“When Art Takes Over Faith and Conflict,” by Salima Amer

Posted on November 11th, 2011 | Filed under InterViews, IR News and Events, Uncategorized

The shocking brutality of Anders Breivik’s terrorist acts in Norway makes one wonder if there was anything that could have been done to prevent him from doing it. Was it possible that a work of art with a poignant message of living together in harmony in this globalized world would have neutralized his extremist thoughts? After all, his entire so-called manifesto, later discovered, has given evidence of his hatred for multi-culturalism and Islamphobia as the real reason behind his acts.

In our modern world we are crammed with images fed through electronic media and it is often violence that has an immediate impact on us. Suspicion and fear flare up when individuals are seen committing insane acts of terrorism to carry out a dogmatic proof of a belief or set of ideologies. This always gives rise to an environment where conflict and unpredictability prevails. And images and iconography which we encounter do play up with emotions and feelings; they work by either creating a desire to express a message or simply to reveal the darker side of mankind.

There are many creative minds putting up their works on internet to prove that art has some healing potency to erase tensions and hatred culminating from intolerance and lack of spirituality. There are entire communities on Facebook and YouTube dedicated to creating digital works of art and imagery to show that art can be about peace and shunning aside differences. There are societies and communities set up solely to share pictures to prove that our planet earth is Eden-like despite the destruction of the forests and global warming. Some are producing works of the ethereal and celestial worlds to give a glimpse of the visual conception and the mysteriousness of the other reality. Some seek to transform spirituality as an attainment of non-violence and developing a love for a cosmic feeling of one-ness with the universe, which is why Buddha regularly appears in these images. With scores of posters, wall art, and sculptures dedicated to him, the Buddha has attained a Hollywood star status.

Whether all this is going to make everyone put aside differences, and especially set aside conflict between different faiths, is yet to be proven. But art can certainly quell growing doubts that we are unaware of the need to create bridges to fill the gaps arising from lack of knowledge about other faiths. Many charities working to promote interfaith dialogue are utilizing art as a tool to raise awareness about the cause. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has created a filmmaking competition for youth are encouraged to show how faith inspires them.

Heaven on Earth Creations is another charity that makes documentaries on interfaith dialogue. Their recent documentary Globalized Soul was filmed all over the globe and describes the emergent universal spirituality that is transforming our world and thus forming a unity from the diversity that the human family generates through art, music and literature. This all could be an indication that we are interested in seeing religion not merely dominated by politics and scholarly debate, and that art is relevant for us to understand the controversies and issues we are facing in today’s world.

I set out to explore how three artists have used faith as a backdrop in their paintings. When humans practice ideologies and beliefs that preach a sense of exclusion, art has an essential transforming effect on those practices because it can be surreal and elusive.

Jane Monica Tvedt, a self-taught Norwegian artist, believes this transforming potential is possible; she says, "[Art] can make human beings think differently, and through paintings we can create thoughts that have never been there before."

Surprised by the scale of the tragedy in her home country, Tvedt has worked out a mission for herself to reach out to people through Facebook and give them a glimmer of the hope of unity and love. Her hazy and romantic paintings seem to have layers of emotions, some brimming with gayety and a celebration of life and others giving expression to more mystical thoughts. Ethereal and delicate characters float in circles and dots of colors. Certainly the viewer experiences a light feeling of being transformed into a nirvana of blissful scenery and people from her paintings. Tvedt draws inspiration from her readings of Quran, Bible, Hindu and Bhuddist scriptures.

If attainment of mystical power can be accomplished from the study of the Holy Scriptures, artist Faiza Shaikh has worked out another medium to reflect her inner thoughts about what faith should generate. She left Pakistan in the early eighties and has been based in London--a city brimming with diversity. Over the years, coming into contact with people belonging to different faiths has enriched Shaikh's own knowledge and outlook, and she likes to believe that her paintings are generating a message that all faiths essentially uphold the same moral principles. Her canvases include raw and bold colors schemes in rich patterns creating a baroquee tapestry. Amidst tension, the viewer finds drama infused with a lyrical vivacity that is neither too subtle nor too direct by use of  gold leaf  etched with the Holy texts that take centre place in her compositions.

Anoma Wijewardene’s work breathes a new meaning to human suffering and the desperate need for peace. She has been drawn to the strife between humans and the environment, between faiths and people. The political strife and civil war of her home country of Sri Lanka leaves haunting traces in the symbolism she creates. Wijewardene's work appears to be a place of the soul; she evoke a sense of divine inspiration and the beauty of form, which comes across in fossil-like figures and icicles of collages or cutout surfaces. In 2002, she showed a collection of her paintings in Delhi seeking to reflect the incidence of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. It was her cumulative desire to create a tension in bringing together images from diverse faiths like Buddhism and Islam and so mirror the concept of irreconcilable differences which are only generated by human intolerance.

Modern art has become a global medium, but it is much more than merely an extension of an individual story from the painter. Many artists want to do away with borders and boundaries of intolerance and hate, and seek to share this message in their work.

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