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Artists call for unity and peace in Cathedral exhibition

Olga Bakhtina and Michelle Bowden

Peace: COSSAG chairwoman and painter Michelle Bowden and artist Olga Bakhtina (left). Photo: Emilie Ng.

ARTISTS throughout Brisbane are using what Pope John Paul II described as their “gift as creators of beauty” to call for peace and unity around the world.

Cathedral of St Stephen’s Art Group has invited local Brisbane artists to create new works based on the theme, All Are One, for its annual winter art exhibition being held this week.

COSSAG chairwoman and local Brisbane painter Michelle Bowden said issues of racism, religious persecution; indigenous rights; and environmental disunity were key issues for many of the city’s artists.

Artists who entered the exhibition were given a Scripture passage from Galatians 13:28 and a quote from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ to inspire their artworks.

Mrs Bowden said unified communities were “the only way to combat” division, separation and suspicion among people.

“If everyone comes together, that just makes everybody stronger to be able to combat those other elements that’s happening out there,” she said. “That’s why we think All Are One is such an important theme.”

COSSAG’s annual exhibitions have become well known within the wider Brisbane art community, particularly with non-Catholic artists.

Local artist Olga Bakhtina is Russian Orthodox and held her first solo exhibition while living in Oman, where her subjects were “some of the last biblical faces on the earth”.

Christian art has been both a source of inspiration and comfort for the Russian-born artist, who became an Australian in May.

“You look at the frescos in Ethiopia, or you look at the Byzantine icons, or you look at the ancient Irish sculptures … the people were not creating art, they were creating more than art, they were creating something about what they really believed and had to protect,” Mrs Bakhtina said.

Mrs Bakhtina was behind the winning and colourful painting, Good Samaritan, at last year’s COSSAG exhibition.

Bishop Anthony Randazzo bought the painting as a parting gift for Holy Spirit Seminary Queensland ahead of his episcopal ordination in Sydney.

It is now being displayed at the Australian Catholic University.

Mrs Bakhtina said she started creating her own pieces of Christian art “accidentally” last year.

“It was a difficult time for my family last year and my first piece, Risen Christ, was a healing piece, a meditation piece,” she said.

“I got the glimpse of how the icon painters felt because it is really a healing process.

“I just continued and it works every time for me.”

Mrs Bakhtina said she was “honoured” to be the winner of COSSAG’s exhibition last year.

In his short Letter to Artists in 1999, Pope John Paul II encouraged artists to see their vocation as a deep association with God, the creator of the universe.

“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands,” the Pope wrote.

COSSAG’s All Are One exhibition is being held this week between June 22 and June 26 at the Francis Rush Centre at St Stephen’s Cathedral precinct, with the opening night beginning at 6pm on June 23.

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