Panel Discusses New Exhibition, Treasured Truths: Exploring the Bridges Between Faith, Art, and Life

On Thursday, September 27, the Department of Visual Arts and the Museum of Art co-hosted an artist panel discussion in connection with the Department of Visual Arts exhibition Treasured Truths: Exploring the Bridges Between Faith, Art, and Life. The panel, moderated by James Swensen, explored the connections between Mormons and Muslims in art and faith and featured Val Brinkerhoff, Andrew Kosorok, Dr. Nassar Mansour, Dr. Ahmad Salah, and Steven Waggoner.

Swensen started the discussion by asking the Muslim panelists why it is “important that Mormons know something about Muslims.”

“Introduction to other faiths, other cultures is important,” said Dr. Salah, Imam for BYU s Muslim students. “In my experience, I think it deepens . . . my own faith if I get to know other faiths as well.”

Dr. Mansour agreed. Noting the shrinking of the world due to globalization, he said, “At some point we have to meet. In order to live with each other, we have to know each other.”

Waggoner related the change of perspective that comes from learning about other cultures and faiths to the attachment that artists develop for their subjects.

In landscape painting, Waggoner said, “I ll spend 3 or 4 hours on one painting, staring at one thing, and I fall in love with it every time.”

He continued. “As I look at the landscape, I m understanding the depths, . . . the different layers and the different qualities that exist within that landscape whereas if we drive by some landscape at 75 miles per hour—or 80, if you re going to St. George—you re not going to take time to appreciate a lot of beauty that s between here and there. You may not hate it, but you may just disregard it.”

This theme—that the artistic process builds bridges by giving artists space to understand the beauty of their subjects—was amplified by other panelists.

Speaking of how art builds bridges, Kosorok said, “One of the functions that s so astounding about art and the evidence of art is that it allows you to communicate, understand, and grow closer together without being fettered by the limits of conventional language.”

Likewise, Brinkerhoff identified visual archetypes that span Christian and Islamic art. One example he cited was the 8-pointed star, which he has found in a variety of buildings, from the Muslim mosque at Cordoba to the Catholic cathedral at Chartres to a Christian church in Jerusalem to the LDS temple in Salt Lake City, among many other locations.

For Dr. Mansour, these confluences are no accident: “Islam is a universal religion, . . . and it came from the same source that Christianity and Judaism came from.”

He continued, “If we believe that all traditions depart from one source, I think in many points we meet, we don t have this diversity. I m sure that in many stages, we understand each other, we believe in each other, and finally we love each other.”

The panel also discussed Dr. Mansour s piece, Jesus, part of the Department of Visual Arts exhibition Treasured Truths: Exploring the Bridges Between Faith, Art, and Life. Dr. Mansour s work is based on a verse in the Qur an he translated as, “Peace upon me, the day I birth, the day I day, the day I come back again.” In Jesus, Dr. Mansour imbues these words with a sense of meaning through his calligraphy.

Speaking of Dr. Mansour s piece, Dr. Salah commented, “This is actually a perfect example of that (what we want art to convey of Islam),” because as Muslims, “we should believe in all the prophets and holy books. That s a perfect example that we believe in the prophet Jesus, peace be upon him.”

The panel concluded with Brinkerhoff and Dr. Mansour sharing why they felt compelled to create religious art.

For Brinkerhoff, it was a matter of personal enrichment. He said, “I felt so uneducated at about age 45 about my own faith and about other people s faith is that what motivated me to create things so I could share with others.”

“For me, I was born as an artist,” said Dr. Mansour. “It was given to me. I didn t choose to be a calligrapher.”

Treasured Truths: Exploring the Bridges Between Faith, Art, and Life is currently showing at the B.F. Larsen Gallery of the Harris Fine Arts Center and runs through Friday, October 12.