Interfaith Perspective on Australian Art

Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions

At the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Melbourne, Australia, one of the events was an art exhibition titled “The Spirit within Australian Contemporary Art“.


The 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, the fourth in the modern era after Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999) and Barcelona (2004), would be incomplete without a quality art exhibition. This exhibition of fifteen works brings together some of the religious traditions that comprise multifaith Australia. It begins in the mists of time with the recognition of the Aboriginal contribution to Australian religious art.

It is indicative of the neglect of the religious strand in the history of Australian art that in the recently published The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia there is no entry on Australian religious art. In fact, the word art does not even make it into the index. Yet the strand is there, stifled by Australia’s Enlightenment secularism which is
now on the wane in the emergence of multifaith Australia. It is often forgotten that one third of all paintings in the National Gallery in London are of religious subjects – the proportion would not be too different in Australian state galleries. This blind spot is remarkable.

This exhibition in a small way addresses this blind spot. All art in united in the sense that it is a manifestation of the human spirit; it allows us to address the universal questions through the intelligence of the heart. A Chinese proverb says, True beauty is eternal and cannot be destroyed. The journey of Australian art over the next century will be to incorporate the Buddhist, the Confucian, the Hindu and the Muslim, and perhaps the African, into the mainstream mosaic that is multicultural and interfaith Australia. This exhibition is one small step forward. Art is capable, often with a struggle, to move us beyond our family and cultural inheritance, beyond the prison of our own time and place.

There is another Chinese proverb, Opportunity is like catching the sun’s rays. This exhibition will help us catch those rays that gives life to this planet but whose warmth is in danger of destroying it. Each of these works is a shrine, uncovering events and ideas that matter.

The Parliament is especially indebted to the generosity of Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. This exhibition could not have occurred without the indefatigable Helen Summers whose commitment to interfaith and art is without parallel. She has been helped immeasurably by Rosemary Crumlin and Helen Light and the Parliament’s Art Committee. We owe them all a great debt.

Desmond Cahill (Prof ),
Melbourne Parliament Program Director.

Download The Spirit within Australian Contemporary Art

Source: Melbourne Board, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

Photo Credit: Melbourne Board, Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions