Visited the Lankarama Buddhist Temple at Schofields this morning and had a chat with the head monk. The temple is situated 2.5km down the road from where we are building our new house. They follow the Theravada tradition, similar to the Buddhists we met in Thailand.
This image by Jacqui Stewart is entitled "Hope Beyond the Window". As an Australian Christian I find it very confronting. Here is an interpretation of the image that Jacqui passed on through her blog:
‘The above piece of work depicts the scene of half-caste Aboriginal children sitting in front of the church they were taken too after being ‘stolen’ from their parents. In first looking at this representation, it may be misinterpreted as a seemingly peaceful scene. Images of green trees, leaves blowing in the wind and the children sitting in an almost structured fashion. The church in the distance looks well established; something probably constructed by White settlers. It is hard to tell, but it may be built using bricks. The sky is blue with minimal clouds evident, giving us the impression that it was a nice clear day when this artwork was created.
Due to the topic of this essay, and perhaps even the title of the artwork itself, it is evident that this is not a depiction of a happy occurrence. The children dressed in white sitting calmly on the ground are children that have been stolen from their parents without choice. The children are sitting there calmly because they have been told. The church is where the children are being taught the Western way of life and how a White settlers’ way of living is considered ‘better’ than those of Aborigines.
In delving deeper into analysing this piece of art, some features became more clear that would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed. There were multiple hidden symbols that represent particular ideas that the artist may have been trying to convey when creating this piece of work.
One feature is that the children were always dressed in white. All children wore the exact same dress-like clothing. One may consider this to be the uniform of the particular camp or church that they were taken too. The artist may have been trying to convey the idea that the Aboriginal half-casts were now being taught the White settlers’ way of living, their culture, and their beliefs. In other words, the Aboriginal children were being taught how to become white, hence the symbolism of the all white clothing against the dark skin.
Another idea that the artist may have been trying to get the viewer to see was one of hope. The layout of this painting alone gives this feeling to the viewer about the children sitting in the foreground. To show someone or something belonging to something else, for example, these children belonging to the church, the technique of proximity would be used. The further things are apart from each other, the lesser of a relationship exists between the objects. In looking at this image, the children are seated quite far away from the church, suggesting that although they were taken to this church to be a part of something, they don’t actually belong to the church or the White settlers’. The wide-open spaces surrounding the children and the church indicate space. Then there is also the space between the children and the church itself. This space indicates room to move; in particular, room to move away, or escape from the church. This suggests that there is hope for the children, and that they may not need to spend their future being forced to do something against their will. They had a choice in the matter, and a chance to set them free.’
As an Australian who is interested in exploring more glocal expressions of Christianity I feel an obvious question I must ask is, is there anything distinctive about Australian art, and if so, what?
I can't say I have a definitive answer but I have noted a number of sources drawing attention to an early shift in the way Euro-Australian artists used light as they became more acclimatized to the land.
One government source observes, "Rather than the pale light European artists were familiar with, Heidelberg School artists painted landscapes and scenes that glowed with the bright, blinding light of an Australian summer."
I find this has some resonance for me. For having travelled in Europe a few times, much as I loved it, it did feel dark and claustrophobic to me at times. So it gives me something to think about.
I thought I would share with you some interesting observations made by Gary Bouma in "Australian Soul: Religion and Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century." Although he made them back in 2006 I think they are still highly accurate and relevant. He writes:
A society’s religious institution sets the levels of religious belief and practice required for a member of that society to be accepted. While these are basic, both over-conformity and under-conformity will be sanctioned. A society’s religious institutions refers to the patterned ways that society organises access to the sacred and both produces and applies meanings that refer to the transcendent. Religious meanings are assured by reference to some power, force or being beyond the ordinary, beyond the temporal. This institution or set of norms and expectations includes the patterned ways in which a society raises and answers questions of transcendentally grounded meaning; the ways it patterns action relating to spiritual and religious life; and the sociocultural – as opposed to organisational – norms regarding religious belief and practice. A society’s religious institution is an arrangement of norms and expectations that provide a foundation in the transcendent for the hopes, dreams and aspirations of members of the society in such a way as to make sense of the past, motivate the present and cushion the blows of disconfirming evidence.
A society’s religious institution includes norms and expectations about religious and spiritual practice and belief, such as intensity, expressivity, frequency, periodicity and cyclicity. These dimensions are useful for describing and comparing differences among societies. For example, the Australian norms and expectations associated with the dimensions of patterned relations with the transcendent, religious and spiritual include:
intensity: a strong tendency towards the subdued, laid back
expressivity: a strong tendency towards the shy, withdrawn and not exuberant
frequency: a strong tendency towards infrequent or occasional attendance
periodicity: annual/biannual participation is more acceptable than weekly
cyclicity: a tendency for participation to occur early and late in the lifecycle
consistency: a low level of consistency between belief and practice is accepted
singularity: persons are expected to identify with one religion
proximity: the transcendent is expected to be distant, localised and diffuse
efficacy: the transcendent is subject to influence, trustworthy and effective
access: the transcendent to be accessed directly and through professionals
social location: religious groups are expected to be on the margin, not central.
Thus, the Australian religious institution has expectations that shape the nature and operation of Australian religious and spiritual groups and individual religiosity. Groups are expected to offer and adopt forms of belief and practice that are not intensely demanding. Weekly attendance is not necessary for social acceptance and might be seen as over-conforming.
People in their late teens and twenties are not expected to give religion and spirituality much time, at least until they have children and then they might be legitimately too busy. Religiosity and spirituality should not require exuberant expression, particularly in public. Those who must be noisy about their religion and spirituality are encouraged do so within enclosed areas and to think many times before making a public display of prayer, eating norms or religious insignia and distinctive clothing. Finally, people may believe what they like, but the society does not expect either the group or individual members to be explicit about putting beliefs into practice.
These norms of the Australian religious institution are quite different from the expectations of the average Christian church where higher levels of intensity, a high degree of consistency, higher frequency and at least weekly periodicity are the ideals towards which all are encouraged to strive. In seeking to achieve conformity to these norms, Christian churches are making demands that exceed the norms of the Australian religious institution and can be expected to experience difficulties in doing so. The levels of expectation outlined above are also different from the cultural expectations associated with Buddhism, but much closer to those of Islam and Judaism.