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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

I have finally found a door into a world of social commentary through art.

Most modern and contemporary art leaves me feeling somewhat puzzled, wondering what point the artist was making, if any. I “get” that renaissance art as a visualisation of nature, religion and history; I “get” that Impressionism is a record of what the artist saw, with lots of play on light. What I haven’t been “getting” are any messages for me in modern or contemporary art. That is, until I found “Sex Change In Vitruvian Man” and discovered Australian artist Susan White!

Sex Change Vitruvian Man by Susan White

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man is based on the Roman architect Vitruvius’ description of the human body as providing the ideal proportions for building a temple. The drawing combines art, science and geometry, as well as demonstrating da Vinci’s interest in proportion. It is one of my favourite pieces of art, yet there has always been a part of me that didn’t quite connect with it.

The original Vitruvian man

Then I found Susan White’s “Sex change in Vitruvian Man”. Not only did I relate to it as a woman, but I could enjoy the subversive messages. Much of Susan White’s works are commentaries on social issues such as human rights, the status of women, and the environment, but she also draws on her own personal experiences. The humour and irony in her work often lies in the detail, and that’s something that gives me real joy. This is why another favourite of mine is “The First Supper”.

 

The First Supper

She painted it for the Australian bicentennial celebrations (did I mention she is Australian?), and showed it in a religious exhibition. It was apparently quite controversial in Australia. The central character of Jesus is replaced by an Australian Aboriginal woman. Check out the detail then read a transcript of a radio interview with the artist at:
http://www.susandwhite.com.au/reviews.html

Another favourite of mine is “The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times” and its twin “The Seven Deadly Isms”

Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times by Susan White

Some of her work is whimsical, and I would love to be able to touch some of her sculptures, like “Stretching The Imagination”. Is that Albert Einstein’s face?  He said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” …

Susan White says that she is inspired by anything that she feels passionately about – human rights, the environment, family, art and music. She also draws on her own personal experiences, from the naturalness of menopause to the personal trauma of having a brain tumour removed. I concede that probably I “get” her art because we share many cultural experiences –  middle aged women of european heritage with similar interests, a love of family, and sense of social justice. I am delighted that I can enjoy her art, her social commentary, her irony and her humour.

I’ve bookmarked her web site so that I can look at something beautiful, clever and witty, or be inspired by her social values whenever I want or need – its quality may be reduced on the internet, but it is accessible social commentary and art …

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The use of labels to describe someone has irked me for some time. I would variously describe myself as womanly, paraplaegic, mother, christian, feminist, humanist, able … the list has changed over the years and I expect will change again.  Some labels seem to be mutually exclusive. Priorities change. Meanings change over time. Perceptions change. We are complex.

I don’t know about others, but I don’t want to be put in a box. I prefer to describe myself in terms of ideals I aspire to, be they noble, frivolous, challenging, or simply time wasting. For one thing the label on the box can mean different things to different people; for another, labels can lead to intolerance, stereotypes, and narrow thinking. Conversely, prejudice, intolerance and bigotry thrives on labels.

If you think this is trite consider this link sent to me by a friend. It’s a cute/tragic post about a five year old boy’s choice of Halloween costume and the absolutely appalling reactions to it. Nerdy Apple Bottom writes in “My Son is Gay”

My son is gay. Or he’s not. I don’t care. He is still my son. And he is 5. And I am his mother. and if  you have a problem with anything mentioned above, I don’t want to know you.”

If you haven’t read this post I suggest you do so now. Read the epilogue too. Her story made me mad, but it also inspired me. I admire and respect her principled and loving stand. If you need any further encouragement to read this post take a look at what she is standing up for:

(I hope that Nerdy Apple Bottom doesn’t mind my reproducing the photo of her son here.)

When did gender stereotyping become an issue for little kids? Why would you want to label a child gay, or use sexuality as a label for a child? One of my sons, when he was three years old, used to stand beside me when I was putting on my make up and practise putting on lipstick. Now that he’s twenty eight perhaps he borrows his wife’s lipstick. I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now because he’s always been a funny, loving, delightful, kid, popular with his peers and those around him because he’s so positive and cheerful. My other son used to like wearing pink, he probably still does. He used to collect and play with soft toys. He liked teddy bears. He probably still does. This caring loving kid has become a killer litigator… a label that he’d probably like, but he has lots of other attributes and he’d be just as proud if he were described as a caring socialist.

It’s not particularly helpful to use an occupation as a label either, although in social situations, often the first question people ask is “So, what do you do?”  I’m a lawyer, cleaner, teacher, public servant, secretary, house husband, musician, accountant … only promotes stereotypes. Why do we want to put people in boxes?

I think that labels get in the way of freedom – freedom to choose who we are, to make choices, to be independent and individual. That’s why I prefer to describe myself in terms of the ideals I aspire to. Freedom to choose and to be autonomous are feminist qualities I promote and aspire to, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist. The idea of loving others as I love myself is one I fervently believe in; it is at the core of christianity but if I call myself a christian I am likely to be grouped with the judgemental, intolerant “christians” of Nerdy Apple Bottom’s church school, the evil, corrupt “Bush fundamentalists” (christian fundamentalist – now there’s an oxymoron!), or the excessively pious self-indulgent preachers who want to pray over me. Not to mention hypocritical religious clergy. (Who deserve a rant in a separate blog)

Even those things that I am passionate about – freedom of speech, human rights, my children, being creative – can only describe part of who I am. I admire the strength and power with which Nerdy Apple Bottom defended her son’s choice. I hope that I have been as good a mother as she is. But I am many things, and I’d rather not be labelled by any of them.

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Not a month goes by that people don’t stop me in the street and ask to pray for me, lay hands on me, ask God’s help to heal me. I feel as awkward and uncomfortable about it now as I did many years ago. However, I think I’ve finally worked out why I feel this way, and a few days ago when it happened again I smiled and firmly declined the offer and moved on.

In the past I had found it awkward to say no because I hadn’t formulated a reason that satisfied me, I only knew I didn’t want to be prayed over. Yet I believe in the power of prayer. I pray. I know that there are people who pray for me. I don’t necessarily believe that there is a power that will intercede specifically to answer my requests. Maybe this power will, maybe not. One important thing that prayer does is help me sort out what I really want, and what I can do about it. My mother used to say “God helps those who help themselves.” My praying can motivate and inspire myself, give me courage,  strength and some understanding of my journey.

People who approach me in the street have no humility or respect for the power of my own prayer, and the prayer and thoughts of others. I don’t like their arrogance that their intercession will achieve more than others, or their assumption that my prayers have not already been answered. I don’t trust their motives. I suspect that many approach strangers because it feeds their own sense what their spirituality means to them without considering the spiritual beliefs of others. This is offensive. I suspect that it feeds their need for power or affirmation of themselves and does more to nourish their own spirituality and faith than that of the person they’re approaching. In my heart I’ve always known that it’s not right. I think that it’s potentially disempowering and demeaning; it’s disrespectful and arrogant.  And that’s why I say no.

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