Each With His Own Brush

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Can you tell the difference between Sawai Chinnawong’s Nativity painting and Nyoman Darsane’s Christ?

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Although both are nonwestern, Asian Christian paintings, a western Christian could look at Chinnawong’s painting and easily tell what story it is depicting for all its Thai elements, whereas he wouldn’t really make much sense of Darsene’s work. Conversely, a Thai Buddhist might not grasp the meaning of Sawai Chinnawong’s painting, whereas the concepts/images in Darsane’s work would be familiar and easily recognizable to a Balinese.

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The difference I am alluding to is nothing other than that of two different visual contextualization art models, “the static Accommodation Model”, alias  the Kernel and Husk model, and “the dynamic Inculturation Model”, alias the Onion Model. For a full discussion go to Indigenous Christ blog at http://indigenousjesus.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/models-of-visual-contextualization.html

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Let us now have a closer look at Maria and Martha paintings by Darsane and Sawai Chinnawong respectively.

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Also, at the Ten Virgins parable paintings by Darsane and Sawai Chinnawong respectively.

In another instance we are drawn to the work of I Nyoman Darsane, another popular Balinese Christian artist. Darsane began with a traditional orientation. However, he then began working in more modern styles. As this developed much was written about the presence of traditional elements in his art. Darsane's work came to be described as 'contemporary.' Darsane utilizes a principle of realism in his paintings to create mythological figures or wayang that are usually seen in the Hindu world. However, these mythological figures he makes as characters from stories whose inspiration and substance is taken from the Gospel. And so emerge symbolic realist paintings like Sang pembebas (The deliverer), Sepuluh Anak Dara (the ten virgins) or the narrative of Mary and Martha.

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This brings up an interesting point about the contextualization of visual art. Which model of the two should be followed in indigenous Christian visual art? And what about indigenous iconography in particular? What type of icons should be used for church worship?

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Jonah by Sawai Chinnawong

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Adam and Eve by Abubakar

To give you just an example how complicated such issues can be/become, let us now turn our attention to Abubakar’s art. “Abubakar was born in 1930 in the Palmas region of South Sulawesi. He was born to a Moslem family but was educated at a Christian School. Genesis and its stories of creation were a popular subject for his art. In 1980, he painted the temptation of Adam and Eve on canvas and later a larger series on Paradise Lost . He sees the lost paradise as the result of our own deeds and not as a punishment from God. “It is the karma of our own deeds”, he says “to lose paradise or to regain it.” He experiments with several techniques including batik, woodcut, monoprint, watercolors and wood carving. He lives in Jakarta and assists church publishing programs. ‘I still see myself as a pilgrim,” he writes. “I am still seeking after truth and beauty, and how to show God’s love in my life and my art.’ (From Asian Christian Art Organisation at http://www.asianchristianart.org/art_abubakar.html )

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Jesus in the boat with fishermen by Chinese artist He Qi 

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Abubakar, a self-taught artist, he often used Christian themes as the only ones adequate to express his understanding of human suffering. I personally find this last point fascinating, because Sawai Chinnawong, the Thai Christian artist discussed above, once stated that “an artist in Burma taught me that I needed to include images that are uncommon in Thai art. Buddha is never seen suffering in our iconography, but as a Christian I have to depict the suffering of Christ, which is the hardest spiritual concept for us to understand or except”.

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Flight into Egypt by Indian artist Jamini Roy

So suffering is a difficult thing for Buddhist/Hindu-background believers to view or portray. Eventually, Chinnawong has portrayed Christ’s suffering in both figural as well as in more abstract ways but Indigenous Jesus is correct in pondering “what would it look like if Jesus were shown truly struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane, or bloodied and hanging on the cross, or angry with the money changers?” 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.” (http://indigenousjesus.blogspot.gr/2012/09/a-brief-history-of-visual_24.html )

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Creation by Sawai Chinnawong

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