Indigenous artists share faith through painting

Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand by Ellen Draper

In an age when knowledge of the Bible seems to be fading, many indigenous Australians claim it as an important game changer in their lives, reports Rachel Kohn for The Spirit of Things on Radio National.

Among the 73 per cent of indigenous Australians who claim Christianity as their faith — more than the general population — Max Conlon, artist and Christian minister from Murgon, Queensland, is not atypical.

"Somebody invited me to church one day, so I went along. That day was meant for me. It was 'divine appointment'," Conlon said. "The man was preaching that somebody loved me; my heart was popping — that he died on the cross. I had never heard that before.

"I gave my heart to Jesus that day, and a light switched on in my life."

Conlon is one of 66 artists representing 41 language groups who have contributed their stories and their artwork to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Bible Society Australia.

The result is a large and lushly produced book, which Conlon has named Our Mob: God's Story.

The book represents an important shift in the thinking of Bible Society, which since its early days has been primarily devoted to distributing copies of the Bible and "spreading the word".

But as Bible Society Australia chief executive Greg Clarke admits, the languages of the heart are different for different people.

For indigenous Australians, he says, pictorial forms of communication are embedded in their traditional art.

"There's been a real iconoclasm in Christianity that sees the picture as less valuable than the word," Mr Clarke says. "Some of the metaphors for Jesus and God are word based, but we can't limit ourselves to those things.

"There are just so many resources God's given us to understand Him and the world, and a lot of those things are visual resources or audio resources.

"We're crazy if we limit ourselves to one form of communication. They all play different roles."


Ellen Draper's painting Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand (The Spirit of Things)


Our Mob, God's Story: Indigenous artists share Christian faith through painting (Spirit of Things)

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