Wednesday, October 05, 2011

the contemporary spiritual search and the Blake Prize 2011

The Blake Prize is one of the more prestigious art prizes in Australia, awarding annual prizes for works of art that explore the subject of religious awareness and spirituality. It also courts controversy, including the recent attack by atheist John McDonald, concerned about the lack of clearly recognisable religious Christian symbols. Normally a charge made by the religious church, rather than an atheist critic.

Which has drawn a response from Rod Pattenden, Chair of the Blake Society.

McDonald reveals a complete lack of understanding of the role of images within the religious imagination, as well as the positive role of creativity in the expression of contemporary spirituality.

Looking at the 1140 submissions for this year’s Prize leaves me with the impression that the religious imagination of artists in Australia provides a visually exciting contribution to our cultural life that explodes McDonald’s understanding that this is simply the ‘self-indulgence of “spirituality”.’

Pattenden then goes on to offer an excellent reading of one Blake Prize entrant, Them and Us, by Malyasian Muslim migrant, Abdul Abdullah. He traces how a tattoo and a worn pair of jeans places us on edge.

The artist has in this image achieved two things. He has sympathetically helped us find our way alongside the skin of another. But, secondly, he offers us a way to bridge the space of separation by imagining something new – a Muslim Australian identity that broadens our sense of who ‘we’ are, that invites inclusion and an expansion of our definitions of identity.”

Pattenden then concludes with the delightful line, “Sorry John, your idea of God is too small.”

The entire article, let alone the 1140 submissions for the annual Australian Blake Prize, are fine examples of a way to explore the contemporary spiritual search. Once again we are reminded of the need to include new media – whether it be the video work of Angelica Mesiti, or the tattoos of Abdul Adbullah – in our search. And the question remains, whether the church and theological colleges, as religious body, dare “open our eyes wide enough to truly see”?

For the full article go here. For more of my reflections on the Blake Prize, see here and here.

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM

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