Last month, Jason Goroncy spoke at the opening of an exhibition of Wes Campbell’s artwork. Wes is a theologian, artist, and (retired) Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia. An edited version of his talk is now available on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal.
Anne Elvey has a new poetry collection, Leaf, forthcoming from Liquid Amber Press. It will be launched by Shari Kocher as part of Liquid Amber’s Eco-poetics Zoom event on Thursday 22 September 2022, along with readings from Peter Larkin and John C. Ryan. The evening begins at 7.30pm. Bookings are free but essential.
Visit here for further details and booking.
Emmanuel Garibay is a leading painter from the Philippines with an international reputation for work that reflects on issues of power and injustice. His works reflect the capacity for images to wake up the imagination to the experiences of marginalization, racism, and class difference, and to therefore affect change in social, political, and religious structures.
The work Selda, or prison cell in English, is a work that responds to current issues facing the Philippines, and, in turn, other regions around the world in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, increased military and political activity, and the resultant curtailment of individual freedoms. It is a large-format work made up of many smaller elements that are painted in an expressive and textured manner. The central figure of the composition is eating a golden apple, a symbol that should offer the promise to live forever, but instead has become infected with the coronavirus. To the left, a front-line health worker pales into death, sacrificed by a government that prefers to spend money on military budgets. Two authoritative figures carry a large book with the names of those who need to be sanctioned or disciplined, and then walk over a dead body. A figure in the sky is blinded by a face mask that has slipped over their eyes, a representation of delusion and false news. A woman flies a paper plane, representing the huge number of Filipino workers overseas who contribute more than ten percent of the nations’ income, while a sinister yellow cat lurks in the shadows.
Below the central figure is the kalabaw, the native water buffalo which is often used as a symbol of the hard-working prosperity of the nation; but here it has died. Underneath, a friar knocks over an indigenous woman representing the ongoing impact of political and religious colonialism. To the right, a figure with a telescope, the current president, is seen spying on the helpless, while a hand comes in with a red yo-yo, an action that names “red tagging” or accusing trouble makers of having anti-government sentiments. And then, finally, tucked in near a golden door, is the historic figure of José Rizal, the great hero of the independence movement who was executed in 1896. He was a writer, artist, and scientist, and Garibay gives him a position of understated prominence in this work, affirming the role of the artist, who might see more clearly what is going on in these fractured and overwhelming times. The entire work is imbued with a golden light, full of promise and prosperity, that turns, at times, into a sulphurous yellow, toxic and decaying. The artist does not offer a possible future, but rather a contemporary view of this historical moment, full of warnings of danger that call for urgent response.
RP. This work stands in the tradition of large mural paintings that will often convey the triumph of history or the virtues of the nation. But this work is far more complex and fragmented. The viewer has to weave these disparate elements together.
EG. The fragmented nature of these works manifests the inability of most people to find a synthesized grasp of the general situation. Some aspects of what is going on tend to be intentionally highlighted, while others tend to be obscured. We have a media that is easily co-opted by those in power. You have to make an effort to dig deeper and scrutinize, to analyze, to have a more complete and bigger picture.
RP. What role do you think artists have at a time like this? Do artists help people see more clearly?
EG. Artists have an opportunity to be much more fluid and flexible, to have the greatest degree of exposure to many aspects of life. Their life situation means they are not confined to routines and patterns like a nine-to-five job. The innate qualities of an artist—such as being sensitive, observant, and analytical—enable an artist to grasp or wrestle more with seeking clarity in one’s life situation and to understand the dynamics at play. This striving enables artists to have a more-complete understanding of life situations. When I paint, I listen to podcasts and lectures on theology, history, and philosophy. In other words, it enables me to have a wider basis for understanding things, not just through one perspective but through multiple perspectives.
RP. As an artist, you’re not only looking, but you’re also thinking about looking, and questioning your looking.
EG. In my case, I prefer to paint. It’s something that’s been done for thousands of years. It’s a direct action of you as a person. So, it is a constant affirmation of my self as a human being. Instead of exploring new technologies, it’s about resisting the need to innovate. At this point, I don’t see technical innovation as providing direction towards human development. I think it also helps people to slow down and to see. It also connects us to the past. What we have lost is a conscious connection to the past, and this accounts for why there is a massive loss of belief in this generation. This loss of belief makes us very vulnerable to all sorts of incursions by those in power to manipulate and control our worldview.
RP. You mean we lack an awareness of history, which means we are too buoyant, without a place of stability to make decisions about the present or the future.
EG. In the Philippines, it’s the fault of the Church for having misrepresented Christianity, because it was obsessed with power and authority. It forgets Christianity is the exact opposite. So as a result, it has misrepresented belief.
RP. What would you say that faith or Christianity has to offer this moment in history?
EG. I think it is more about being truly in tune with our humanity. It is one of the problems with the theology of the church fathers in the past. It emphasized too much the divinity of Christ and very little on his humanity. The deification of Christ is really about the idea of God becoming human, so that humans can understand the mind of God. So, it is a model to be followed rather just a figure to worship. There’s too much emphasis on worshipping Christ—in affect, worshipping the Church that contains this Christ. That is the main reason people have lost faith in belief.
RP. So the figure of Christ is a picturing of God. These christological images then also offer us options about what it is to be a human person.
EG. This is most emphasized in the way he lived his life, through washing the feet of his disciplines, uplifting the lowly, healing the sick, his passion for social justice. All of these are glossed over in favour of emphasizing the divinity. That is what stories are all about, and what art can do best. It can perpetuate the hope of what humanity is truly all about.
Emmanuel Garibay (b. 1962) is a leading artist from the Philippines who has a wide reputation having exhibited his work in Europe and the United States. His work explores the experience of those marginalised in his own country and is strongly informed by a theological critique of social power and politics. In 2011, the book Where God is: The Paintings of Emmanuel Garibay was published by OMSC (Overseas Ministries Study Center) in New Haven, USA, bringing his work to wider audiences.
Rev Dr Rod Pattenden is an art historian and theologian from Australia. He has written widely on the arts and creativity. HE LIVES AND WORKS ON AWABAKAL LAND.
This interview with Emmanuel Garibay is an excerpt from the new book, Imagination in an Age of Crisis: Soundings from the Arts and Theology (Pickwick, 2022), edited by Jason Goroncy and Rod Pattenden, with a foreword by Ben Quash. This book explores the vital role of the imagination in today’s complex climates – cultural, environmental, political, racial, religious, spiritual, intellectual, etc. It asks: What contribution do the arts make in a world facing the impacts of globalism, climate change, pandemics, and losses of culture? What wisdom and insight, and orientation for birthing hope and action in the world, do the arts offer to religious faith and to theological reflection? Marked by beauty and wonder, as well as incisive critique, it is a unique collection that brings unexpected voices into a global conversation about imagining human futures.
A video introduction and review of the book, plus details on how to obtain a 40% discount, is available here.
after Psalm 1
dig in deeper
to the river
running living water
my roots dive for
depth strives for
after dusty shallows
rocky fallows deserted
so I’m thirsting
from the working hard
to stay alive
and now it’s simple
to truly thrive
by the source
realigned with this replanting
though the uprooting
mud dried up
shook the muck
from my feet and I
SARAH AGNEW IS A STORYTELLER, POET, AND UNITING CHURCH MINISTER. HER POETRY AND LITURGY APPEAR IN WILD GOOSE PUBLICATIONS AS STAND-ALONE E-LITURGIES, and IN EDITED ANTHOLOGIES. HER MOST RECENT PUBLISHED POETRY COLLECTION IS WHISPER ON MY PALM (RESOURCE PUBLICATIONS, 2022). SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON Kuarna COUNTRY.
As a woman, I gravitate to the stories of women in the scriptures. Women balance multiple gender roles and identity tensions. Their stories are often hinted at or mentioned in passing. We get glimpses rather than full narratives. Nevertheless, they are there, often unnamed or in the shadows. Unlike many of the other women, these women are named. They are queens who had highly vulnerable political positions.
Jezebel (from Her Foreign Majesties)
Reflected in the mirror, I wonder at my crown.
Who placed it there upon my maiden brow?
A princess of Phoenicia, so foreign to this Land
How can I live authentically in this state?
O Jezebel, how came you here?
What will you do?
What have you done?
I did not choose to come here – sold by my tribe for peace…
I come as token gesture – a prize to be displayed
Today I’m claimed as Ahab’s queen, to mother his offspring
My body – chattel of the state – is not for me to own.
O Jezebel, who are you here?
Are you considered human?
Of are you simply of another
Makeda – Queen of Sheba
Love? No – maybe it was more of a curiosity …
A fascination with a legend.
I have had presented chiefs and princes …
The finest warriors and generals,
the richest men with the greatest lands.
I have no need to search,
But my interest has been aroused
by the tales of Wisdom.
What man is really wise?
Is there such a beast?
If so, might he be worthy of my attentions?
These days, I could be bored,
for my wealth is unsurpassed,
My lands are peaceful,
My realm is stable.
What more could a girl ask for?
I seek adventure … to travel to exotic places,
To meet interesting people …
To see this Temple of wonder
Being built for a single God!
Perhaps I will find more than sights to see?
Perhaps I will find a King worthy of a Queen?
Reflected in a mirror, I see my exiled face
Who gave me over to become a wife?
A Queen my Master made me – to people not my own
While mine are slaves and foreign to this place
O Esther, how came you here?
What will you do?
What have you done?
I did not choose to be here – taken from my people – dispossessed …
I am prize of warfare – a prize to be displayed
Today I’m Queen of Persia – but silent is my role
Do I dare disobey the boundaries of my life?
O Esther, who are you here?
Can you be given voice before your King?
Do you have words
from another Lord?
Amelia Koh-Butler is Minister, Eastwood Uniting Church, and is currently living on Wallamategal and Barramattegal Country of the Darug-speaking peoples.
Jason Goroncy and Rod Pattenden – this site’s editors – are thrilled to announce that they have a new book out.
Imagination in an Age of Crisis: Soundings from the Arts and Theology explores the vital role of the imagination in today’s complex climates – cultural, environmental, political, racial, religious, spiritual, intellectual, etc. It asks: What contribution do the arts make in a world facing the impacts of globalism, climate change, pandemics, and losses of culture? What wisdom and insight, and orientation for birthing hope and action in the world, do the arts offer to religious faith and to theological reflection?
These essays, poems, and short reflections – written by art practitioners and academics from a diversity of cultures and religious traditions – demonstrate the complex cross-cultural nature of this conversation, examining critical questions in dialogue with various art forms and practices, and offering a way of better understanding how the human imagination is formed, sustained, employed, and expanded.
The book has been well received, with Professor Jeremy Begbie (Duke University) describing it as an ‘extraordinarily energetic and imaginative collection’, while Professor Stephen Pickard (Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture) calls it a ‘remarkable collection of reflections on the power of the imagination to instil hope and meaning in disturbing times. … [A] breath of fresh air’.
The book has a strong range of contributions from the Australian context, as well as those from the Pacific, Asia, the United Kingdom, and the USA. It is an international collection with a common concern to celebrate and prize imagination for these times. A video review is provided by Rev Dr Jane Foulcher (Senior Lecturer, Charles Sturt University), along with an introduction by the editors:
Through 35 individual contributions, the book weaves its many conversations around the capacity of the imagination, and the arts in particular, to provide a means of cultural resilience, protest, questioning, and critique. It explores the work of a wide range of writers, playwrights, poets, musicians, and visual artists, to provide imaginative resources to articulate the challenges and the choices facing human beings in a world both drawn close and made distant through networks of disease, conflict, commerce, and culture.
The book is richly illustrated in colour with 39 images, including a stunning cover image by Filipino artist Emmanuel Garibay that graphically expresses the cultural collisions of our time. Another strong creative feature of the collection is the engagement provided by poets, including Petra White, Kevin Hart, Christian Wiman, Jordie Albiston, Pádraig Ó Tuama, and Michael Symmons Roberts. The result is a volume marked by beauty and wonder, as well as incisive critique. It is a unique collection that brings unexpected voices into a global conversation about imagining human futures.
Imagination in an Age of Crisis is available now at a special introductory price of 40% off. Use the code “Crisis40” at checkout through Wipf & Stock, or through customer service by phone (1-541-344-1528), or via email.
When, in 1741, George Frideric Handel completed writing the Hallelujah Chorus for his oratorio Messiah, he reportedly told his servant: ‘I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself [sic] seated on His throne, with His Company of Angels’. More recently, the Australian musician Nick Cave described how the gods are closely associated with the flight of the imagination. Both musicians had a sense, each in their own way, of how closely related are the arts and theological work.
Theology and art are often considered separate expressions of human activity, but are they? How might they relate? What influence do they have on one another, and how might such inform our understanding of faith, of the human condition, of the creature’s vocation, and maybe even of God?
Whitley College is offering a unit of study to explore such questions. Theology and the Arts expands traditional views of theology into the world of the arts in a way that both delights and challenges. It will be delivered online by Jason Goroncy and Rod Pattenden, together with a host of guest artists, including Emmanuel Garibay, Julie Perrin, Doug Purnell, Trish Watts, Paul Mitchell, Rebekah Pryor, and Libby Byrne.
The course will run as an intensive unit over 7 sessions – on 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 28 September and 21 October.
To book your place, or for more information, contact the Registrar at Whitley College.
Michael Galovic has created a rich and complex work in response to the bleak situation in Ukraine. The work incorporates three juxtaposed images whose origins reach back to the tenth century, which are backgrounded by Pablo Picasso’s profound depiction of the destruction of Guernica, bombed by Nazi planes in 1937. Guernica was a symbolic target, being the first place where democracy was established in Spain’s Basque region.
Each of the three superimposed images is particularly apposite to the situation in Ukraine. The top image is an ethereal rendering of the Archangel Michael’s defeat of Satan in the form of a dragon, both as imagined in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and as described in the Book of Revelation: ‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven’ (Rev. 12.7–8). St. Michael is the patron saint of Kyiv, possibly since its founding in c. 882, and certainly since the eleventh century.
The second image is an icon of the Theotokos and infant Jesus. In 1037, Yaroslav the Wise, the Grand Prince of Kyiv, dedicated Ukraine to Mary. She is revered and sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of Ukraine’. In a similar vein, on the Feast of the Annunciation this year, Pope Francis pronounced an Act of Consecration: ‘Mother of God and our mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine’.
The third image is that of a Hellmouth, an image envisaging hell as the gaping mouth of a huge monster. Galovic has used a particularly vivid image from the Winchester Psalter of the twelfth century, where an angel is portrayed locking the gate of hell on the damned, who are being devoured by demons. The completed work is phenomenal, in every sense of the word!
Picasso’s Guernica captured the first instance in history of the saturation bombing of a civilian target – an occurrence that has become all too common in Ukraine. The horror and destruction of Guernica unalloyed by any sense of hope or renewal. Galovic has overlaid this bleakness with three images that challenge that evocation of despair. At the centre is the Theotokos and infant Jesus. The tranquillity of this image contrasts with the dynamism of the other two images: the Archangel Michael is captured in the moment of victory, with the defeated dragon falling from the sky, and, in the Hellmouth, the damned are being devoured by demons as an angel locks the gates of Hell.
The balance of concepts and ideas is formidable – each element is a part of history, yet given new sense and relevance in this new context. The sheer amount of thought, care, and effort that has gone into this project is awe-inspiring.