Angela Summerfield

Essential truths

This is a brave and thoughtful exhibition, for it addresses the needs both of a multifaith city, Liverpool, and an exhibition programme reliant on the collection resources of Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Representatives of several religions were given open access to the Tates’ collections. Part of the selection process acknowledged the dominant Christian– Judaic nature of these collections, both in content and in the biography of artists. An interesting departure point for those involved, therefore, became the examination of and lively discussion about the merits of 20th- and 21st-century abstract and non-representational art. The inclusion of this genre was crucial in presenting the Islamic faith and acknowledging its prohibition on images.

While the exhibition is accompanied by explanatory panels devoted to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism, its layout presents both challenging and spiritually restorative thematic interfaith groupings. These refer to ideas of creation, contemplation, prayer, harmony and reflection, as shared aspects of the religions involved. Given this, the space that the art work and the spectator occupy takes on special significance; unfortunately, the inclusion of a disappointing video by Mark Wallinger serves only to disrupt an otherwise well-articulated display.

Short statements, either from the actual artist or from a member of the advisory group, accompany some of the works, and in doing so serve to remind us of the communality of experience, which is central to the exhibition; throughout 2004, Liverpool celebrated Faith in One City.

A dramatic point of departure on this spiritual journey is Anish Kapoor’s vibrantly coloured floor sculpture: ‘As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers’. Here the artist evokes Hinduism’s Festival of Holi (also known as the Festival of Colours), which takes place in India during March.

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