'Universal Truths', 'Thought-provoking art' EVEN if we are not searching for God or the idea of God, evidence of His presence is everywhere. The higher power is not necessarily hotwired to religion, culture or even spiritualism; our gut feelings, the five senses, send us messages and we interpret them.
Art4Soul took a bold step in exploring the varying perceptions of this subject that is rarely discussed.
Man&God is an ongoing visual feast, which started out as a book project, Man + God 1, a collection of interpretations from all over the world on the idea of God. Photographs, drawings and computer imagery designed by the Art4Soul team were not the only features in the book. People on the streets were approached and asked to reveal what they had in their pockets. Ninety percent of them carried something that symbolised God, including crucifixes, tasbih, amulets, talismans and mini versions of the Bible. The next step was to ask why they carried these objects around and how or if they made a difference to their lives.
All these made for an insightful and inspiring work of art, a 'visual smogasbord' of varying perceptions that spawned a series of accompanying exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, New York and Stuttgart, Germany.
For the first time, the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur opened itself to something other than fine arts and graphic design was elevated to the next level. The exhibition is termed a "feast of sound and visuals," not only featuring two-dimensional physical art pieces but also music and an interesting fixture called the threedimensional installation.This peculiar feature is a 'moving' piece of art in the form of actor/dancer/artiste Swee Keong, who moves through the exhibition in dance-like movements.
Joseph Foo, co-founder of Art4Soul, is a campaigner for visual arts as an instrument for inspiring thoughts, questions and ideas."The reason why there are no great thinkers left is because there are too many voices, too many distractions," he says, explaining that people need to spend some time with themselves just reflecting.
"The general perception of designers is that we are people who can draw and paint. But, in essence, we judge aesthetics and tell stories through imagery."
Man&God is an ongoing project that explores the relationship between the two beings, through the ideas of creative minds of different faiths and various cultures. It has been around for three years, gathering contributors spanning continents, prompting audiences to rethink the basic questions surrounding life and God.
For 30 years, graphic designer Joseph Foo was troubled by his grandmother's nagging questions. "Can design feed people? Can design improve our lives? Can design make us better people? Touch lives?" With an engineer and a doctor for siblings, those were questions that lingered in his mind. "I felt that if I couldn't answer these questions, I wouldn't be able to move on with life," the 38-year-old says, remembering the distress he felt. So he set off to be completely by himself for a few months, away from the distractions of every day life, and then returned with an idea he called Art4Soul.
Gathering together a community of designers, writers and creative people who shared his vision of spiritual-driven design, Joseph set out to unravel the mysteries of life and of beauty. Art and creativity also paved the way to a bigger purpose - supporting religious or charity organisations in need. One such project was painting the paediatric ward in the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. "The walls were colourless and drab," says Joseph. "So we gathered some of our designers and other volunteers, including some students, and painted colourful murals on the walls.
Certainly, spreading cheer became a regular fixture for the team. Another recent project, creating items that symbolised Christmas, benefited two orphanages in Subang Jaya. Joseph believes art can reach into people's hearts and minds, helping them to understand more about life. "People don't spend time with themselves; they are too preoccupied with other people's opinions and the distractions of everyday routines," he says, adding that people, especially youths, should see things from different perspectives and question everything. In a way, art and design aim to make people think and reflect on what life is really about. "Design speaks to the 'cool' people - it easily jazzes things up for them," Joseph explains.
Underlying religious and cultural messages in Art4Soul's designs are meant to subtly "When I was 12 years old, my friends and I used to toy around with words, and discovered that the word 'tuhan' was an anagram for 'hantu'," said Joseph. That idea stayed with him and turned into a project which was initially titled 'tuhantu' and explored the concept of having two sides to every story: black and white, yin and yang, good and evil.
Pictures, posters and photographs were exhibited, exploring symbols, icons and personalities that hold different meanings for everyone depending on our cultural backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. Art4Soul has embarked on projects of a spiritual nature for the past seven years, most notably the Man+God and Hungry Ghost projects. "People need to be observant and they need to spend more time in quiet reflection," says Joseph. "Out there, there is a blindspot that people are not aware of." Having co-discovered Art4Soul, come with spectacular designs and spread the message of creativity to the world, perhaps Joseph has finally found the answers to his grandmother's questions.