The prophetic imagination invites us to lay aside old ways of being and sources of authority, and to imagine new futures.
Claire Beausein, who divides her time between Broome and regional Victoria, formed her work by stitching together over 600 wild silkworm chrysalises gathered from the wild in Indonesia. Chalice is a powerful work that draws you in close to experience the glorious sheen on the work and the lace effect of the shadow and to stand away from it and see the possible image of a face that some have described as the face of Christ. Claire began her exploration with thoughts of a shroud which symbolises the metamorphosis of the human person into eternal life. From there, her thoughts developed into a search for wild cocoons. The colour range is from gold to very pale yellow, and they are carefully patterned. Claire described the process of putting the artwork together as a meditative act. Some of the silk thread used to assemble this work is intentionally visible on the surface but much of it is hidden as is so much of our spiritual development. Our various spiritual metamorphoses in life are often hidden from sight but seen in effect and in our witness to what has occurred within. The work is suspended by museum pins, reminiscent of the moths and butterflies displayed as collections, standing away from the cotton rag paper background. The curved shape of the lower edge speaks of the shape of a chalice which holds the wine to be transformed and the gold colour also speaks of sacred vessels. Claire speaks of the ‘gravitas of profound change with the fragility of lace’. These opposites are in tension as in our spiritual lives.
Michael Iwanoff’s work, fromlittlethings, evokes the endless nature of change in all of creation, including within ourselves. He describes it as a ‘poetic meditation on the transformative seed each of us is able to sow into our awareness, experience and life’. The whole of creation is in the process of continual transformation, metamorphosis, as Paul says: ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now’ (Rom. 8.22). When the work of God is finished, when the whole of creation has been returned through the glory of Christ, we shall all be one in God. What is required is to wait in hope. In fromlittlethings the hope is symbolised by the seeds held in a small bag at the base of the painting, hanging from a mantle on which there is a small copper bowl from which water evaporates. There is so much in the work that is symbolic of all manner of change, some of which we are subjected to and some that naturally flows from our very nature. In the judges’ description, they spoke of the painting holding themes of ‘homecoming, journey, and acceptance’. There is a cosmological level too in the semblance of stars, and at different angles one catches a small glittery flash of light. In Michael’s description, he speaks of ‘this metamorphosis that is honoured and that so exquisitely grows the joy of being’.
Terre Verte, a particular green pigment, is revealed in the central section of Susan Roux’s free-hanging work. She begins her description with: ‘Adrift in rivers that divide and bind lands, I chart a home anew’. Susan’s original material for this work was a series of maps which symbolise the journey upon which she has personally embarked, and the journey of life that we all travel. The maps were washed and dried and stitched on a sewing machine using a completely free form of working the material. It is an extremely laborious way of building a fabric but the effect is rich and unpredictable. For Susan, it is also a deeply meditative way of working. There are structural wires inside that speaks of our own physical structure, our skeletal strength that is unseen but completely necessary for our embodied life. As the judges said:
Viewed from a distance the piece is reminiscent of a rock, geode, or even a distant universe, evoking an almost geological sense of time-scale and transformation.
Inside, however, the terre verte, the green thread used in free stitching on a material that is then washed off the stitching leaving a lace effect, is burgeoning forth. Life and creation continue in the green, growing heart of her work. This is the sense of Spirit, of re-creation, that Susan seeks. The metamorphosis marks many places in our journey. The great metamorphic actions in scripture include Abram’s journey west, the exodus from Egypt, the exile in Babylon and the return, and, of course, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, there are many changes along the way, but the greatest is our baptism where we are changed into a new creation in Christ.
Angela Stewart’s artwork confronts you from the full distance across the gallery in the opening exhibition. There is a sense of compulsion and a desire to know the story. Her artist’s statement centres around grief, death, silence, love, loss, helplessness. Two years ago Angela’s son, a horseman, died. This artwork depicts the growth from out of the loss, the metamorphosis that grief insists upon. She will never be the same, but the horse is the symbol of the strength needed to get out of the depths of loss. It is a powerful work. In the Hebrew scriptures, the images of horses are important. If you had a horse, you went into battle with a better chance of survival than if you were on foot. In Psalm 33.17, however, we hear that the ‘war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save’. If we rely only on the things around us, the things we wrap our humanity and strength in, then we will not be rescued from our distress. It is these times that trust in the Lord is required and a time for us to move through the grief, as Angela says, to ‘recalibrate, begin, breathe, the horse, the rider, my son’. The judges’ comments say this succinctly:
The insistence of the image to be expressed captures the unstoppability of the prophetic voice – of the Divine voice – arising in unexpected places, disturbing and comforting, undeniable. This technically accomplished work plays with the inversion of light and dark, and evokes movement and disquiet with multiple images, ragged edges, and lines pulsing with energy.
The array of artworks for the 2022 Mandorla Art Award each offer us a way in which to view the theme of Metamorphosis – a profound or radical change. ‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ (Isaiah 43.19). In times of discontinuity, faith becomes an important ingredient, and this has been evident in times of radical change. With the pandemic, we have all experienced the need for change, and war and climate change continue to impact us all. Yes, we need to change and the challenge is to make it positive on the large scale as well as the small. The artists chosen as finalists gave expressions of metamorphosis that are both challenging and beautiful.
Dr Angela McCarthy is Chairperson of the Mandorla Art Award. She lives and works on Whadjuk country.
This performance by the Syrian-born and Cambridge-based artist Issam Kourbaj , which took place at the Howard Theatre, Downing College, Cambridge on 15 March 2021, marks the tenth anniversary of the Syrian uprising. Kourbaj describes the project thus:
To mark the tenth anniversary of the Syrian uprising, which was sparked by teenage graffiti in March 2011, this drawing performance will pay homage to those young people who dared to speak their mind, the masses who protested publicly, as well as the many Syrian eyes that were, in the last ten years, burnt and brutally closed forever. I will draw fragments of Arabic words and eye idols on a large surface in layers, repeating and obscuring them beyond all legibility and recognition. It will become a palimpsest of these two elements, the first is inspired by the graffiti that was quickly erased even before it was completed, and the second is based on three Syrian eye idols from the collections of The Fitzwilliam Museum, made of alabaster and dating to around 3200 BC, excavated at Tell Brak, Syria, in a building now called the Eye Temple. I will then burn the final drawing and place the remaining ash in a glass box. Ideally, this will be exhibited in a sacred space to memorialise every victim of the last decade, while also being dedicated to all Syrians lost, displaced and still suffering from this ongoing crisis. Towards the end of the performance, the viewer will hear words written by myself, set to music by renowned composer Richard Causton (Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge) and sung by soprano Jessica Summers.
Danylo Movchan is a Ukrainian artist who lives and works in Lviv. Below is a photo of an icon written by Movchan, his response to Russia’s bombing yesterday of a Ukrainian children’s hospital and maternity ward, in the city of Mariupol.
I first met Michael Galovic through an icon painting workshop in the mid-1990s. His religious art not only covers a vast range of icons that draw upon his deep understanding and respect for the form from its earliest origins through to the present day but also covers contemporary work.
Michael’s most recent project has been a very challenging and self-imposed task. Its focus has been primarily on the representation of ‘the Celestial Ranks’, predominantly as shown in Orthodox art, but also with examples from late medieval, early Renaissance, and Islamic art. Each of the many wonderful images expresses what would seem almost inexpressible: non-corporeal beings made manifest. The exhibition based on this work, and which is currently on display between 9–19 March at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Canberra, also highlights both the meaning and the beauty of the variety of portrayals, whether it be in terms of the images’ backgrounds or in such elements as the stunning array of angels’ wings. The icons in the exhibition illustrate a journey that is both geographical and through time.
My focus here, however, will be predominantly on his representation of two of the most significant and defining events in Christianity – the Annunciation and the Resurrection – as portrayed in the icon of ‘The Myrrh-bearing Women’, as well as the concept of the Trinity. Each image deepens one’s understanding of the religious art of the past and present, as well of a sense of tradition, while also expressing the perception and perspective of its creator:
In terms of the Orthodox tradition, icons are perceived, Annemarie Weyl Carr observed, as participating in the divine:
As angels and saints are images of God, icons, in turn, are images of them and so participate in the emanation of their sanctity. The crucial synapse between divinity and created matter was bridged by the incarnation.
The richness and variety of the icons is expressed through new iterations that nonetheless remain firmly grounded within the Orthodox tradition. The icons of the past were not mechanical copies of previous work. The tradition evolved not through meticulous repetition but through observing and understanding the symbolism and underpinning theology inherent in the creation of the icon. Each is also influenced by the time, background, and perception of the person making it.
To appreciate the beauty and theology of an icon is ultimately to be able to appreciate the immanence of God in creation:
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
The Icons of the Annunciation
Michael noted that his ‘Royal Doors’, an image of the Annunciation, is a work that has been 47 years in the making. This gives some sense of the process: it takes enormous patience in feeling one’s way into the image, as well as an understanding of the level of experience and technical skill needed to do such a work justice. It is a testament to Michael’s commitment to creating an image that brings alive the moment of the Incarnation in all its vividness and freshness. There is a wonderful balance between the sense of movement in the depiction of Gabriel, conveyed by both the pose and dynamism of the contrasting highlights, and the Theotokos’ acceptance, shown in her gently-bowed head and hand gesture.
It is difficult just to convey a sense of the intricacies of the craftsmanship required in the creation of this wonderful depiction of the Archangel Gabriel and the Theotokos. It began with the painstaking application of multiple layers of gesso to the intricately-carved wooden surface and then the gilding of the entire piece. This was followed by the meticulous translation of the drawn images onto the surface, with some parts being carefully embossed or stippled, as can be seen in the exquisite halos.
The actual painting of the image with egg tempera was a further level of challenge, with each layer needing to be completely dry before the next layer was attempted – often a matter of days, rather than hours.
The impermeability of the gold also makes it an exceptionally challenging surface on which to paint. The difficulty of the challenge is underscored by Eva Haustein-Bartsch’s comment, in her description of the Royal Door in the Recklinghausen Ikonen-Museum, that ‘what is completely unusual and probably unique about this door are the images painted on it over a gold background’.
Michael has created a truly outstanding depiction of the imagery frequently used on ‘Royal Doors’, bringing together many theological and technical aspects of iconography to delineate the entry to the sanctuary, considered in Orthodox theology to be ‘Heaven placed on earth’, as it contains the consecrated Eucharist, the manifestation of the New Covenant.
The second Annunciation, in a more contextualised setting, also captures the moment of the Archangel Gabriel’s first addressing Mary. There is the same sense of movement as in the ‘Royal Doors’ in the placement of the feet, with the role of messenger indicated both by the rod
being carried and the hand gesture indicating speech. Mary’s gesture here is one of enquiry – ‘“How will this be”, Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”’ (Lk 1.34)
This icon again highlights that Michael’s work, while maintaining the theology and often the form of earlier icons, by no means consists of making a mechanical copy of an earlier image! The vivid light blues on a deeper blue background sweep through from the tips of Gabriel’s wings to the sleeve of his under-gown with the same tones used in a static mode in the pillar beside Mary. This contrast is repeated in the lower part of the icon, with the rippling effect of Gabriel’s hem counterpointing the ‘stillness’ of Mary’s undergarment.
Another beautiful detail is the way in which the beam of light, with its image of the dove representing the Holy Spirit, is transparently overlaid on the red cloth. Each detail is indeed meticulously placed and adds to the viewer’s understanding and reception of the image, with the draped red cloth indicating that the scene is taking place in an interior. The colour flows through to Mary’s cushion, the thread she is holding and her ‘royal’ footwear. This image again emphasises the way in which the same image (that of the Annunciation) can both take inspiration from the past and create a new and vivid image. This is what keeps the tradition alive and relevant.
The inspiration for the third Annunciation in the series came from a faded and almost unreadable copy of an Annunciation from sixteenth-century Russia, and which had deteriorated to the point that, while the basic structures could be made out, that was about all. Michael always enjoys a challenge.
The image is also a very unusual one in that it shows darkened apertures in both the buildings and the holes in the ground, especially the fissure appearing between Mary and the Archangel. This could conceivably be highlighting the significance of Christ’s incarnation through referencing those icons of the Crucifixion where there is a dark aperture beneath the cross, into which Christ’s blood flows, signifying the redemptive nature of his death. The Crucifixion is inherent in the Annunciation.
The dark spaces dramatically highlight the wonderful luminosity that Michael has achieved in the depiction of both Gabriel and Mary. It, possibly more than any other icon in the exhibition, illustrates the concept of feeling one’s way into the image. It required a deep understanding, much thought and subsequently a painstakingly slow application of layer upon layer of semi-transparent egg and pigment washes to create the tonality that brings the image to life.
The fourth Annunciation is based on a fresco with a suitably-Aegean blue providing a background against which the figures and architecture stand out vibrantly, capturing the moment of the Incarnation.
These four images exemplify both the richness and diversity of traditions over at least four centuries and the value of bringing them alive in varied and beautiful iterations in the twenty-first century. While each highlights the role of the Archangel as the servant and messenger of God, as identified by the armband, and captures the contrast between movement and stasis, the nuances in the portrayal of Gabriel and Mary and the treatment of the backgrounds, ranging from the ‘uncreated light’ of the ‘Royal Doors’ to the texture and abstraction demonstrated in the three following images, exemplify the beauty, scope, and continuing significance of Iconography.
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is …
From the Annunciation to the Resurrection
Gabriel’s role as messenger is also highlighted in the icon of ‘The Myrrh-Bearing Women by the Tomb’, a diaphanously-rendered image of the women visiting Christ’s tomb. The delicacy and aptness of the detail, such as the fruitfulness of the trees, illustrates the richness in the variety of the use of imagery in the context of the Resurrection.
‘Angelic Exuberance’ is another vivid expression of the Resurrection – a dynamic and powerful iteration of a golden Archangel Gabriel that captures the light and joy of the event in a contemporary image that also evokes a continuing tradition: that of the White Angel, which is a detail of one of the best-known frescoes in Serbian culture, situated in the Mileševa Monastery.
‘The Assembly of Angels’ also includes the Archangel Raphael, whose name means ‘God has healed’. In conjunction with the image of Christ it highlights, for me, the nature of redemption through the Incarnation. The Christ Child is framed by an intricate rainbow-like aureole or medallion. The golden brightness in the central band of the medallion gives a wonderful vividness and focus to the work. This icon, in conjunction with its vibrancy highlighted through the angels’ garments and royal footwear, nonetheless seems to be set beyond time with a neutral background that portrays the figures as if floating in space. This feeling of weightlessness is enhanced by the folded position of the wings.
It seems fitting that the final image considered should be that of ‘The Holy Trinity’, which radiates calmness and certainty, as well as embodying a significant aspect of the development of portrayals of the Trinity. The process of the ‘three angels’ form for representing the Trinity began with icons of the hospitality of Abraham, which illustrated the visit of the three angels, in human guise, to Abraham.
This is a beautiful and elegant composition, based on a work by arguably the best Serbian iconographer – Zograf Longin. It is an icon that expresses the tripartite nature of God as expressed in the New Testament while highlighting the continued relevance and significance of the Old. Michael has dedicated a year to the completion of this project – one that needed fifty years practice and deepening of understanding for its making. He has brought alive the beauty and theology of differing traditions and forms in a way that is truly breathtaking.
Kerrie Magee has an academic background in medieval studies and education. Her interest in, and respect for, icons began in her mid teens and has continued ever since. She has been painting under Michael Galovic’s tuition for over 20 years. She has worked in teaching and gifted education. She lives on Wallumettagal Country.
Michael Galovic is one of Australia’s leading icon painters and has been commissioned by churches and individuals around Australia to celebrate the tradition of holy pictures in new and dynamic ways. Galovic trained at the Belgrade Academy of Arts as a contemporary artist while also learning the many technical steps of using egg temperas and gold leaf, required by the careful process of preparing an icon. He arrived in Australia in 1990 and has since that time had many solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas including in Europe and the USA. While continuing the tradition of iconography he has also extended his approach to include insights from the Australian landscape, indigenous spirituality and more universal depictions of the presence of God in creation. He is a careful technician able to enliven the demanding requirements of the tradition while also offering visual innovations that explore the cultural convergence required of a multi-cultural Australia. His work is always visually rich, finely detailed with a great depth of colour and form. A skilled and insightful artist exploring the spiritual through his art. (Dr Rod Pattenden). Michael lives and works on the land of the Darkinjung people.
It’s the last Sunday after Epiphany, and the seasons turn, though we have been more bathed in rain than cooked by sun this year, and the sigh collected …
weary pandemic endurers – it is not over yet;
anxious fire survivors – oh, the ever-present threat;
exhales each time rivers’ swelling this time receded – wait – inhale – hold – flood!
anticipated liberation with the fall around the corner, and the freeing it will bring;
… us together though the Convoys and ‘Christian Lobbies’, the letters and the policies brought before us sought to tear us, would have led us deep into the dark.
It’s the last Sunday after Epiphany and the seasons turn again, from light to longer nights of cozy hibernation, of frightened isolation –
oh, Holy One of Epiphany, hold us in the dark with guiding star, with who You are, our sighs, with You, collected.
SARAH AGNEW IS A STORYTELLER, POET, AND UNITING CHURCH MINISTER CURRENTLY IN PLACEMENT WITH WESLEY UNITING CHURCH, CANBERRA. HER POETRY AND LITURGY APPEAR IN WILD GOOSE PUBLICATIONS AS STAND-ALONE E-LITURGIES, IN EDITED ANTHOLOGIES, AND AS WEEKLY PRAYER-POEMS AT PRAY THE STORY. HER MOST RECENT PUBLISHED POETRY COLLECTION IS WHISPER ON MY PALM (RESOURCE PUBLICATIONS, 2022). SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON NGUNNAWAL COUNTRY
their smells are distinctive on this zoom conference one Catholic, advocating the Pope’s universal love for the creation one Protestant, speaking of the gospel’s power for all people their eloquence and passion point to unity and faith
still they smell different
their voices, tones, looks, manners postures and positions give unique smells as herbs display themselves in a tea house for visitors of the Zoom
after steeping them in water – reflections, Q&A, more reflections aroma rising from their words
after tasting which tea are you going to buy or simply walk out?
XIAOLI YANG IS A THEOLOGIAN, POET, AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR. SHE LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND AND IN THE MIDDLE KINGDOM.