Sunday, November 27, 2011

Artist Profile: Safina Stewart

Southern Cross Turtle by Safina Stewart

Safina Stewart is an Australian Indigenous Christian artist living in Melbourne, Australia.  Born in Auckland, New Zealand, but raised in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Safina grew up with many multicultural experiences where she learned to follow Jesus from her missionary parents.  Her father is Australian with a Scottish heritage and her mother is a Torres Strait Islander and Queensland Aboriginal.  At the age 13 Safina returned to live in mainland Australia.


Safina writes, “Art and a pride in my cultural heritage allow me the opportunity to showcase creative reflection - giving me a platform to honour the Creator as one made in His image."  Safina also enjoys using her skills to work with children and youth, sharing cultural insights through school artist-in-residence programs.  She seeks "to raise awareness of issues hindering mutual respect [and] acceptance between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, given her belief in the dignity and equality of all people."

Safina is an enthusiastic participant in the Koorie Night Market, a regular arts, food, culture, and music market that debuted in 2008 in Melbourne. Since then it has developed significantly to become a community event that showcases indigenous culture.  Part of the vision for the market is to "be a cultural showcase, meeting place, community builder and business incubator, giving aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access to the resources they need, the space to promote their culture, and the opportunity to achieve their potential."  Safina and other Aboriginal artists (both non-Christian and Christian) actively participated in the Koorie Night Market, which encourages them as they see their culture affirmed and celebrated.

Rainbow Serpent by Safina Stewart

Safina's form of ministry is at Koorie and other similar art markets and shows, where she is able to speak casually with people and hear their faith stories.  She tells them about the stories depicted in her art, as well as her own personal testimony.  Through these conversations, the Lord sometimes gives Safina opportunities to minister to these admirers of her art.  Many of the people she speaks with are white Australians, who don't understand how an Indigenous Australian can also be a follower of Jesus, while embracing their native culture.  These conversations help increase understanding between believers of both communities.

Strong Communities by Safina Stewart
In her paintings Safina explores her faith and ethnicity, seeking to understand how God has combined both in her as an indigenous follower of Jesus.  Beginning with Aboriginal art styles and motifs, Safina infuses them with her own personal color palette.  Next, she combines this imagery with biblical stories and themes, focusing especially on God's love and reconciliation.

Stingray by Safina Stewart
Safina says, "My acrylic paintings each carry a story about the relationships we hold with others and our Creator.  I aim to share messages of hope through the vibrant tones and fluid line work that I use to tell the story behind each painting."

For example, many of her paintings feature native Australian animals.  Not only are many of these animals Aboriginal totems, but they also display characteristics which remind us of God's character and love for all people, Safina says.  She chooses each animal based on those unique characteristics which embody God's ways.  As she listens to Aboriginal Dreamtime stories, Safina says she wears her "Gospel glasses" in order to interpret them from a Gospel perspective.  She then visually transforms these impressions into colorful, vibrant paintings.

Intercessory Prayer by Safina Stewart

The painting "Intercessory Prayer" delivers a reminder to Christians about their essential calling to pray passionately for those who have not yet come to Christ. With Christ as our centre, Christians are to share the Good News of Jesus‘ grace and forgiveness. It is interesting to note that the central ring of U imprints is facing outwards. Usually in Indigenous art the campfire scene has U imprints turned in toward the centre of the campfire. However, in this scene the artist has deliberately painted them facing outwards to depict the message that the church is called to be outwardly focused.

Propa Good News, eh? by Safina Stewart

In "Propa Good News, eh?" Safina depicts the Gospel story through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  The large gold star-like rings overlaying the image represent the Southern Cross constellation, which reminds us of Jesus' wounds from his death on the cross.  A cross-shaped blue river also runs vertically through the painting, representing both Jesus and the River of Life flowing from God's throne, inviting the viewer to come soak in him!

The story actually begins in the top left of the painting, showing the original dreaming of the triune God, where he is surrounded by the people He has created to sit around His campfire in a close relationship with Him. (for more about how God and people are visually represented in Aboriginal art, see my post here).  Next we see God in the Garden of Eden speaking with Adam and Eve (in yellow), while Satan lurks behind them as a serpent.  Next we see the pair choosing to follow Satan and his lies, as they exit the Garden.

Following the blue path to the upper right section of the painting, we see the Trinity once again, as Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph.  Next are Jesus' baptism and temptation in the wilderness, followed by his teaching of the disciples.  The cross now appears (minus Jesus himself), its base piercing the serpent.  Afterward is the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus appearing once again to his disciples.

In the lower left area, Jesus returns to heaven and then sends the Holy Spirit to his followers, who are sitting around a campfire.  From this central gathering, the Good News of the Gospel goes out into other communities, to the ends of the earth.

Lastly in the bottom left corner, we see people making a choice to join God's family by entering the "narrow gate," or rejecting him by walking away. Those who choose God are ushered into eternal relationship with the Trinity, while those who reject God are cast away, along with Satan, their representative.

Safina plans to make prints of her paintings available for purchase through her website sometime in April 2012.  Her work is culturally beautiful and spiritually rich, and would make a great addition to any home.

Seven Days of Creation by Safina Stewart

Safina finds a lot of fellowship and inspiration from Christian Artists' Factory, a non-profit network of Christian artists in Australia.  CAF acts "as a connection point for Christian Artists’ in Australia, offering workshops, mentoring, advertising and gathering opportunities."  An online video posted by the organization features several of its members, including Safina at the beginning and end.

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