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?

It's become evident to me over the last few years in my reading that in many cases, those cultures that most need to uphold and affirm their indigenous identity while embracing Christianity are those that have in some way been dominated or exploited by another (usually western) culture. In many of these cases, the indigenous people have (at the very least) been made to feel like second class citizens while under direct occupation, and/or have been exploited from the outside by another government, business(es) or culture (including missionaries). At the very worst end of the scale, they have been the victims of cultural and/or physical genocide. In situations such as these, a formerly victimized culture will have the greatest need to affirm their cultural identity, in the eyes of God, one another, and the world, so that the stigmas of the past can be washed away in their own minds.

Examples of such cultures that come to my mind are Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, Balinese, the Maya, many African peoples, etc. I've found it especially strong in my research about the first two groups, who were targeted both for genocide (in some cases at least) and cultural genocide through re-education and the dividing of children from their parents, renaming them, etc.

I believe that God is calling all cultures to worship and follow him in ways that are expressions of their deepest identities. Of course, the sinful elements of a culture (including those in the arts) should be opposed, but not every cultural art form is inherently sinful-- it all depends on how it's used (and the attitude of the worshiper).

My goal in this post isn't to get political, but merely to point out that those who've been culturally abused are in greatest need of being affirmed by their Heavenly Father for who he created them to be. Unfortunately, in some cases this has led to revisionist histories and unbiblical theologies, but overall I think it has produced strong theologies that allow indigenous believers to reclaim their God-given cultural identities and use the arts to worship and proclaim God as Savior and Creator of the universe!

Some books and links on this topic are: 


  1. Not religously motivated but British occupation of India is another example but in this case the indigenous relgion remained primarily intact.

  2. Very true. That's why I included Living Water and Indian Cup at the end of the post. It's a good synopsis of how Indian Christians can follow Jesus in a more culturally Hindu way.