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The universal and individual in art

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The Faith & Belief Forum

28 / 02 / 20

My name is Iona Champain, and I am an Atheist Actor from Suffolk who recently took part in SoulArt Collective’s event ‘Does Art Have a Soul’, curated with the Faith & Belief Forum and funded through the wonderful Amal (a Saïd Foundation programme).

Art is something that I always believed to be Universal. To me, Art is the thing that can present a shared human experience, weaving together individuals’ emotions and experiences in order to unite. However, as I attempted to navigate my way within ‘the Arts’ – a world that is hard to penetrate at the best of times – I found myself to be very lucky to have this view. I began to realise that faith and belief, things I thought little about, were not visible in the Art I was viewing. I joined the ArtSoul Collective because I wanted to learn about that which I did not yet understand. I started to realise that Art should not only unite, but must also celebrate difference.

Through working with an incredibly intelligent and inspiring group of women belonging to a variety of faith groups, I began to see that Art is overwhelmingly harnessed by authoritative groups whose narratives are cyclically represented in mainstream art forms, again and again. But Art does not belong to anybody. So who controls it? Many doors are shut due to artistic establishments’ inability to include. This is not only unjust for those that are shut out, but it is also damaging to the audience on the other side of the door: when an opportunity is closed to different faiths and beliefs, we are all denied the richness of learning about our society as a whole, as opposed to chosen sections of it.

There must be a space for faith to be discussed, whilst not making it the job of different faith groups to teach others their experience. When Artists are denied opportunities based on their beliefs, Art becomes a mechanism that includes and excludes based on only one of the many pieces that make up an individual’s identity.

Through working with the SoulArt Collective, I discovered that Art is an important social tool in bringing people together, but it also has a responsibility to represent our differences. It is important for Art to point out the things that we, as humans, share. But it is equally important for Art to represent our individual patterns, textures and voices, the things that set us apart, allowing our society to remain unbounded in its ability to stimulate, teach and challenge. The disparity within the whole is enriching.

It is not Art’s job to choose. It is Art’s job to provide platforms that are welcoming to every faith, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, where Art can centre around each unique identity as well as shared human experiences. And if anybody wishes to harness Art, then they must take this responsibility on their own shoulders.

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