Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Indian Christian Artists Forum

Please Note: All posts on this blog are intended for informational purposes only, not as an evaluation or endorsement of any artist, art form, organization or website.  If you have concerns about the accuracy of any information presented please contact the author at

I recently came across a news story about a group of Catholic Christians in India who are getting serious about deepening the connection between their faith and the visual arts. The story describes the formation of the Indian Christian Artists Forum, which seeks to "promote study and appreciation of Christian art among various sections of the people- clergy, religious and laity in the church, and the wider society in India, and to encourage a deeper understanding, appreciation and application of Indian Christian art in theology, liturgy and architecture in the Church in India." The forum was convened by artist/priest Dr. Paul Kattukaran, and consists of fifteen renowned artists from various parts of India. At their inaugural meeting in August, the group appointed Kattukaran as the national coordinator for the forum.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Contextualized Henna Art

In today's post I'm happy to present the contextualized artwork of a missionary recently in the field. Mina Rowland (name changed for security purposes) has been a Southern Baptist missionary in East Africa and South Asia. In her work, she chose to explore the use of henna storying for evangelism.  Henna (also known as mehndi in Hindi) is a plant that grows in regions of Africa, southern Asia, Australia and Oceania. Among other things, it's used as a form of body decoration in the form of temporary tattoos, most often by new brides. Henna has been used to decorate women's bodies since the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean area (3000-600 B.C.), and today is used widely by Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians.  Henna is even mentioned in the Bible in Song of Solomon 1:14 and 4:13,14.

Before reading the interview below with Mina, please check out this story about her use of henna storying.  At the end of my interview with her below, look for additional links and downloadable resources, as well as a related link about a henna art show. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Need for Contextualized Theology and Evangelism

Here's a great blog post by Allen Yeh on the need for nonwestern theology in the body of Christ, by way of Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity.  I encourage you to read it because it explains why we in the West need to hear the perspectives of our nonwestern brothers and sisters in Christ.  I think it is a great parallel to 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, where Paul explains how indispensable each part of Christ's body (the church) is to the others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Early Contextualization in China, Part 2

I am continuing my post from last week regrading the Nestorian/Sianfu Stele in China. The monument is 10' high by 3'4" wide, just under one foot thick and weighs two tons. It is made of a black, sub-granular oolitic limestone. The figure-head decoration of the tablet consists of an immense pearl held between two dragon-like creatures called "Lungs.” The lung is a Chinese symbol that has taken on different shades of meaning over the many centuries of China’s cultural history and continues to be a subject of much debate by scholars. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

FREE performance in WNC

For those of you in the Western North Carolina area, here's a FREE performance you might like to check out: an Indonesian Gamelan Concert at Western Carolina University on Thursday, Nov. 18th. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it due to my work schedule, but will go if I can. Click the link above for more info.

An Early Contextualization in China, Part 1

Today I want to begin to examine a historical attempt at visual contextualization. The example is found in China and is called the Sianfu Stele (or Nestorian Stele).  It was erected in 781 A.D. by Nestorian Christians in or around Hsian-Fu, was buried in 845 due to persecution, and rediscovered in 1625.  The text on the monument is written in Chinese and Syriac, and chronicles the diffusion of Nestorianism in China, including the initial declaration of the “Law of the Messiah” to the Tang Emperor Taizong around 635. 

The large Chinese characters at the top of the monument proclaim it as the “Chinese Monument of the History of the Luminous Religion of Daqin” (the church in China referred to itself as "The Luminous Religion of Daqin", Daqin being the Chinese language term for the Roman Empire in the first and second centuries A.D., and in later eras was also used to refer to the Syriac Christian churches).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Contexualized Dance Among Australian Aboriginals

Easter Purlapa, in Yuendumu (Yurntumu), Central Australia, 1978.
In this scene Jesus is taken by soldiers for his crucifixion.

A corroboree is a ceremonial meeting of Aboriginal Australians. The word was coined by the European settlers of Australia in imitation of the Aboriginal word caribberie. At a corroboree Aboriginal Australians interact with the Dreamtime through dance, music and costume. Many of the ceremonies are sacred and people from outside a particular community are not permitted to participate or watch. There are some women's and men's dances and songs, and those used by both men and women. Whether it be public or private, the ceremony is for invited guests. As a part of these dances members of the language would paint particular designs on their bodies to indicate the type of ceremony being held and the language group and family group performing. More on this below.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nonwestern Art History Resource

Here's a great resource I recently discovered to learn more about nonwestern art history: iTunes U on iTunes.  Specifically, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco has an incredible selection of lectures on Asian art history (Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim).  I've been checking out the series called Passport to Asia, but there are several other series on specific art forms.  So, download a lecture or two, and let me know what you think.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Contextualized Australian Aboriginal Art

In my 10/10/10 post, I mentioned the theology in the book Rainbow Spirit Theology: Toward an Australian Aboriginal Theology, and the artwork in The Rainbow Spirit in Creation.  In today's post, I'd like to explore Australian Aboriginal art further and one example of contextualizing it. The concept of art in traditional Australian Aboriginal society is very different to the concept of art in European society. In traditional Aboriginal societies, activities like dancing, singing, body decorations, sand drawings, making implements or weaving baskets were not considered to be separate activities called art and design. All of these activities were a part of the Dreaming (or Dreamtime) and a part of normal daily life. There was no concept of a special type of person, artists, because, in a sense, everyone was an artist. This is changing as tradition-oriented communities adapt to aspects of western culture although the number of ‘artists’ in any Aboriginal group would generally be far greater than in non-Aboriginal communities (for more info see

Friday, October 15, 2010

Islamic Calligraphy Exhibition

Just a quick note (forgot to mention it on my 9/28/10 post) about a current exhibition at Emory University in Atlanta: Islamic Calligraphy and the Qur'an | Michael C. Carlos Museum. If you're in the area and interested in Arabic calligraphy as an art form, check it out (I'm going to try).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Christian Identity vs Ethnic Identity | The Lausanne Global Conversation

I recently came across this post at the Lausanne Cape Town 2010 website.  The author (a Christian from India) laments how ethnic conflict is rampant among various groups in northeast India.  He struggles with how to personally respond, and even questions whether he is more motivated by his ethnic identity or by his Christian identity.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blog Link: Artists and the Global Church

I would encourage you to check out this blog post by W. David O. Taylor about nonwestern artists and the upcoming issue of  Connections, the missions journal of the  World Evangelical Alliance.  It is a 100 page double issue dedicated to arts in missions.  Anyone who is interested in missions and the arts should check it out!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Arabic Calligraphy

Arabic calligraphy is one of the most highly regarded arts forms in the Islamic world, because it is the language of the Qur'an, the sacred book of Islam. Muslims believe it was dictated to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel between 610-632 A.D. Since then, Arabic calligraphy has become a highly developed art form due to the prohibition of images within most branches of Islam.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Native American Contextualization

Although not dealing specifically with the visual arts, I invite you to check out the newest issue of Mission Frontiers magazine, "Making Jesus Known."  It has articles by several native Christian leaders about contextualization, and each article (or the entire issue) can be downloaded in pdf format.  I'm still reading through it, but so far have really enjoyed the article on contextualized sweat lodges!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Early Examples of Contextualized Christian Art

I'm currently reading Our Sacred Signs by Ori Z. Soltes, and in Chapter Three he discusses the origins and development of (western) Christian art. It's interesting to read how these early Christ-followers in Europe combined their new understanding of Jesus with imagery from their pagan background in ways that were either complementary with their faith, and/or by infusing pagan motifs with new Christian meanings.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tibetan Thangka Paintings

The thangka is a striking visual art form that originated in Nepal and later spread to neighboring Tibet along with Buddhism beginning in the 7th century A.D. (the oldest surviving thangka dates from 999 A.D.). “Thangka” means ‘that which can be rolled up,’ because it is a painted or appliqué image on a cotton or silk scroll. Thangkas typically depict Buddhist deities, stories or mandalas. They can range from a few inches in size to over 60 feet wide for giant festival thangkas, which are displayed on buildings or hillsides.

Thangkas combine styles and motifs from several cultures. Because they were first developed in Nepal, the style of the figures is Nepalese, though the measurements, costumes and objects are Indian (Buddhism originated in India). The background landscapes are based on Chinese art.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chinese artist He Qi

He Qi (pronounced “Huh Chee”) is a contemporary Chinese Christian artist that paints primarily biblical themes and scenes. However, he combines these stories with Chinese cultural elements drawn from the colorful folk art of the Chinese countryside, and rural Tibet. In addition to these sources, he also references the iconography of the Western Middle Ages and Modern Art. If you aren't familiar with his art and story, click here to read more about the symbolism in his work and his own personal journey.

Sumatra: Isle of Gold

Here's an interesting review of an exhibit about the cross-cultural art of Sumatra at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore.  Too bad I won't be able to make the trip...

Monday, August 9, 2010

First Nations artist Don Froese

I featured this image on my very first post.  There's a great article (p. 1-2) about the First Nations artist who carved it, Don Froese.  The wood carving is beautiful and Froese gives a full description of the symbolism.  It's absolutely awesome to see such beautiful First Nations/Native American artwork contextualized to show Christ's love for the artist and his people.  Check it out!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Origins and Meanings of the Eight-Point Star

For fans of Islamic art (especially Moroccan zillij), here is an interesting article by Sarah Tricha on the eight-point star pattern, or Khatim.  You see this motif repeated throughout the art and architecture of the Islamic world.  The article has loads of interesting information about the origins and astrological associations with the pattern, which shows that its meaning has been both redefined (as is often done in contextualization), and possibly syncretised, over the centuries.

Oddly, the author neglects to discuss the traditional meaning of the symbol to Muslims.  

In any case, I found the information at the end of the article about the Breath of the Compassionate pattern to be fascinating in regards to contextualization, although the description was way too abstract and vague for me (but see a fuller description here, about halfway through the article). It did, however, make me wonder what it would look like if believers who were also zillij artisans were to create new patterns that somehow incorporated both biblical and complimentary koranic meanings, while at the same time honoring and infusing new life into a very traditional Moroccan art form. The symbolism behind these patterns, as well as those found on Moroccan pottery, is something I'd like to learn more about (no luck from the books I've purchased thus far).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Review: Holy Ground: A New Approach to the Mission of the Church in India

I just finished reading Holy Ground: A New Approach to the Mission of the Church in India, a survey of contextualized church architecture in India by Jyoti Sahi. 

Sahi adds his own insights, as well as background information regarding the historical context of the architectural styles.  The text is accompanied by scores of black and white photos.  The first four chapters deal with the historical background of how colonialism has affected the church in India and its image among Hindus.  The other six chapters deal with indigenous architectural styles, as grouped under specific themes: ashrams, prayer rooms, the church as a teaching aid, etc.

The premise for Sahi's survey is that church architecture is an outward expression of the church's theology.  He begins by affirming that inculturation is based on the Incarnation itself, and as a result, church architecture can “[intensify] the senses of the worshipper, so that ultimately God is experienced as incarnated into the life and physical being of the worshipper” (16).  He also stresses that artistic creation is “itself our way of of worshipping God – what in Indian spiritual tradition is called the individual's sadhana (devotional path or search)” (17).  Sadly, however, Sahi concludes that “enthusiasm for an Indian type of Church... has changed a great deal [since its height in the 1960's] and is apparently a spent force.  There seems to have been a growing sense within the Indian church over the past fourteen years that other concerns [poverty, etc.] have a priority” (13). 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Visual Arts Contextualization in the Bible, Part 4

Today I'd like to focus on an idea that I recently read about in The Temple and the Church's Mission  by G. K. Beale, and secondly in an article entitled “Jerusalem as Eden,” by Lawrence E. Stager (Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2000). The idea is this: that the motifs and symbolism of Israel's temple, like the temples of its pagan neighbors, were based on the idea of a primeval garden. If this is the case (and it seems to be, at least in part), then it is another way in which Israel borrowed artistic and theological concepts from its neighbors in order to show the truths of Yahweh.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Visual Arts Contextualization in the Bible, Part 3

The cherubim are a class of angelic beings mentioned in the Bible, and in various ancient Near Eastern cultures. They are identified in the Bible first as guardians of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), or simply as being in Eden (Ez. 28:13-14). In later passages they are depicted as guardians of the throne of God (Ex. 25:17-22; 1 Kings 6:23-28; Ex. 26:31; Ez. 1:26, Ps. 80:1, 99:1; Is. 37:16; Dan. 3:55), or are described as being modes of transport for God Himself (2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10; Ez. 10:18-19).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Visual Arts Contextualization in the Bible, Part 2

Last week, I began this series on the contextualization of visual arts in the Bible by comparing the Israelite Tabernacle with Egyptian war tents. In this post, I'd like to continue the discussion by moving on to Solomon's Temple (which shared the same basic layout and many of the same visual motifs with the Tabernacle), and its similarities to a Hittite temple in Syria called ‘Ain Dara.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Visual Arts Contextualization in the Bible, Part 1

I thought it would be interesting to write a series of posts on examples of the contextualization of visual arts in the Bible itself-- not principles, but actual examples (the principles of how to contextualize the visual arts will have to wait till later).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Contextualization & Hinduism (Pt. 2): Why Contextualize?

Here's an interesting post by Rev. Cody Lorance (via Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity) in a series about the need for contextualization in missions (in this case, among Hindus). At this stage the author is laying an important foundation, but as time goes on (and based on some of his other posts on contextualized worship), I hope to see some interesting specific examples, which will hopefully include some musings on the arts (e.g., see the photo at left in the part 1 post).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Indian Church Art (or lack thereof)

Here are two paragraphs quoted from Jyoti Sahi's latest blog post at Jyoti Art Ashram. I have included some comments at the end.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review-- Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures by A. H. Mathias Zahniser

Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures by A. H. Mathias Zahniser gives much food for thought regarding missions and discipling cross-culturally.  

Zahniser's purpose is to explore how ritual and ceremony can be used as tools for discipling followers of Jesus, by those who are from another culture. He cites and explains the importance of symbols and ceremonies (pilgrimages, initiation rites, etc.) for bonding religious meaning to personal faith in indigenous cultures, and the danger of not utilizing these resources ("split-level Christianity"). He gives several examples of religious rituals and ceremonies (most of which come from other religious traditions) and then adds his thoughts on how they could be adapted for Christian use.

I applaud his approach to contextualization which strives to avoid syncretism (chapter eight is an excellent review and presentation on the meaning and process of contextualization). Ironically, I felt that a few of his more western (Christian) examples of various rituals felt a little too "churchy," i.e., a bit traditional and boring.  But overall, I'd love to read more along these lines, including further examples and experiments in additional nonwestern contexts.  The book certainly challenges the western/modernistic approach to discipleship which stresses head knowledge and systematic theology without connecting it to the struggles of daily living.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Some thoughts on the role of the visual arts in indigenous cultures

As I continue to read various books and articles relating to indigenous visual arts (including my post about Balinese Christian artist Nyoman Darsane), a question has come to my mind, one that I'd really love to get some feedback about from indigenous Christian leaders.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ethnicity And Identity | Lausanne Global Conversation

From the website for The Lausanne Global Conversation, here's a great post by Dewi Hughes with his thoughts about ethnicity and identity as it concerns indigenous Christianity and evangelization. Although he focuses on language as a source of cultural identity, it has a lot of application to the arts as well. Please check it out!

Ethnicity And Identity | Lausanne Global Conversation

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Featured Artist: Nyoman Darsane

I recently posted about Balinese Christianity.  So in today's post, I'd like to feature one of Bali's best-known Christian artists, Nyoman Darsane. 

I've pulled the information below from a variety of web sources, plus the book The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today, an exhibition catalog from the Museum of Biblical Art in NYC (the book, btw, is a good introduction to indigenous contextualization of the visual arts, especially in Asia).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Narrative, Symbol, and Ritual

"Narrative, Symbol, and Ritual" is a great post by Dr. Colin Harbinson, the International Director of StoneWorks, a global arts initiative for cultural restoration and the recovery of the imagination in the life and mission of the church.  I'm currently reading one of the books he mentions in the post (Symbol and Ceremony by A.H. Mathias Zahniser), so all of this is fresh on my mind, though I'm still trying to mentally grasp it all and put it together coherently.  In part, the blog explores how the visual arts play a role in symbolism and ritual across most cultures, linking the meta narrative of their faith to their daily life, thoughts and emotions, and how the western church has lost much of this visual aspect of discipleship.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Christianity in Bali


The Christian communities on the island of Bali in southeast Asia offer one of the most interesting examples of nonwestern Christianity in the world, through its embrace of indigenous arts such as architecture, relief carving, music, dance, ceremony and dress (this is a part of the world that is definitely on my must-travel list!). Back in 1972 the Protestant church of Bali decided to embrace the contextualization of their faith, after about 40 years of having practiced a version of Christianity started by Chinese missionaries that condemned the native cultural practices (in earlier decades, the Catholic church had made the same choice as well). The result has been churches which are built in the Balinese architectural style which reflects the Hindu culture of the island (though I suppose with reinterpreted meanings). The church services use gamelan music, shadow puppetry and traditional Balinese dance . Some Hindu cultural celebrations have been adopted or reinterpreted as well. Unfortunately, tantalizingly little has been written about these rich cultural practices of Bali's Christian community . Maybe one day I'll have to do something about that...

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Diversity of Early Believers

A good reminder that today's worldwide ethnic (and therefore cultural) diversity of Jesus' followers is as old as the religion itself (too bad it didn't stay that way continuously since then):

The Diversity of Early Believers by Carolyn McCulley

(thanks to Paul Neeley for the heads up!).

Friday, April 30, 2010

Who needs indigenous art most?

Something I've thought about in the last year or two in relation to indigenous art and the Gospel is this: When does affirming cultural identity become a necessary component in presenting the Gospel (and living it out) vis a vis the visual arts? When are more generic (i.e., western) forms of art not suited for evangelism, worship, etc. among an indigenous group?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

And now for something completely different...

Welcome to my new blog!  My goal here is to provide a place for exploring how indigenous peoples can illuminate and honor Jesus through their visual arts. For the last thousand or so years, Christianity has been considered a western religion because most people (especially Christians) have mistakenly equated its cultural practices with the person of Jesus. Yet, when Jesus told his followers to “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19), he wanted these disciples to follow him with all of their hearts, minds, souls and strength (Mark 12:30)-- not a foreign culture. Therefore, the Gospel should be given to every nation (ethnos) so that they might follow Jesus in culturally relevant ways of their own choosing, in order to express their hearts' praise to him.

Indigenous visual arts can take on many forms: ritual objects, iconic images, narrative paintings, etc. But what forms do these objects take when indigenous people reflect on Jesus and the Gospel? Which facets of Jesus resonate most in their hearts, and what do they see in him that I miss (and how do they express it artistically)? What cultural and artistic treasures has God placed in the hearts of indigenous peoples that they are longing to pour out to Him?

I hope you will join me in exploring these questions and others, and that we will all learn something new about God and His Gospel. Most of all, I hope we'll all come to know and love Jesus more deeply. I'm looking forward to the journey!