Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Faith in the midst of violence: the La Faruk Madonna
In a side room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, is placed the La Faruk Madonna. At first glance, it looks your standard religious fare, three paintings, an angel either side of a Madonna.
But the story behind the paintings is extraordinary, for they are painted on old flour bags in the middle of World War 2. The artist, Giuseppe Baldan, was by a prisoner of war. Hence the backdrop behind the angels and the Madonna is a prisoner of war camp, including the prison fence, the Sudanese desert, a washing line and the huts that held prisoners.
The story is that Italian prisoners of war, captured by the British in North Africa, sought permission in the camp to build a chapel. A chapel needs decoration and so the La Faruk Madonna was painted, an aid for prayer, a source of hope.
As the war ended, the paintings were saved from the camp and were given to the British commander for safe keeping. It was a mark of respect for the humane way he had treated the prisoners and honoured the art.
It is both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in the creativity of humans, even in bleak times. Disturbing in that here were British and Italians worshipping the same God, yet finding ways to kill each other. What did the British think as they saw the angels being painted and as they watched the prisoners turn up for worship week by week, as they heard the prayers to “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”