I have spent the last 30 days surrounded by a host of larger than life faces watching my every move. Before you ask, no it is not the latest reality TV offering from Channel 5, but instead the lot of a guardian of an art exhibition.
After a chance (or perhaps not) meeting, the church that I am currently working at, St Clements, Cambridge became involved in hosting this touring art presentation together with Great St Mary’s and Michaelhouse.
From a place of cynicism the artist Russell Haines,http://www.russellhaines.co.uk/ was curious to explore as an atheist why people had faith and belief; and so began an encounter, accompanied by the Reverend Ruth Fitter, of what made people tick in their multi cultural city of Gloucester.
I am sensing that neither of them expected that 3 portraits would lead to 30+ more. From Atheists to Zoroastrians and everyone in between. The creation of each one involving conversations with the sitter which have become part of the exhibition.
I doubt also that they may have expected the prejudice and even at times hate crime that they have sadly experienced and endured, as some people have responded to the work.
Whilst I appreciate that for some the exhibition has been challenging to live within their church or experience as a visitor, my personal view is that it has been a blessing and I am very grateful to both Russell and Ruth for the opportunity that they have brought.
In a recent reflection on BBC Cambs Faith show http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00gp8c5/episodes/guide which was inadvertently cut shot on air, I referenced this Faith exhibition when exploring the concept of tolerance. I have been privileged over July to have had some profound conversations with visitors to the church. Some who were actively following the trail of the church’s exhibiting and some who had come across the artwork completely unexpectedly. Some people were visibly moved, and many commented on the vitality and depth of personhood expressed in the paintings. One comment struck me particularly when a visitor said ‘this exhibition is much needed now’.
It’s been interesting to observe how some have come into this ancient beautiful and tranquil place to pray and have been delighted to find and look round the exhibition and how some others have come specifically to visit the exhibition and have sat down in the pews for a moment of quiet afterwards.
As for myself, well I have lived with these paintings for a month and the stories told by those portrayed. I have seen those faces through the light of a sunny day, the gloom of a rainy one and the candle light of a Taize service of a summer evening. Despite never having the opportunity to have met the individuals in person, I feel privileged through the variety of lights, Russell’s talent & Ruth’s vision to have somehow met them face to face.