An Exciting Biblical Renaissance For Art
Dr Christine Gunn-Danforth is the Arts Director for Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation, to take place 16-25 October. This Congress will draw 4 500 evangelical leaders and influencers from 200 nations – leaders in the Church and in the professions – to seek God’s wisdom as we look at strategy for world evangelisation over the coming decade. We inteviewed her with regards to this congress and the role that art plays in the Christian context.
HOW DO THE ARTS AND THE GOSPEL GO TOGETHER?
The Lord Jesus used storytelling as a powerful medium. He painted word pictures for the crowds – the lilies of the field, the sower, the woman who lost a coin. Christians in the Arts can learn much from His methods of communication.
Our work can reflect and resonate to people our personal belief in the Creator God. I was appointed to the Congress team to help us embrace the Arts as part of the Church’s mission.
TELL US ABOUT THE NEW ART AUCTION INITIATIVE IN MAY?
We are holding a silent auction in Cape Town to celebrate the Arts in the Global Church. We have commissioned a group of world-renowned artists in many different genres – painting, ceramics and beading for example – to create pieces for sale. They will be displayed on the ‘Current Issue’ page of the JOY! Magazine website www.joymag.com. If you would like to make a bid, this is where to do it. The auction will open on Saturday 22 May.
WHY PROFILE AFRICAN ART?
All around the world, African peoples are associated with the Arts. Our handcrafts, our music and singing, our stories. Perhaps it is our oral cultures which have given Africans such a love for stories. So that’s where this began. Let me step sideways for a moment, to explain what we could call a ‘Lausanne Movement value’. John Stott, the British pastor-theologian who is Honorary Chairman of The Lausanne Movement, and who built its infrastructure, once described the movement rather beautifully as ‘an exchange of gifts.’
Christ gave gifts to His Church to share, and each national church brings the gifts it has received to share with others. Africa is host continent for this major event in the life of the global Church, and this is one of the gifts we want to bring to the table.
SO IT’S AN AFRICAN GIFT FOR THE GLOBAL CHURCH?
Yes, that’s right. I would love to think we will see a Renaissance of story arts in evangelism around the world. We have used Art and Craft to tell Africa’s story over many centuries – from hieroglyphics in Egypt to ceramics in South Africa. These tell stories of people and they create symbols which instantly communicate a message.
We use symbols today perhaps more than ever. Logos and branding are forms of art. Think of the golden arches of McDonalds and the Nike swoosh. Symbols speak with immediacy, and resonate values.
TAKE US BACK AGAIN TO THE BIBLE’S USE OF STORY…
Jesus and the Ancient Old Testament writers spoke and wrote to a predominantly oral culture. Images were used widely to explain truth. Think of the use of lambs, pearls, bread, wine, doves – each holding a wealth of meaning. The writers of Scripture established through stories, a Biblical framework of symbols. The Kingdom of God was explained and often transcribed in pictures – on the catacombs, and in the homes of the early Christians celebrating their faith.
This was frequently done using a storyboard of pictures of the prophet Jonah, the shepherd, the ICTHUS fish symbol, and the dove as the symbol of reconciliation and peace. These were used long before the cross became the central Christian symbol.
HOW WILL THE CONGRESS SHOWCASE ART AS STORYTELLING?
The commissioned pieces to be auctioned will each have a story to tell. After the auction they will be on display by appointment at the Ellermen House gallery. We trust these pieces will inspire the Church globally through their creative form.
We will also have a film festival. There are highly gifted Christians in film. We want to share some of the wonderful stories of how this medium has been used to bring home the message of the Gospel. We can all name major releases which have communicated the truth of the Gospel like ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘The Passion of the Christ’, but there are also deeply inspiring stories of modest films carried around in vans and shown on small projectors to audiences in rural communities across Africa and Asia.
At the Congress we want to share in the gifts God has given in all forms of art – including painting, craft and the performing arts. We’ll also be looking at how branding, media and technology all give new wings to these means of declaring God’s character and His message.
WHERE DID YOUR LOVE FOR STORY ORIGINATE?
As a young girl I loved Jesus and I loved stories; and like most children I loved to listen to stories of Jesus. The stories in my ‘Children’s Bible Storybook’ were illustrated with paintings from Biblical days. While my mom or dad read the story, I was looking at these paintings. So from when I was very young, the Bible came alive in images from the ancient world, and connected seamlessly with my life.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO YOUR WORK IN TV AND FILM?
Before coming to serve on the Lausanne Congress team as Arts Director, I spent 14 years looking at the connection between Biblical stories and Hollywood stories. I found the ancient little book of Jonah a key. Here was good storytelling – artistically written, with hyperbole, images, humour and irony. (I am talking here about the writer’s means of relating history – I am not suggesting it was only a story.)
This same craft was being mimicked in Hollywood. I talked about it with friends in Hollywood; with the Director of the Writers Guild of America; and with fellow script developers who are Christians. Symbolic frameworks and artistic rendering occur in abundance in the ancient writings of the Bible. They have set a pattern for us to embrace, I call this pattern of story-telling art ‘JONAHRE’. (Jonah Offers New Artistic Hope Reforming Entertainment/Evangelism).
YOU HAVE SPEND MANY YEARS IN THE USA. TELL US ABOUT YOUR AFRICAN ROOTS
I grew up in South Africa, speaking mainly Afrikaans. My mom is Afrikaans-speaking and my father is English-speaking. My family moved to New York when I was ten years old, where I learned American English for two years before I returned to complete my schooling in South Africa. I now live in Chicago with my American husband and children.
Jesus is the One in whom everything holds together. He unites the diversities of cultures through the transformation of our hearts. In Him we can truly live in unity. This unity in Him is multi-coloured and very rich, drawing together all peoples, including Jew and Gentile, Hutu and Tutsi, black, white and coloured. It is this vision of reconciliation in Christ and specifically of reconciliation to God through Christ (2 Cor 5:19) which drives my passion. Telling this story through the arts is what we want to see explode around the world.
DO YOU THINK THE STORYTELLING ARTS CAN BE SPIRIT-FILLED?
If we critique injustice in the world through our art, we can communicate that critique prophetically. Paintings can also inspire their viewers to a new vision. Through our prophetic imagination, art can communicate with Spirit-filled effectiveness; it can still bear witness to Biblical Truth in life and culture in a compelling way. This is the mission of ‘JONAHRE’ art and film.
WHO WILL CREATE THE PIECES FOR THE AUCTION?
We are very honoured to have a piece from Ardmore, an African ceramic collectible sold internationally by Christy’s and Sotheby’s. We will unveil the other artists over the next few weeks on the JOY! Magazine website and the ‘JONAHRE’ website, and don’t want to give too much away now. But let me give you just one glimpse: I spoke with Porchie shortly before this interview, an African artist whose painting will show how we should give to the Lord with joy, with open and generous hearts. His painting depicts a boy on a bicycle, carrying a chicken.
It is easy to give out of abundance but not easy giving out of need. This is a poor boy. He has perhaps three chickens; and with so few, he knows each of them by name. Giving one of these chickens is costly, truly a gift from the heart. Porchie’s painting is a metaphor of how we each must give. Through declaring the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of this boy (for a generous spirit is a Grace, a gift from God), Porchie is bringing a story to bless the wider Church. I encourage readers to look at our website to see other painters who are giving their work for the auction.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE PROCEEDS RASIED?
The funds raised through the art auction will be divided between supporting a social concern (e.g. nature conservation, HIV, needy women and children in Africa) and furthering arts initiatives through the global Church. It is with great anticipation that these arts pieces are being commissioned for showcasing a Biblical Renaissance from Africa. These art pieces representing storytelling from Africa from some of the best South African artists will be unveiled in the next Biblical Renaissance JOY! articles and we invite all readers to participate in the auction online in the next three months.
WHEN AND WHERE WILL IT BE HELD?
With the funds raised, 50% of each piece raised will benefit compassion ministries of global concern and the remainder 50% of the funding will benefit the Renaissance of storytelling arts in the Global Church. The auction bidding will start on May 22. Please go to www.joymag.co.za or www.jonahre.com to learn more. The patrons of such storytelling arts pieces will be using these pieces to bring expression to the Biblical Truth in picture forms and be eligible to be invited as guests to Ellerman House and Contemporary Gallery to see the pieces in person.
The celebratory function will be held to complete the auction bidding as a silent auction held at the spectacular Ellerman House and Contemporary Gallery in Cape Town where the pieces will be on display as graciously sponsored by owner and arts patron, Mr Paul Harris.