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Interfaith artists in Java keep Palestine in frame

Art exhibition aims to promote peace and religious tolerance as Muslims' conflict with US-backed Israel rages on
Interfaith artists in Java keep Palestine in frame

Father Aloysius Budi Purnomo (left), chairman of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Archdiocese of Semarang in Central Java province, explains the meaning of a painting during an art exhibition in the archdiocese that ran from March 21-25. (Photo supplied by M.A. Sutikno)

Published: April 03, 2018 04:16 AM GMT
Updated: April 03, 2018 04:34 AM GMT

An acrylic painting of a pit bull drawn in the colors of the Stars & Stripes was one of over 100 artworks on show in Indonesia's Central Java province last month to highlight political and religious conflicts, among other themes.

The five-day exhibition ran from March 21-25 in a hall of the Catholic University of Soegijapranata in the provincial capital of Semarang. It was launched with much fanfare including art performances involving hundreds of students.

The Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of Semarang Archdiocese organized the show, which featured the works of about 50 interfaith artists.

The theme of "Peace in Palestine, Our Harmony" reflected the archdiocese's vision to foster a more prosperous society based on the love of one's neighbor by 2035, it said.

M.A. Sutikno, a 60-year-old artist from Christ the King Parish in Ungaran, the capital of Semarang, said it only took him a day to finish a 100cm x 120cm painting. Its title, "Adikuasa," refers to a Javanese proverb.

"It refers to people who abuse their power or intelligence to serve their own interests at the expense of others," he told ucanews.com.

"I wanted to portray the United States as a country that likes to wield power over others," he said, adding he picked the pit bull because it is "a symbol of violence."

The artist said he was concerned about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict which dates back to the end of the 19th century.

The pit bull, traditionally known for its aggressive nature, has been painted in the colors of the American flag to show how Washington is abusing it power, according to artist M.A. Sutikno, a parishioner of Christ the King Church in Ungaran, Semaran, which recently exhibited the rousing canvas. (Photo supplied by M.A. Sutikno)


"I'm deeply unsettled by the situation in Palestine, where violence breaks out every day. And it isn't just Muslims who are being victimized but people of all faiths and walks of life," he said.

"The US is behind all of this. It has a very strong influence on global politics. That's why I painted it as a pit bull," he said.

Sutikno sent three canvasses to the exhibition including one titled "Masa Kecil, Saat Kebahagiaanku" (My Childhood, My Happiness).

"That painting tells a story about children who live happily in a Javanese village. In contrast, kids in Palestine feel depressed because of the conflict," he said.

Anger was sparked across many Muslim countries and communities in Asia last December when U.S. President Donald Trump followed through with a controversial decision set in motion by his predecessors to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Trump had said the Jerusalem issue was a stumbling bloc to Israeli- Palestinian negotiations so he wanted to remove the issue from the negotiating table.

"They never got past Jerusalem. We took it off the table. We don’t have to talk about it anymore," Trump had told reporters.

In Jakarta, for example, thousands of Muslims staged a series of protests urging Trump to rescind his decision.

Yet that same decision served as inspiration for another painting — "Satu Permintaan" (One Request) — which appeared in the show by a 61-year-old Muslim artist called Basuki.

"The title describes a giant who I show gripping Trump firmly. I wanted to show how Trump is not the only one with strength and power. God is much more formidable," he said.

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is quite horrific but I hope peace will prevail on Palestine and on earth," he said, adding he was exhibiting another five canvasses at the show on themes such as peace and religious tolerance.

Father Aloysius Budi Purnomo, chairman of the commission, said the organizers were hopeful life can, and will, imitate art.

A painting titled "Satu Permintaan" (One Request) was drawn by Basuki, a 61-year-old Muslim artist, for the exhibition. This painting describes a giant figure who grips U.S. President Donald Trump, shown during exhibition held in Semarang Archdiocese, March 21-25 2018. (Photo is supplied by Basuki)  


"One way to put this vision [on peace in the Middle East] into practice is through exhibitions like this. Why? Because paintings last forever. People only need to look at them once and they can interpret them however they like," he said.

He said the show drew over 100 visitors a day.

"Pope Francis strongly disagrees with President Trump's decision [regarding the new Israeli capital] and he has called for people to respect the status quo in Jerusalem," Father Purnomo said.

"This must be done in accordance with all pertinent resolutions put forward by the United Nations," he added.

The U.N.'s position is that East Jerusalem is in Palestinian-occupied territory and should eventually serve as the capital of both states.

Father Purnomo also contributed two paintings to the exhibition: "Tiga Milenium Kini" (Today's Three Millennia), which focuses on Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. The city now ranks as a Palestinian authority.

"A nation cannot oppress another nation," the priest said.

Local officials and religious leaders attended the opening ceremony of the exhibition including Reverend Sediyoko, chairman of the Communion of Protestant Churches in Semarang.  

He said the soft call to peace through art may gain traction.

"An exhortation to peace can easily be accepted by people if it is delivered through paintings as they have no religious boundaries," he said.

He said the the show was the first of its kind in the province.

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