Katherine Purnell, Tasmania Regional Meeting
Edward Hicks (1780-1848) painted 64 versions of “The Lion shall lie down with the lamb” based on the Bible text from the prophet Isaiah, partly because he needed to persuade nineteenth-century Quakers that it was permissible for Christians to be practicing artists. But Hicks also wanted to express his hope in the biblical promise of peace on earth.
In his Backhouse Lecture of 1982 J. Ormerod Greenwood told us:
“Ours is a dark time; tragedy is part of our destiny and catastrophe is always possible by earthquake, fire, or human stupidity or wickedness. We Friends do, and have always done, our part in comforting the afflicted, the sorrowing, the homeless and the refugees; we have done our part in the struggle against injustice, though we could always do more. But what is required of us also is to say ‘Yes’ to life; to love, its fun, its beauty and its strangeness, and to be ready to celebrate what our London advices used to call ‘The life of joy and victory to which we are called’”.
It has taken quite a time for modern Friends to overcome a reticence about doing and showing art in the context of our own community (See Beyond Uneasy Tolerance ). There has been a feeling that artistic creativity is “less worthy” than doing good works. In spite of this, many Friends have been quietly expressing themselves in photography, painting, sculpture as well as in literary, musical and dramatic spheres. Often these works of the heart have not been shared with fellow-worshippers – there hasn’t been a regular forum for them.
Several Australian Meetings have had Creative groups where practitioners have shared and given support to the way that many need to delve into the expressive, even mystical, deep part of their beings. Our worship encourages being in touch with the Inner Life, and this can take many forms. For many it is a continuation of a love of the natural world, the joy of creating, experimenting with media and expressing joys, fears and frustrations of life.
The Australian Quaker Tapestry is an on-going project that has been inspiring – bringing together a sense of our history, values, artistry and tenacity. There have been a number of art shows at Australia Yearly Meetings over the years, and this year in Hobart we wanted to continue the opportunity for sharing. Hilary Dawkins suggested a pop-up art show, which limited the size of canvasses to 5×7″, so Friends from interstate could bring them easily in their luggage. The theme “Everyday Light” echoed the Backhouse Lecture topic “Everyday Prophets”.
When they arrived from all parts of the country these small works were displayed in the form of a mosaic in the foyer of the Farrall Centre, where morning and afternoon teas were served. During the week young people from the Children’s program and JYFs added their pictures until collage, paintings, 3D, photos and drawings formed a significant and colourful display, each of which showed an interpretation of light.
At the same time – on three other panels – Tasmanian Quaker artists were able to show again some of the art which has been part of the Boa Vista room Art Wall over the last two and a half years. Many Friends have been willing to ’fess up to their creative side and each display has been hung for two months. In this way too we have been able to see the world through their eyes and also uncover the works of some Friends who have died. Not surprisingly Tasmanian landscape is a recurrent topic for many of our artists.
Other forms of expressing the deep parts of ourselves occurred during Yearly Meeting. The Welcome to Country this time included an original song in local language by Kartanya Maynard. This foreshadowed the intense interest throughout YM16 in exploring deeper connections with First Nations peoples, including creativity. JYFs shared a lovely song led by John Coleman, who has included it on the AYM website as well as on a new CD.
One of the Share and Tell sessions gathered about a dozen Friends who want to continue sharing the confluence of their creativity and spiritual life. This group is called Quakers in the Arts in Australia, and will communicate by electronic means.
The Festival on the last night of YM16 began with lighted lanterns carried by the children and reminded us of their theme “Winter Light”. Participatory music, song and dance bonded us. We shared Korean songs that children had learned, a mystical experience of meditative movement given to us by Jong Hee Lee the FWCC visitor and a circle dance based on Aboriginal lore.
I believe we have passed the time of discomfort with “the arts” and are able to see them as a considered part of our spiritual life together, to be relished and encouraged.
[ii] See Beyond Uneasy Tolerance Fellowship of Quakers in the Arts (UK)