Art Inspiration for Lent

The week of Ash Wednesday, an art exhibition featuring previously unexhibited work of Jamini Roy opened in New Delhi. For the neo-initiates, (I am one of them), Jamini Roy was the first Indian Modernist Master and was schooled under the Bengali school of Art. He deliberately chose to move away from painting the classical nudes to portrayal of India culture, specifically tribal culture in Eastern part of India.

The master chose to represent through his drawings the life of Santhals, now the largest group of indigenous people in India, also found in Nepal and Bangladesh.  He captured the simplicity of the tribal livelihood in his art. Roy’s main subjects were the humble simple people from the santhal tribe, primarily dependent on the forest for their living, routinely evicted from the land where they were staying, sunk in poverty, trapped in debts. Yet finding joy in celebrating life through music and dance. Roy’s work celebrated the lives of these marginalized people. Roy’s body of work included several Madonnas and Christs with olive skin and broad strokes of the traditional Bengali School of Art. The Madonna and Christ were decidedly Indian, one among the people, almost from the people. There is no sense of foreignness to Roy’s Madonna and Christ a subject that is oft-repeated and is portrayed through bold ochre yellow, rustic orange and brilliant reds. As we begin our journey into Lent, we can draw inspiration from this Modernist painter.

Being one with the subaltern

Roy early in his career made a deliberate choice to depict the Santhals. Not the powerbrokers, not the privileged and definitely not the wealthy and the rich. He chose to portray the beauty found in the unpretentious way of living of Santhals, co-existing with nature, holding fast to their faith. My personal experience with the Santhals was in early 1990s when I was a part of their worship services in Santhalpur, West Bengal. Here I was a through and through city girl bursting with notions of faith and religious expression, living a life of privilege and there were these people who had walked hours to reach the worship center. While I am conscious of not glamourising the efforts of the community, I am equally conscious of not detracting from their actions of faith. No distance was too great to come together to worship. Their child like faith shone through their harsh realities. My city bred, educated mind came to understand that sometimes logic, rationale and reason may detract from finding wonder and amazement in simple things in life. The conditioned mindset automatically assigns value to power, money, influence, status, class and caste.

This Lent while we shift our gaze to the Christ on the cross, let us seek to fins communion with the powerless, the broken, the shunned, the rejected, the disenfranchised, the stigmatised, the unprivileged and the discriminated. Let’s proactively look to find common grounds with the ‘other’. The vision of the other is usually marred by the perceptions we have built in our minds and is reflected in our actions. When we are able to overcome our own inhibitions and stereotypes, we are pleasantly surprised to find commonalities with the ‘other’.

Being Contextual and Relevant

The second takeaway is that Roy’s Madonnas and Christs are culturally rooted and contextually relevant. Creating a Christian narrative is critical. A narrative which comes from the living realities of the congregation, taking into account the challenges, the structures, access to opportunities and lack thereof in the socio-economic context. It could begin by reinterpreting Bible and applying biblical principles into thoughtful and purposeful actions. In conclusion, I share a watsapp message I received:

“As we begin the Holy Season, May we discover the true meaning of LENT, by Leaving behind all Negative things of the past and striving for a Future filled with Hope! (Phi 3: 7 – 14).

Here are suggestions we may want to consider.

  1. Fast from anger and hatred. Give our family an extra dose of love each day.
  1. Fast from judging others. Before making any judgments, recall how Jesus overlooks our faults.
  1. Fast from discouragement. Hold on to Jesus’ promise that He has a perfect plan for our life.
  1. Fast from complaining. When we find ourselves about to complain, close our eyes and recall some of the little moments of joy Jesus has given us.
  1. Fast from resentment or bitterness. Work on forgiving those who may have hurt us.
  1. Fast from spending too much money. Try to reduce our spending by ten percent and give those savings to the poor. ”

Wishing you Peace, Love, and Happiness during Lent! Let’s bring Peace, Love, and Happiness during Lent by being accepting, tolerant and inclusive.

Amelia Andrews, is a development communications practitioner.