Art for an Urban Heart


How ironic, joining an art project in India called “I  (heart) Delhi” – when I didn’t ‘heart’ it at all. After 24 hours travel, I didn’t love the blaring horns, the thick smog, the spitting or the incessant press of 25 million people. It turns out the locals don’t love Delhi either, but God, in his rescuing grace, quickly showed me both the brokenness and the dignity of life at the margins of society through special individuals. Like the widow with a terminal illness, living in the shadow of a rubbish dump mountain by a stinking canal, bringing her little son to a Christian doctor because she sensed the love in that clinic would care about him after she was gone. And another widow, whose abusive husband left her a legacy of HIV, hugging me tight, because I, a stranger, accepted her. Or visiting a home for girls broken by incest and sex slavery, slowly healing because the Lord gave them a mentor who had been through their pain herself. This is heart stuff.

The international artist residency I went to is an annual event run by the Art For Change Foundation, using art to help people see their society with new eyes — God’s eyes. Twenty of us came together in November to see, to interact and to use art as a prophetic response.

By being there we boosted the work of Fusion, a local church with projects for women and children in a central city slum. Teeming with people, the slum has 5 and 6-storey buildings jammed together, blocking the sun. In a rooftop room I met Babita, a mum of two, her husband away working as a cook for days on end. We, her four guests, sat on the one little bed; around us in the tiny space were shelves and hooks for a few belongings. Each morning at 3 she must get up and go down the steep, dark stairwells to the ground, to collect water for the day while it’s flowing. When her sons are at school, Babita goes to a church project, where she learns English and  maths, and how to make printed bags to sell. Each of us in the art residency used our interactions in the slum to portray what loving the place might mean. Those of us who were believers had many opportunities to share our faith journeys with the other artists as we spent an intensive few weeks working, eating, living and socialising together. Murals were painted in the slum, and at the end we carried smaller art works back there for a “walk through” exhibition. As people crowded around in the narrow lanes, intrigued and appreciative, we felt their joy at being treated as special. Finally we held a regular art show, inviting well-off residents of Delhi who normally only connect with the slum dwellers as servants.

Art creates events that can be a catalyst for grace. God is using artists around the world to cross over cultural boundaries in the heart language of the arts.

— Polly

post-script:  Missions are starting to recruit creative people — film-makers, graphic designers, painters, storytellers, theatre teachers, and so on— and to support them as full mission partners for God’s glory. SIM International recently appointed Maria Custodio (an Australian ethno-musicologist in the Philippines) as their Point Person in the Arts to be an advocate for this focus worldwide. It also publishes Artsbeat, an internet newsletter to inform and encourage people in the mission who are interested in the arts.

Read more on the need for recruiting trained art therapists.

And if you’re a creative person with a career in any of the arts and would like to discuss possible ways to serve in mission, contact us here.