|The Transfiguration by A.D. Thomas|
Alfred David Thomas (1907-1989) was an Anglican Indian who studied at the Lucknow Art School in Santiniketan, where he studied under Bireswar Sen and Nandalal Bose. Sen himself was influenced by French book illustrator Edmund Dulac, who produced illustrations for children's classics such as The Arabian Nights, Sleeping Beauty, and Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, among others (his work is really great!). Thomas later attended Visva Bharati University under Rabindranath's nephew, Abanindranath Tagore (the father of modern Indian art), and also studied in Florence, Italy. He married in Italy and eventually moved to England where he lived until his death in 1989.
|The Ascension by A.D. Thomas|
That there is major opposition to such an approach is not surpising in a country, where around 80% of the Christians are Dalits (untouchables) or tribals. The strongest critiques... felt rightly that the suffering of Jesus was not sufficiently depicted in a Christ who resembled a meditating peace-loving Buddha (p. 204).
|The Woman Taken Into Adultery by A.D. Thomas|
In The Woman Taken Into Adultery, Jesus sits with eyes half closed (a Buddhist meditative practice), and a "bump" of hair on the top of his head that resembles the Buddha's ushnisha, or sign of enlightenment. His sitting position resembles (in my opinion) the Lalita-asana position, which indicates that while he is free from the attachments to samsara, he remains to assist all who suffer. With his left hand he draws on the ground, visually mirroring the right-handed mudhra with which the Buddha calls the earth to be a witness to his enlightenment.
|Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by A.D. Thomas|
In Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Jesus sits on a low wall, with one leg hanging down, as if Krishna himself. His blue skin reinforces this identification, although in contrast, he has a halo and his forehead glows a golden hue (a similar motif found in some of Frank Wesley's paintings).
So, what do you think about Thomas and his portrayal of Jesus? Do you agree with his critics that his Jesus is just too detached, and resembles Buddha or Krishna, possibly confusing Hindus and Buddhists? Or do you see them as a more authentic portrayal of an Indian Christ?
As I reflect on Thomas' art, and his critics (he did have his defenders, by the way), there are three points I would make. First, as an artist myself, I admire Thomas' efforts to embody his faith and culture in his artwork. As with any artist, he has a right to experiment in his art, working out his beliefs and how to portray it. Not every result will be theologically perfect, but then none of us are, are we?
|The Crucifixion by A.D. Thomas|
Chinnawong has portrayed Christ's suffering in both figural as well as in more abstract ways. The idea of Christ's suffering certainly doesn't have to be the first image that an Asian Christian artist tackles, but it is something to think about and ponder, as to how it could be represented.