December 11, 2011

Indian Christian Art

What is the colour of temptation?
And of sin?
Purple. And black.
There were 12 framed pieces of art on the wall. Mostly done in crayon. And the 12 pieces were an artist's interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, the widely known Our Father.
Fr. Thamburaj, a Jesuit priest took me through his creation he had worked on for close to a year, keen as he was to see how people looked at his work.
He told me that he himself had seen it differently on one morning when he woke up and looked at the pieces and realised that while the first few pieces were in bright colours, the next few were in deep, dark colours but the series ended positively. Amen!
Father Thamburaj's artworks on the 'Our Father' must be a rare series in this part of the world.
Better known as a passionate preacher, a vocation he pursued after he moved out of Loyola College, this priest is also a artist.
This past week, he and a few others were present at a function held to launch a fantastic book on Indian Christian Art, whose co-author is another well known Jesuit, Fr. A. Amaladass. A book that is possibly the best document on this subject.
The community of Christians who are artists and sculptors is small.
I got to know one many years ago.
A. Alphonso Doss is a senior, well known artist who came from Bangalore in the late 1940s to study at Government College of Art, Madras and went on to become its Principal.
I got introduced to him when a friend wanted a Christian backdrop to a musical he was producing. Since then I have spent time at Alphonso's space in Virugambakkam, a  place he chose to go to when PTC buses used to run on red earth paths ploughed through abandoned rice fields and rest under clumps of palm trees.
Every now and then, Alphonso has let me enjoy his 'Christian' works - Jesus washing the feet of a disciple, Jesus breaking bread at the Last Supper, a damsel holding up a lamp, waiting for the Master . .
Alphonso, I suspect is not a regular church-goer but he has his beliefs and even in his advanced age, paints like a man fired up by the Holy Spirit!
Meeting this small group of artists and listening to them was interesting. For, many non Christian artists since the Mughal times have worked on Christian themes. There has been a dialogue. And it seems to continue even today.
And to be reminded that the stone-carved cross set inside the church atop St. Thomas Mount is a precious piece of Christian art.