Muslim artists' vision of multifaith Australia


This is a big year for the Blake Prize for religious art, as it marks its 60th anniversary.

Described on its website as 'exploring the themes of spirituality, religion and human justice', since its inception the Blake has courted controversy. Over the last several years there's been at least one work in each exhibition that's been denounced in the media as blasphemous or sacrilegious.

This year's collection hasn't raised the hackles of believers. That is not to say it doesn't push the boundaries of belief, or that it's not mapping new territory. What's striking about the 2011 exhibition is its portrayal of contemporary multifaith Australia. This is reflected in the pieces that won awards.

The video above features interviews about the works that won the three awards for visual art. Two of the winners were Muslim artists, both inspired by different aspects of their faith.

The winner of the main Blake Prize was Khaled Sabsabi for a video work entitled Naqshbandi Greenacre Engagement. On three monitors set up side by side, it shows members of the Naqshbandi Sufi Brotherhood taking part in a chanting ritual, in a scout hall in the Sydney suburb of Greenacre.

The judges commented that the work gives viewers access to a space that 'is both sacred and mundane, a place of coming together of family and community. The work utilises video as a means to both access and forge connection between peoples, representing and enacting the hospitality shown by a religious community in opening up their practice to draw in a wider audience.'

Carla Hananiah won the John Coburn Emerging Artist Award for her painting Refuge. The judges described it as a 'layering of mystery and illumination over an Australian landscape, asking the viewer to consider themes of religious refuge, homeland and becoming'.

The Blake Prize for Human Justice was awarded to Abdul Abdullah for a striking photographic work entitled Them and Us. It is a dark brooding picture of Abdullah shirtless, with a prominent tattoo on his side of the Southern Cross incorporating the Muslim symbol of a crescent moon and star.

'This work invites us into an unsettling relationship of looking,' the judges said. 'It makes us aware of the tendency to divide people according to their skin or 'look' into categories of friend or foe, a kind of tribal thinking that maintains prejudices.'

To mark the 60th anniversary, the Blake Society launched a history of the prize, a glossy coffee table book entitled The Blake Book: Art, Religion and Spirituality in Australia. It was written by Mercy nun, artist and eminent art historian, Rosemary Crumlin, who has had connections with the prize since it started.

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. He sits on the board of the Blake Society that administers the Blake Prize.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Blake Prize, Rosemary Crumlin



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Existing comments

Don't forget the Blake Poetry Prize! The winner by Robert Adamson and the other short-listed poems are up on the web-site linked in the first paragraph above.
Penelope | 25 September 2011

Occasionally one hears comments by Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox critics that Protestants, as followers of an iconoclastic religion, are historically no good at visual arts... yet that doesn't seem to have impeded Jews and Muslims.
Rod Blaine | 07 October 2011


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