Evidence for Peace – Four Interpretations of the Stations of the Cross
Paintings and reflection by DSPT Alumnus, Lam Khong
In this art exhibition at Blackfriars Gallery, I present four series of paintings and drawings. Each contains fifteen pieces which depict the fourteen Stations of the Cross, plus the Resurrection of Christ. Using traditional materials such as oil, graphite, wood or paper, each series is executed in a different expression and subject matter, from minimal abstractions to representational landscapes.
Traditionally, the Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross) is a series of artistic meditations of Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion. The meditation arose from early pilgrimages to Jerusalem, wherein travelers would stop at appointed station churches or chapels, such as Pilate’s judgment hall in the Fortress Antonia. As early as the fourth century this prayerful journey gained acceptance as the path along which Jesus carried the cross to his death — the Via Dolorosa. As few as seven and as many as thirty-seven, the number of the Stations was fixed at fourteen in 1731 by Pope Clement XII, who encouraged their display in churches.
Artists throughout history have depicted the Stations of the Cross mainly in a narrative form. Some modern and contemporary artists have expressed more challenging interpretations such as the black color-field paintings by Ad Reinhardt and Barnett Newman.
I first learned and prayed with the Stations as a child. The violent and sorrowful theme did not captivate me as much as the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. It was not by intellect that I came to believe in God, but by this extraordinary manifestation of love. The meditative quality of the Stations comforts the soul and has inspired into life many ideas and revelations.
The Stations of the Cross captivate me for many reasons, but two are most personal. I was born and raised in Vietnam during the war. My father was in the military, trained in America, and became a high-ranked officer. When the war ended, he was sent to a concentration camp. Wanting a better life for her nine children, my mother smuggled us out of the country one by one. My father was released from prison after six years. We children in the States sponsored our parents along with two younger sisters to come to America. In the Stations, I confront characters and conflicts that display the bonds between family and friends. I identify the Stations with the separation and reunion of my family.
Hidden within the violence and sorrow of the crucifixion is a peaceful Jesus. In college, I read Being Peace by Thich Nhut Hanh. Speaking about the peril of the Vietnamese boat people, he expresses how one person being at peace can calm a boat full of people from sinking into the sea. Hanh’s message filled me with gratitude and gladness for the survival of my whole family. Reflecting on how one person at peace can save lives, I focus on Jesus as the savior of the world. I rely on the Stations to help me in my own practice of being peace.
Throughout my thirty-year art career, I have executed the Stations at least fifty times using different media, subjects, and expressions. By painting the Stations in different interpretations I hope to show that God is not restricted in a time or place, but rather resides in all things, peoples, and cultures.
The four series in this exhibition contain elements of nature, which I believe is one of the most prominent manifestations for the evidence of the love of God. I look at the landscape and the sky throughout the day—the gradual change from light to dark—and imagine a crucifixion scene from the point of view of Jesus in his last hours. What I hope to achieve in these paintings is a quality of peace because what Jesus sees is peace.
Lam Khong was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1972, and came to the United States at age 8. “When I arrived,” says Lam, “I didn’t speak English well. So I drew to communicate with other children at school. Art became my silent friend.”
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