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Jesuit artists meet for workshop in Kerala, India

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Twelve artists gathered at the Sameeksha Spirituality Centre in Kerala, India, for a 10-day workshop organized by Rappai Poothokaren SJ from the Gujarat Province. During the day each artist worked in his room or around the grounds located alongside the Periyar River. At night they gathered to review past work and discuss work in progress from the workshop. An exhibit on the final day showcased the creativity and professionalism of the artists. Most worked in oil on canvas, but two sculptors also created pieces in stone.

Fr. Roy Thottathil SJ served as the local host of the workshop. A member of the Sameeksha community, he is an accomplished painter who did three large paintings in his flowing style during the workshop. Fr. Devasia Muthuplackal of Gurjarvani worked on the computer to create a new series of digital presentations using basic forms for group media. Several Jesuit scholastics took part. Mr. Vijay Gonsalves SJ from Bombay province painted a large Last Supper that depicted Jesus and all the disciples as handicapped persons. Mr. Blaise Joseph SJ from Bihar created an installation of pieces that recalled his own childhood in Kerala. Sunder Vasava SJ, an Adivasi from Gujarat, portrayed Jesus as a farmer ploughing. Biju, SJ, and Thomas Carter SJ from Chattisgarh painted scenes from tribal mythology. Fr. Tom Rochford SJ, Secretary for Communication, took part in the workshop and did several pleine aire studies of the local landscape.

Sr. Francoise Bosteels SDS made dolls that depict social characteristics within Indian society, a project that has already resulted in one book and has proven to be an effective tool in freeing women to speak of their experiences. Edwin Parmar is a commercial artist from Gujarat who did several paintings and showed images of his 471 foot-long continuous painting scroll of stories from the Bible. Sanyasi Red is an itinerant Hindu sculptor who did a bust of Christ crucified as well as several paintings.

The two previous workshops were held in the Gujarat Province, and next year’s workshop will be in the Patna Province. The workshop aimed to bring together Jesuit artists from different parts of South Asia to live together, to create works of art, to share their vision and mission. In addition to providing support for what can be a difficult ministry, the workshop also explored future avenues of this apostolate in the Society.

Perhaps the most immediate result of this workshop is the plan to begin a project of collecting art work created by tribal peoples and Jesuits working with them in order to promote a heightened sense of the value of their culture because of the beauty of the art it produces. This project can include Jesuits from many different provinces across India and gives the promise of being a very practical, and doable, project. Several scholastics in the workshop either are now working with tribal peoples or will begin doing so next year during their regency period. Along with existing work that has already been collected, there is sufficient material to start right away with creating a web site that will provide a “virtual” center to make the project visible. Participants still need to create a name for the project, preferably one that comes from tribal useage and will speak to them. Rappai Poothokaren will assume responsibility for the initial coordination of the project. He himself is very interested in the tribals and has a good collection of their artwork.