Book paints portrait of religious diversity in Manitoba
Always on the lookout for beauty, two Winnipeg artists who set out to help Manitobans understand the diversity of the province’s religious communities recently delivered a portfolio full of captivating images and stories.
“We wanted it to be about people, but we also wanted to appeal to the beauty that can be found in these different religions,” said painter and curator Ray Dirks, co-author of A world of faith and spirituality with the painter Manju Lodha.
After a decade in the making, the resulting 213-page book is filled with essays and thoughts from some 200 people, reflecting dozens of religious traditions. It also includes 800 photos of sacred spaces and the people who worship there. Most were taken by Dirks, who retired as curator of the MHC Gallery at Canadian Mennonite University last summer.
The project was born out of Lodha’s desire to reflect the diversity of religious and cultural communities in Manitoba beyond the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The book includes contributions from Buddhists, indigenous peoples, Hindus, Baha’is, Jains, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists and Yazidis.
“We were accepted as harmless artists,” Lodha said of the reception she and Dirks received in those communities. “We didn’t come to preach anything, we didn’t come to impose anything. We were trying to understand.
Lodha and Dirks will launch their book tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the CMU Chapel (600 Shaftesbury Blvd.).
In 2018, the couple received the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Advancing Interfaith Understanding for their multifaith and multicultural work in schools and art exhibits. In 2011, Dirks and Lodha, along with artist Isam Aboud, a Muslim from Sudan, published In the Mind of Humanityfeaturing artwork collected from their school’s studios.
This project has a much broader scope. Lodha and Dirks visited Sagkeeng First Nation, Muslim newcomers in Altona, many places of worship in Winnipeg, and attended Shabbat dinner at Ruth Ashrafi’s home in River Heights.
“It was the most amazing experience,” Dirks recalls of how Ashrafi invited Mennonite and Hindu guests to the traditional Jewish family meal on Fridays. “We were looking, and they were willing to share.”
That curiosity has spread both ways and feels easier in Canada than in his native Holland, said Ashrafi, who moved to Winnipeg about 15 years ago.
“I think it’s one of the great attractions of Winnipeg that there are so many religious traditions and people don’t live in isolation,” said Ashrafi, Manitoba Regional Director for B’nai Brith. Canada.
A post like world of faith can be a great resource for educators and anyone who wants to learn more about their neighbors, said Belle Jarniewski, who wrote a short reflection for the book as former president of the Multifaith Council of Manitoba.
“The more you know about each other, the better the relationship we have with each other,” said Jarniewski, executive director of the Center for Jewish Heritage of Western Canada. “We are enriched by sharing faith (traditions).”
Recalling her hesitation when she first met Dirks, wondering if a Mennonite art gallery would be interested in the art of someone who practiced Hinduism and Jainism, Lodha said this book is the realization of his dream to see more resources for the discussion of world religions in schools and homes.
“The core values are the same and we all seek divinity,” Lodha said. “We look for it in different people and different things.”
Brenda Suderman has been a Saturday Newspaper columnist since 2000, first writing about family entertainment and faith and religion since 2006.
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