Saturday, June 4, 2011
ART AS DIALOGUE
An image which I find myself often returning to is the story of Jesus conversing with a Samaritan woman at the well. I feel that this dialogue between a Jewish Rabbi and a woman who was considered by orthodox Jews as an outcaste, is similar to the dialogue between Ananda, one of the main disciples of the Buddha, and a Dalit woman who he asked to give him some water to drink. Finally the issue was concerning the line between purity and pollution, between water which should be for all, and which is essential for life on this planet earth, and the ritual distinctions which are made between individuals and communities. Rabindranath Tagore wrote a drama about the meeting of Ananda and the outcast woman. The Indian theologian George Suaris, wondered whether this Buddhist story, which is also a parable, could have influenced the narrative which we find in the Gospel of John. The story is in that sense not only about the relation of Jesus or Ananda, with a particular woman, but about the basis for dialogue itself. I have felt that the story could be the beginning of a dialogue between the Christian tradition, and the essence of Indian spirituality. It is about a meeting which takes place beyond boundaries. I made a sketch of a mural which is in a Buddhist prayer hall, of Ananda the wandering pilgrim and ascetic monk, receiving water from the woman at the well. The same theme is also represented by a Buddhist monk artist in Sri Lanka who is here actually depicting not the Buddhist story, but his understanding, as a Buddhist, of the story of Jesus with the woman at the well. What struck me about this picture was that the woman is not alone, and it is not just a dialogue between the Guru and the disciple, but the woman is part of a whole community. In the Biblical story, the woman who comes to the well is alone with him, and it is only later that the disciples find Jesus talking to a woman, and that too a Samaritan, and feel shocked. And then it is later that this woman goes and tells her other Samaritan villagers about Jesus, and wonders if he is in fact a Prophet. In my own paintings on this theme, I suggested that the Woman was not only the human person, but was the water itself. Jesus in this dialogue is addressing, like Francis who talked to the birds, the whole of Creation.