Legendary Artist “Late Mrs Hanna Varghese”
“All creative work, be it the spoken word, the written word or the sung word, are essentials in praise and worship, meditation, education, inculturation and evangelism. This also includes art and pictures, which is universal seeing.”
You all might have gone through my article called “Face of Christ ,image of edessa”. It tells the story of Hanna or Ananias (royal painter of King Abdgar) and how the miraculous image of Christ was portrayed.
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was blessed by an another royal artist with the same name Mrs Hanna Varghese.
Hanna Varghese was born on April 7, 1938, she was one of three children of accountant Ikareth Cheriyan and Kunjamma Parayil, and showed promise in art from a young age. She attended a two-year teachers training course at Kirkby College in England, where she earned a distinction in art.
She returned in 1958 to begin her career in teaching. After two years with a government school in Sabak Bernam, she married George Varghese. Hanna quit teaching after 14 years in the profession to concentrate on her growing family. This brought the best out of her creative and natural abilities. The Last Supper, The Good Samaritan, The Moment of Truth and Calming the Storm, to name a few, are considered “master paintings”. These were essentially paintings with acrylic on canvas and batik-dyeing in fabric. About batik, Hanna has been quoted as saying:
“There is an element of surprise and wonder in dyeing. The colour is deep when the fabric is wet. When it dries it takes on a lighter shade. Finally, the result of colour on colour is amazing when a new hue emerges.”
She began to strongly express her faith, spiritual thoughts and experiences with lively biblical images. Inspired by the artwork of many Asian Christian artists in the Image magazine, Hanna had her own work featured in too. She became a coordinator of the Malaysian Christian Artists Fellowship and was vice-president of the Asian Christian Art Association from 1998 until 2003.
She aslo served the Overseas Ministries Study Centre (OMSC) at New Haven, Connecticut, in the United States as resident artist during the 2006-07 academic year and her paintings were exhibited at Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Princeton Theological Seminary and the OMSC. It was while Hanna was in the US that she was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout her illness she was still working on her paintings and designing theme posters for important Christian conferences in Asia. She entered heavenly abode on June 12, 2009 aged 71.
Through her gift of art and the love, Hanna touched many people, her church, the ecumenical movement and organizations:
World Council of Churches
Christian Conference of Asia
Asian Christian Art Association
Overseas Ministries Study Center- New Haven, USA
Hanna preached the gospel through the best way she knew. Once during an interview she said:
“As a child I loved drawing. We had a Bible storybook at home with vivid illustrations which left a lasting impression on me. Although I could not read at that time, the pictures made sense to me. Image is the tangible form of our thoughts and our spoken and written words. I could read into the pictures and interpret what they were saying. The images I make today are windows for others to look into my interpretation. That is my witnessing.”
Hanna has taught us that life can be made beautiful if we can use the gifts God has given to us to touch other lives. Just as her paintings communicate the love of God and blessed so many, she would wish that we so live to bless others.
What advice would you give to Christians and the global Church about using art for evangelism?
She said: All creative expression, be it the spoken word, the written word or the sung word are essentials in evangelism. Let us not forget the rightful place of visual images too. Art is the “seeing” word, the tangible word. Remember God “created” and “it was good.” Only when we perceive the beautiful can we say, “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Christian communities should look into the possibilities [of including] art in their praise and worship, education and veneration (as in icon).
Art is the expressive cry of the soul. All of us have that urge in one form or another. Discover it; nurture it.
Remembering her with love