A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent a weekday morning at our local art museum, Newfields. The museum was hosting a series called “Artful Conversations,” and we signed up to attend without knowing exactly what we’d learn or encounter.
Standing by Robert Indiana’s gigantic LOVE sculpture with a handful of other strangers, we were greeted by an unassuming museum curator. He led our group into another area of the museum where we stood facing two large works of art: one wall tapestry, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, made by Flemish artist Hendrik Mattens in the 1500s based on the design by Raphael, and another more modern wall sculpture called Duvor, made by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui in 2007.
The curator went on to describe the way he had been curating pieces in this particular wing of the museum by intentionally placing unexpected artwork duos side-by-side as if they were in conversation with one another and with us, the viewers. I’m not a visual artist; I admittedly don’t know that much about art. I’ve only been in a handful of art museums in various cities in the world, but in most of the museum experiences I’ve had, the artwork was arranged and separated by time period, location, or movement.
The experience of seeing art and thinking about what it was saying in this new combined way was fascinating. On one hand, I could hear Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tradition” playing in the back of my mind like a fearful protest. Yet on the other hand, I was enthralled by the way these two pieces — that no one would ever expect to have anything in common, that bridged generations and geography, worldview and experience, dark history and the hope of transformation — worked to illuminate one another. One made centuries ago with the finest materials of its time for an elite group of people, and the other, a modern work, made from recycled liquor bottle caps and copper wire as a statement “on consumerism, disposability, and the colonial legacy of the rum trade.”
I stood there staring at this intentional pairing thinking about how much like our Creator God it is. God, the ultimate Creator, Curator, Artist, Designer, Storyteller, Mathematician, Scientist, Gardener, Forester, and Accountant of every star, human teardrop, strand of hair, and grain of sand, has made the world to be diverse and to thrive together in and through diversity.
Like those works of art, we are a communal reflection of the immensity of our Creator God. We are a connected conversation that bears the weight of God’s image and love over space and time.
Similar to this museum wing experience of conversation and connectivity, I recently learned that in nature, it’s diverse forests that are the healthiest forests. The forests with the most variance and difference living side-by-side become the strongest. According to scientists, biodiverse forests are nourished more deeply because of their diversity and dependence, and in return, they are able to offer nourishment that stretches far and wide.
Diversity isn’t a trend, it’s a sacred system and divine intention for our nourishment and thriving.
In his lettered response to the church in Corinth thousands of years ago, the apostle Paul argued and exhorted our spiritual ancestors to remember that their diversity was their strength and divine design. They were intentionally placed side-by-side as walking works of art who make up the body of Christ, intentionally made to depend on one another.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.”
1 Cor 12:17-19 (NIV)
After our day at the museum, I spent time further researching the artwork we saw that day. I learned the meaning of El Anatsui’s wall sculpture Duvor is communal cloth. Perhaps that ancient 16th century tapestry and this modern recycled sculpture had more in common than first meets the eye.
As we prepare for a new year, may we each seek to be our fully unique and connected part of the communal tapestry we were made to be.
This new year, may we allow those different from us to illuminate and weave together the image of God in us and vice versa.
This new year, may we be the body of Christ who is willing to be a new kind of artful conversation.
Ruth Mills says
Tasha, this is so thought provoking & encouraging. Thank you for sharing. Yes, let us willing to be part of artful conversations! Blessings!
Thank you, Ruth. I’m glad it was both things for you.
I grew up in a diverse neighborhood. I loved it. It opened my eyes to new foods, music, etc. I appreciate the fabric of humanity with all it’s differences and all our similarities. But, I never thought of art this way. So, thank you for this perspective.
Madeline, I love that you had that experience – what a gift.
Ariel Krienke says
Such a great message. People around here say they love diversity but then they say if I didn’t grow up with you in my community, why should I get to know you? This throbbing is so closed minded and not loving. Also not loving to separate people into different groups. Even if it is meant in a way of kindness like they feel safer. We all are better when we are together. Working for future with the gifts God gave us is the way. Thank you
Thank you for sharing, Ariel. There are times when we need to be with those like us and I believe that feeling safe is important – not to exclude others, but to affirm and reclaim what’s needed. I also agree that we are better together. Both things can be true and both things work to support the greater gift of diversity in all it’s depth. Glad you are part of our community!
Good thoughts! Thank you!
Beth Williams says
We need to embrace diversity. It is what our country is made up of. Many immigrants from the world over came here to make a new life for themselves. We could learn a lot by talking with them & hearing their stories. I believe that Heaven will be full of diversity. God loves ALL people red, yellow, black & white. He doesn’t make any distinctions.
Beth, this journey of embrace is life-long and I’m so glad to be on it. Grateful for your heart!