Scriptural Imagination Project

The Kingdom of God is now!

Jesus as Dancer, Jyoti SahiCreated to Bloom, Sujatha BalasundaramThe Potter of Creation, Bhajju Shyam

The doctrine of creation is pivotal to the Christian theological framework. The account of creation in Genesis chapters 1-2 is more than a chronological account of events that occurred in the past. It proclaims the character of God and discloses what the world is about. Creation highlights the dynamic, non-competitive Creator-creature relationship, the interrelatedness of all creation, and humanity’s responsibility as God’s image-bearers.

           The three artworks in conversation address the Creator-creature relationship and humanity’s role as God’s image-bearers. Each of the artists employs different metaphors depending on their ideas and experiences. In their treatment of the creation story, the artists make some sort of connection to the ground. The Creator-creature relationship includes the relationship between created things.

Jyoti Sahi, in Jesus as the Dancer, portrays Jesus dancing creation into existence, echoing the words of John 1: 3, “Through Him [Jesus] all things were made; without Him, nothing was made that has been made.” Music and dance are common metaphors employed in Indian art. Mrs. Balasundaram envisages God as the divine gardener. God planted a garden in Eden and placed the human there to till it and keep it. And in the garden, God made every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good to eat (Genesis 2:8-18). Gond artist Bhajju Shyam expresses the inter-relatedness of humanity and creation as Divine creation and intricately connected to the earth. Jyoti Sahi, Sujatha Balasundaram, and Bhajju Shyam are Indian artists conveying their interpretations of creation which are interestingly related to the earth. This conversation is Indian Christian theology in art.

           Hebrew scripture is set in analogy to the book of Genesis. History is shaped through the interplay of human and Divine will. God’s original plan for life and good remains constant as He makes concessions to human choices. These artworks evoke the Biblical account in Genesis 1-2 focusing on God’s original intent for creation which is for humankind to rule and participate in the care and keeping of the created order (Genesis 2: 15).

           The three metaphors used for the Creator in these artworks are Dancer, gardener, and potter. Jesus as Dancer begins by establishing Jesus’ presence at the beginning of all history – Creation. This artwork recalls John 1, the Word was in the beginning, the Word was with God, the Word was God, all things came into being through Him, and the Word became flesh and lived among us; he is Jesus Christ. In the Indian tradition, the drummer filled with the Spirit expresses liberation through dance. The Dancer stimulates all living beings to dance and experience life through the Spirit. The chief drummer is Jesus, and the life He brings is a mirror-image of Himself (so God created humankind in His image – Genesis 1:27). This life is sustained in being of the same mind as that of Christ (Philippians 2:5) through the power of the Spirit (Acts 1:8; John 16:13). The artwork does not stop at representing Jesus at the act of creation at the very beginning but requires an ongoing activity on the part of the created being to imitate the dance and participate in the vitality of life.

           Unlike the explicit metaphor of the Dancer in Sahi’s artwork, the metaphor of the gardener is implicit in the artwork Created to bloom. However, the flower and the title indicate a Creator-creature interface. A flower signifies that the plant has all it needs to thrive. The concentric rings held together by the corolla persuade the viewer to contemplate the form and content of the visual. ‘Mandala,’ loosely translated as a circle, is a standard meditative tool used in the Indian tradition. The artist uses this concept to go right to the smallest circle in the center to focus on the creaturely dependence on the Creator God. The Almighty Creator made all of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilio). As you zoom out from the center, the image invites you to consider the same Almighty Creator who has given us everything we need to live life to the fullest (2 Peter 1:3) as the one who keeps the garden, so the plant thrives and blooms. We are created and sustained because of God’s love and grace. What is true for us is true for our neighbor, which calls for responsible choices (Philippians 2:5) in the way we keep the way of the Lord (by doing righteousness and justice -Genesis 18:19).

           The third metaphor represented in this triad is that of a potter. The Pradhans, the keepers of Gondh folklore, typically connect the human activity with the Divine through multiple symbols and metaphors. In his treatment of The Potter of Creation, Bhajju Shyam focuses on the earth. The ground is very precious for the Gondhs. Their life depends on the earth’s health because everything depends on the earth. Even the grinding stone, an essential tool for making food, is made from clay. The potter (human potter) makes clay vessels out of the earth that can hold water or food just as the earthworm eats the mud and pests, and its castings make the soil retain water and nutrients better than before. Likewise, humanity’s participation plays an integral role in the creation of life on earth. The pot in traditional Indian folk art is the bearer of life. It is likened to the womb that bears life. Humans are required to be potters.

           Another aspect of the ground is that man is made from the earth. Therefore, humankind must care for the earth. The welfare of the earth is the welfare of humanity. This tribe is highly attuned to the rhythms of nature. There is a deep understanding of the role of humankind in exercising “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27). This dominion refers not to a rigid rule but a participation in the activity of the Divine. This dominion is the sacred task of negotiating and navigating day-to-day activities so that the world may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty (Joshua 4:28). Humanity is given a choice on how to rule, rule with the benefit of others in mind or rule for one’s pleasure. The Gondhs take the role of tilling and keeping the land (Genesis 2:15) very seriously.

                      The Kingdom of God is here, and it is our task as image-bearers to dance liberation and life, to till and keep the garden and make the vessel that bears life. The three artworks highlight the multiple metaphors for God – God, the Creator as Dancer, God, the Creator as Gardener, and God, the Creator as the Potter. The artists have laid out the importance of God’s involvement with His Creation in each of these artworks and humanity’s participation with God in establishing His kingdom on earth here and now.

Published by Sujatha

Wife to a highly creative man, Uday Balasundaram who is passionately in love with Jesus and a mother to 2 precious little ones, Nadira and Aradhya.

One thought on “Scriptural Imagination Project

  1. Suja,

    These pictures and the commentary are so beautiful! I loved every piece. Did you write the article in this last email? I felt like i was in a seminary class, reading it! I loved it. Thank you so much for including me in these emails!

    *Laura A. Hunter *

    Liked by 1 person

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