Editorial

Marita Liulia’s exhibition Choosing My Religion brings religious themes and symbolic imagery to the fifth floor of Kiasma. Liulia has studied the religions of the world in depth and has been presenting the results in the form of art for several years. Metropolitan Ambrosius from the Helsinki diocese of the Finnish Orthodox Church discusses the relationship between art and religion before the exhibition opens.

Presenting different religions by means of art in a museum of contemporary art is rather unusual. Today it is surely more topical than ever. Metropolitan Ambrosius approaches the subject with interest by observing how every presentation of religion is also an expression of a statement. ”Certainly some fundamentalists may be upset by the exhibition, but it shouldn’t and mustn’t be seen as a risk. I think that this encounter between religions, something that has been very much in the limelight in many different forums, from different viewpoints, has seldom been addressed in art, or at least in exhibitions such as this. The museum, Kiasma that is, is certainly keeping up with the times, because an encounter between religions, on the level of religions, is as a rule a dialogue, although it also involves a dialectic and tensions between some religions.” According to Ambrosius, the tensions stem primarily from other issues, often social in nature, not so much from religious principles themselves.

ART, RELIGION AND TRENDS

Futurologists have for years been predicting the rise of both art and religion. As an example, Ambrosius cites John Naisbitt, who wrote in the 1980s about religion being one of the mega-trends of the new millennium. Another mega-trend Naisbitt mentioned was art. Metropolitan Ambrosius sees art as a superb vehicle for depicting the invisible reality. “The Orthodox church has throughout history used the expressive potential of art. Where the church in the West has tended to use written and spoken words and logical argumentation, the church in the East has used images and drama and music.” He looks forward with interest to what connections and contrasts the exhibition will present about the dialogue between our ‘European’ religion and the religions of the East.

DISCUSSIONS AND ENCOUNTERS

Metropolitan Ambrosius considers discussion to be one of the key tasks of contemporary art. Art can “help us enter into dialogue and become aware and see more, to see more deeply, to hear more and thereby to understand ourselves more holistically and to identify our own black holes”. The meeting of art and religion in Kiasma is particularly exciting. “Our European religion is so thoroughly purged of all invisible reality. Most European Christians are not familiar with angels anywhere except in Christmas carols, there are no saints anymore, and relics are passé. Such an invisible world has more or less disappeared.”

WOMEN IN THE WORLD OF RELIGION

According to Marita Liulia, her exhibition also illustrates the position of women in different religions. With a sigh, Ambrosius admits that “Yes, in most religions women have had a subordinate status. Religions have traditionally been the sphere of men, and it’s plain to see that the majority of saints in Christian churches are men. Men represent the hierarchy in other ways as well”.

But he also points out that this is more a reflection of the societies and the history of the cultures in question, rather than an expression of the religion’s innermost essence. With a touch of exasperation he adds that “of course you can say without overly exaggerating that our track record in this matter is nothing to be proud of, if you look at the history of churches and religions”.

FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS

Metropolitan Ambrosius has visited Kiasma countless times. He promises to come to the opening of this exhibition too, if he can find the time in his busy schedule. “This new exhibition is necessary and it’s also intriguing to analyse it with friends. After all, these are the fundamental questions of humanity.”

“You see, it’s much more powerful when an exhibition and the works in it represent the viewpoint of just one pAccording to Ambrosius, it is impossible to address all religions impartially, unless of course the term impartiality is understood in the sense of an open-minded, dispassionate interest. We each have our own personal priorities, and “in that sense it’s just like love; it focuses on a specific object, which precludes us from being sociologists”.

REFLECTION AND PROCESSING

Ambrosius has, as he himself puts it, “never” felt that other religions might be a challenge for his own spiritual convictions. On the contrary, he thinks that we can reflect upon our own faith precisely by encountering other religions and their religious imagery. “Because no religion is a package that you adopt and then you own the truth. It’s more like a process and a question concerning one’s own mental and spiritual growth.”

Christian religion and tradition have many common points with the high religions in Asia. One is the question of holiness. That is very much a common issue. Metropolitan Ambrosius finds a great deal of spiritual wisdom in Asian religions, wisdom that we can read and learn from.

Päivi Oja