Over the weekend, I finished work on a series of art pieces that I am calling "Icons of a Kintsugi Faith." This set of five, icon-like pieces in polymer clay illustrate five different Christian beliefs and have each been broken and repaired in a kintsugi-like manner to mimic the way that life experience breaks open our belief systems and to express the faith that our re-assembling of our beliefs in fresh new ways after these breaks adds to their depth and beauty.
The inspiration for each image was intentionally drawn from children's coloring pages to connect to the fact that these beliefs were part of my childhood faith tradition. Near the end of the process, I discovered that the set of beliefs that I had chosen to explore in this were the same ones that comprise the list of "fundamentals" from which Christian fundamentalists get their name.
Having grown up in a fundamentalist setting (but not knowing that such a list actually existed), the discovery that I had inadvertently landed on the exact items that defined my childhood faith tradition was a powerful affirmation that I was on the right track in my own process of questioning and healing.
One aspect of this process that surprised me was the power of working through this process of making images of my former beliefs, allowing them to break in uncontrolled ways, and piecing them back together again all in a non-verbal format. I am so used to working through these faith issues in words that are slippery and bring with them the inherent risk of misstating myself and my evolving beliefs in ways that will get me deemed a heretic.
Being able to work through this process without that threat hanging over me freed me to experience the breaking and repair process in a deeply meaningful way without having to nail it down in words. This experience brought so much healing with it in an unexpected wave.
I imagine that the process of my belief system being broken open by life and being constantly questioned, stretched, re-evaluated, and re-conceived will continue on for the rest of my life. But this set of art pieces feels like it marks the end to what has been a very long and extended wrestling with these fundamentalist ideas from my upbringing. I think I am finally ready to let go of this set of baggage in a new way in order to move with freedom into a new phase of growth and wrestling with new questions. For this, I am very grateful, and I have a whole new appreciation for the healing power of art.
Introducing Icons of a kintsugi faith
This set of pieces is designed to represent the process that we all go through of questioning our childhood religious beliefs as life breaks them apart and the way we put them back together again to create something more complex, interesting, and (ultimately) beautiful.
The inerrancy of the Bible
Each of these images is selected to represent a major tenet of the Christian faith, and they are loosely modeled on children's coloring pages to represent that these were parts of my childhood faith tradition. I was raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist household, so it was especially powerful for me to discover when the project was nearly completed that the specific beliefs that I had chosen to represent in my series were the same as the Christian fundamentals that gave rise to the fundamentalist movement. I had conflated the first two into one (as ways of approaching Bible interpretation), so I added one more image to the series to fully encompass the list. Each image is shown throughout the page with the corresponding fundamental in the caption.
The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ's miracles and the Creation account in Genesis
Each image is designed to be icon-like in the way that it provides a window into a greater reality, and the general size and shape is modeled after common icon sizing. Each image is made from polymer clay and cured. It is then broken (by freezing it and slamming it against the sharp corner of a kitchen counter). This process of breaking it is as risky and uncontrollable as the breakages that happen in our own faith lives as our life experience causes us to question what we believe, especially for those of us who have been taught that questioning or deviating from established belief will send one to hell.
The Virgin Birth of Christ
The broken pieces are put back together with gold-colored polymer clay to model the kintsugi style of repair, with the hope that the repair itself will add greater beauty and interest to the work. After curing the repaired work, it is backed and framed in terra cotta colored clay. Gold acrylic paint is added on top of the gold repairs to highlight the repairs since the color tends to fade on baking.
The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ
The final set represents for me the process that I have been through in re-considering my childhood faith tradition and ultimately claiming it for myself in a refashioned way. While I no longer fall within the fundamentalist camp, this risky process of re-evaluation has allowed me to still locate myself within the Christian tradition without having to abandon my integrity by trying to deny any part of my lived experience.
The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
I hope this work inspires you wherever you may be in your own process of lifelong wrestling with your own faith to take the risks of questioning and re-evaluating your beliefs as necessary to live into a faith that is continually growing in its complexity, nuance, beauty, and interest.
This set was shown as part of the Risk of Faith Transformative Art Experience & Exhibit sponsored by Studio Ninety-Six at Christian Theological Seminary on May 31, 2013.
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