“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message version)
This passage was the inspiration for Choon Ean, a curator in Penang, to start a media arts organisation, LUMA, to be a light in the arts world. CREA (an arts ministry in CRU Singapore) has been working with her for the past 2 years, and this year we were in Penang to help her do a mural based on these same verses on her new gallery space.
Before meeting Choon Ean, my idea of what a “Christian artist” looked like was confined to medieval painters who painted Christ on the cross or a flying dove with an olive branch, with a rainbow in the sky. As much as it was revolutionary in their era, it has now become an overused cliché. During a season when I struggled to see if my faith had any relevance to my art, or at least what I was creating, God led me to meet and help Choon Ean with the Georgetown Festival 2014. That experience was a significant turning point for me to see how could a Christian artist look like in the 21st century.
Choon Ean is a woman who loves what she does, but above all she loves God, and this is clearly seen in every action, no matter how small or insignificant. While we were setting up the exhibition, many of the other artists needed help and she would always be the first to throw down her tools and rush over to give a hand. She kept doing this until the opening, which resulted in her own work left unfinished. However, she was completely unfazed, just laughed and said that she’ll finish it after the opening (since she stayed in Penang anyway, unlike the other artists from other countries) and it was her joy to help others set up their work. This selfless spirit was something many of the participating artists have never seen in other exhibitions they were involved and this was what made them want to continue working with her, even if they were not Christians.
This is just one example of how she lives out Christ’s love for us, and the beautiful thing is that many can see it. She always places relationships before her own work, which is a very counter-cultural thing in the arts and in the world. As the verse says, “Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven”, she always has an open door and is always generous with her resources and time, knowing that this will win souls for the Lord.
Besides the relational aspect, she showed me that there was no need to be shy (or scared) about our faith in regards to creating works. Being a Chinese Christian in Malaysia, and in the arts, there are already many more obstacles faced, be it censorship or when dealing with different authorities, as compared to Singapore. Yet she boldly declares she is a Christian, and her works can be very much influenced by her love for God. However, when you see her works, they are not explicitly “Christian” – they are just authentic, genuine pieces of works that are from the outflow of her prayers and worship to our Father.
As we went back to help her with her new mural, it was almost like God bringing things to a full circle for me personally, to be able to give back whatever little I can to help her continue the work God has placed before her.
With PSPC starting a Creative Arts Ministry, we too hope to be a beacon of light in the ‘Arts Triangle’, to “keep our doors open and to be generous with our lives, knowing that by opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” God has blessed us with a prime location, in the center of the ‘Arts Triangle’ but also so many different communities of people. Let us pray that God will open our spiritual eyes to see the needs of all these people, and use the talents and gifts He has given to reach out to them. To touch them in ways words may not be able to, be it through music, visual, or just simple act of kindness.