communicate the profundity of his perspective.

The upstairs gallery features the work of Siddiqa Juma, whose bold abstractions are aesthetically stunning. Guided by the Qu’ran and Islamic tradition, Siddiqa Juma creates art that celebrates a rich and religious cultural heritage, working motific designs throughout a range of mediums. Through her constant exploration of a recurring organisational patten – small forms careering towards a centralised motif in a kaleidoscopic burst of colour – Siddiqua clearly explores her desire to perform the Hajj, a pilgrimage towards the Holy City that she has not yet undertaken.

The ‘Visual Scriptual Reasoning’ project displays Jewish (Lizzie Marx), Muslim (Saba Annwar), Buddhist (Hugo Shakeshaft), Christian (Geni Corbett) and Sikh (Karandeep Singh Nandra) responses to the notion of salvation. All submissions were by students studying a range of courses, and we are left with a range of deeply personal depictions. One of the most resonant works in the series is Lizzie Marx’s portrayal of the 108 year old Mrs Edith Kaufmann, the oldest resident in a North London care home for the Jewish elderly, which communicates a deep sense of gravity and dignity in age. Impressive, also, is Hugo Shakeshaft’s response, The Raft, a delicate line drawing depicting the Buddha’s allegory which serves as a reminder that teachings are means to an end, and should not be carried as a burden.

However, the point really is that the aesthetic appeal of the artworks acts as a springboard towards further discussion. The organisers were out to provoke, and the result is potent. The exhibition sits on a nest full of questions which rapidly hatch and demand answers to be shoved down their throat – from the most obvious questions of ultimate meaning, through notions of personal ‘truth’ and exploration, to the relationship between spiritual process and aesthetic product.

The greatest joy of the opening night, was the level of discussion buzzing around the room – a genuine interchange of thought from people of different faiths, and people curious and open minded to spirituality. So, if you feel ready to be not only inspired, but challenged, get down to the Michaelhouse cafe at some point this week. Seminars, discussion groups and opportunities to explore Islamic calligraphy await you! Details here.