The role of religion in society and art is the theme of a major new exhibition in Mile End.
Between Faith and Art is the vision of curator, Synnøve Ellingsen, who has previously organised three similar exhibitions, in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, in Ramallah on the West Bank in Israel and in Armenia.
Extensive research has gone into the preparation of these exhibitions, including field trips to Jerusalem and the publication of a book of the same name.
At the Art Pavilion, in Mile End Park, the exhibition aims to show visitors how human creativity and religion can be expressed collaboratively.
Ellingsen was born and raised in Norway. She grew up in Lofoten, a small fishing town on the north coast. “Where I lived it was not common to think you would work with art, [but] we were always drawing because we lived in an area where a lot of artists visited,” she explained.
Nevertheless, it was in England that Ellingsen’s love of art really blossomed and her artistic path was realised when she chose to study art. She took an art foundation degree in Farnham, before she continued with a bachelor programme at Maidstone College of Art in Kent. After, she went on to study at The Academy of Arts in Oslo.
Recently, she took a one year course in design and technology at the University of Greenwich.
Speaking of her exhibition, Ellingsen said: “Some [of the artists] have left their childhood beliefs and joined other groups throughout their lives; some anthroposofic background, atheist, agnostics, Mormon, Catholic, Buddhist influences are seen.”
“Some have chosen political references, some personal, some historic and some existential references that are timeless and universal.”
The exhibition also aims to explore how artists from different cultures approach religion in the 21st Century. “Armenia, UK and Palestine have strong religious histories. It is all about reviewing religious references in our time and personal life stands,” said Ellingsen.
Although the exhibition contains exemplary pieces of art, it takes more than skill and fine craftsmanship in order to have work showcased. The standards are set high and a minimum of a master’s degree or its equivalent is required.
Reidar Kraugerud, an artist showcasing his work at the exhibition, studied in Paris. He’s produced a collage of various religions called Places of Dogma and Innocence, which includes images of Catholicism and Islam.
Kraugerud didn’t always know he was going to be an artist, and only discovered his passion at the age of 23.
“My father was painter, so I saw a lot of art. Before art I studied French and the history of art. I didn’t think much about art when I was younger, I used to draw but that was about it.”
A Royal College of Art alumnus, Benjamin Ellingsen, is also showcasing his work at the exhibition. From the age of 12 he knew he wanted to pursue art, later completing a masters degree in sculpture.
Benjamin Ellingsen constructed a sculpture that represents Jesus being in the garden of Gethesemane where he prayed and suffered for some hours before his arrest. The piece is titled Gethsemane.
“I wanted to create the sculpture in a state of despair and hope. I have been interested in biology all along so after doing a lot of research I incorporated it into my work, especially because there is a lot of overlap in art,“ he said.