Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Indian Christian Artists Forum

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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.

Jyoti Sahi, The Dalit Madonna,
c. 2000
One of the participants, Executive Secretary of CBCI Commission for Social Communications Fr. George Plathottam, made an interesting comment that relates directly to the contextualization of the visual arts: “Communication is becoming more and more visual and we are moving away from a literate to [an] image-based culture. Promotion of Christian art in India is essential if we are to effectively communicate the message of the gospel to the people of the country... We need an artistic expression that is indigenous, rooted in the native symbols and ethos of our country as we cannot live for long on borrowed images and imagery.” This initiative seeks to respond to the lack of indigenous church art and theology in India, which I referenced in a previous post in which I quoted and discussed the comments of one of the Forum's artists, Jyoti Sahi.

It is exciting to see a group of Indian artists and followers of Jesus who are beginning to organize for the purpose of moving beyond “borrowed images,” so that a new visual language can be created for the expression and understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to follow him, as Indians. Many great Christian Indian artists from the past were named as inspirations for the group's work, including Angelo da Fonseca, Frank Wesley, Alfred Thomas, Jose Pereira, Sr. Genevieve, and Sr. Claire-- most of whom I hope to eventually discuss individually in this blog.

Dr. Paul Kattukaran
Since the original story ran, the Forum's coordinator, Father Kattukaran, has stated that “the Church could effectively use Christian visual art in spiritual formation, pastoral care and other works.” Kattukaran (who has a doctorate in Christian art!), seems to be in line with A. H. Mathias Zahniser in his book Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures, where Zahniser promotes the use of symbols and ceremonies for bonding religious meaning to personal faith in indigenous cultures, and warns of the danger of not utilizing these artistic resources (i.e., "split-level Christianity").  I find this whole topic extremely interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading more about Kattukaran's efforts to combine these ideas with contextualized visual art.

The Forum plans to meet again in February 2011 to further organize and plan future activities, as well as host an art exhibition on Mother Teresa by the participants.


  1. Further info about the Forum's vision, mission and objectives can be found at:

  2. This is a great idea to bring together Indian Christian artists who are able to communicate the Christian experience of God through Jesus Christ for deepening the Christic experience as well as for dialoguing with the spiritual experience of others in order to grow in Spirit and in Truth. May God bless the efforts of Fr Kattukaran and the Forum of Artists.
    Jacob Parappally,MSFS