Art and Religion

Wisnu Sasongko is an Indonesian Christian artist and member of the SERUNI and the ACAA.


Opening of the SERUNI exhibit “Art & Religious” at the
Pelita Harapan University.

Last September 5, 2013, artists group of SERUNI (Eng: Indonesian Christian Art) held an exhibition in the Pelita Gallery. The exhibit revolved around the theme “Arts and Religion” and was held in cooperation with the School of Design of the University of Pelita Harapan. It coincided with the forum for academic discussion with Dr. Bambang Sugiharto. Here is an excerpt of one of the issues raised during his discussion.

“Interesting irony: In the pre-modern era the peak of art was generally born due to the fusion between art and religion. Just look at the Pyramids [of Giza], Borobodur temple, [the] fantastic mosques, calligraphy, sacred literatures-various, mythical, deep and complicated, sculptures and paintings in the basilicas and cathedrals, compositions by Beethoven, Bach and so on… But strangely during modern times, intense and brilliant artworks are not related to religion. While religious art tend to be amateur, shallow or kitsch.” (Bambang Sugiharto. Art and Religion. 2013))

Art is able to communicate across the language barrier (at least for people who are open to the values and cultural change). It will always be able to evoke a sense of beauty to people, whoever or wherever they may be. They [people] will be able to understand the meaning of art even those without text.

Wisnu Sasongko explaining his artwork

 Religious art has remained stagnant, with repetitive iconographic traits. This is due to the narrowing constraints of religious ideologies that are less open to criticism.  What is the basis of for interpretations of religious themes in art? Certainly this should be limitless. The artist should have the right to create his own illuminations based on his cultural background, personal experiences and the symbolic meaning attached to images during his particular era

Creation of good art can still be measured by the composition of its language and through media creativity.  It if one can’t relate with its ideological aspect; then they should still be able to appreciate it for its beauty. In this era, the sustainability of religious art remains to be tested. Can it revitalize the theological dogmas? Or can it rejuvenate religion by creating new iconographies?

Art and religion has become a classic theme of the renaissance in Europe. Art was used as a tool to communicate the “message” to believers; as oppose to the contemporary period, when art is created for the sake of creating art. Up until today renaissance artworks still attest to the universal nature of human beings as the center of forming a culture. According to Bambang Sugiharto during the pre-modern era, art was a slave to religion. In the modern era, it was a slave to ideology. In the postmodern era it has become the servant and an extension of life.

Plato viewed art as mimetic or mimicking nature. SERUNI artists try to imitate Christ not only as subjects in their art but also as individuals. Ecclesiastical art has a tendency to look more classical in form.  The relevant question here is- Is there any religious art that stirs urgency?  Contemporary religious art must be creative in interpreting Biblical narratives; but this is not enough. It must also dare to transform the phrase “contextual and distinctive”. This authenticity will stem from artist’s experiences and his own method of addressing the issue of “religious salvation” in today’s pluralistic society.

Bambang Sugiharto catapults these issues to large institutional religions: they do not have to fear the power of critical or deconstructive art. Critical art can cause a problem by creating an illusion and making religion seem superficial.

This is the context for SERUNI’s artistic journey. Their consistency in wanting to learn, spreading creativity and creating art is being tested. Religious art cannot ignore the social art movement or the market forces. Religious art exhibitions can be a transformative momentum spiritually, academically and aesthetically. And with these, I am pleased to conclude that SERUNI’s exhibit was not only delightful but also successful. To learn about SERUNI's activities visit their website at

LEFT: Conversations between SERUNI artists and University lecturers, moderators, committee memmbers. MIDDLE: (Left)Dean of School of Design Univ. UPH. and Prof. Dr. Bambang Sugiharto RIGHT: “Art & Religious” discussion on held on September 6, 2013 in thePelita Harapan University. It was open for public in order to raise academic discussions.