Being a product of a textbook secular upbringing, my relationship to organized religion is exclusively based on personal interest. I have never relied on the faculties of any one religion, but am fascinated by their structures, evolutions and the values and pitfalls that are associated with their followers - and often the allies and enemies of their followers. Religious systems are, time and time again, humanity’s attempt to reconcile its own existence. It is the way nearly every culture shines a ray of light upon the seemingly infinite well of darkness and unknowing that is human existence.

 

As a growing fraction of humankind migrates away - at accelerated rates - from traditional religious practices, thoughts and superstitions, the need for the religious experiences still remains central to our investigation into the human condition. But once God is dead, where or to whom should our attention be pointed - safely and productively? What does the new world offer us that can take the place of this immensely important intellectual and emotional space? And without faith and religious institutions to provide emotional and physical frameworks for individual and communal grieving processes, how will we cope with death?

 

The scientific method is often seen as the great leap forward in the age of globalized modernity. More pungently, many view science as the successor to our inevitable break-away from the mystic superstitions of religion. It is often seen as the principal method and guide to being in and knowing about the world and how it works. For many reasons, I would not argue these points. It does, however, beg the question: does having respect and interest in the scientific method help subsidize the down-sizing of faith-based religions? Does science even have anything to say in regard to human morality (apart from utility and evolutionary development)? I’m skeptical.  


I created the New Eden painting series to start this important dialogue, and challenged myself with the undertaking of creating five large figurative paintings, accompanied by the intellectual pursuit of gaining a deeper understanding of world religions, religious archetypal figures and their unique evolutionary histories. Visually, I aimed to have the work centered around themes of religious iconography and mythical adaptation - that is, how we relate to religious archetypes as we move away from them. 

 

Each painting installment depicts the most well-recognized and important character of each of the major axial religions set in one of their transformative life events. Some religious canons depict their prophets not only as messengers and ventriloquizes of God’s will, but as being expressions of the ideal human (or possessing an ideal trait or exercising an ideal virtue) as measured in their culture of birth. By applying the wisdom learned through the stories of their follies and triumphs, we are provided with guides for how to be in the world.

 

God and sacred religious characters are always built in our own image - that is, cultures develop myth and story across all creative channels according to its own values and ethics. Building sacred religious narratives with settings and characters is no exception. Each religious figure is, in a very real sense, a kind of sacred mirror. 

 

It is in keeping with this concept that I decided not to render the faces of these figures in the paintings. Instead, the prophetic portraits of the holy are replaced with those of the viewers’ by the use of reflective mirrors. In this dichotomy, the viewer is prodded to question the new role of these prophetic religious figures in an exceedingly modern world.


Can communal and individual introspection, in some sense, replace the religious prophet figure? If these figures are made and their stories are told in humanity’s own image, have we, as individuals, been these prophets all along? If we are alone and left to our own devices in this new Eden, are we the lords of creation - and creativity? Would that make us… God? And would that mean that to truly know ourselves, is to know the mind of God?

© 2020 Steve Sangapore Studio Art