In the history of art religion has played a major role. In Western Europe for example, artists mostly received commissions from the Church and their subjects were often biblical. Today religion seems to have vanished in art, or at least it is being criticized. The current exhibition ‘I am closer to you than your very self’ at Nest shows otherwise, it presents artworks by three artists with a religious background. Nest invited the artists to examine the significance of their religion in their art and life.

On entering the gallery space Gijs Frieling’s full size painted design for a mosaic in Sint Bavo Cathedral attracts attention. As a professed Christian Frieling chose to represent the story of Moses and the burning bush. The bush in this painting burns through fiery letters spelling ‘I will be there’, an ensuring message for Moses who is walking towards it. Behind him two sheep are following him, others, in the second part of the painting in a next space, go in different directions.

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Gijs Frieling, (detail), 2015.

Frieling’s choice for this biblical story might be explained in the light of the division amongst the world population in general and the Dutch specifically. People have different backgrounds, habits, opinions, religions and they all go their own way. This sometimes causes conflict. Obviously the sheep in the painting represent people and the diversity between them. The message Moses gets from the burning bush seems to be a reassurance that the Christian God will come and unite us.

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Gijs Frieling, (detail), 2015.

The burning bush is also subject to a more abstract installation with light by Chaim van Luit. Van Luit grew up within a Jewish context which influences him in his art. His installation Ex:3consists of blackened TL lights criss cross on the wall. Coincidentally the sound installation of the third artist adds a voice to this burning bush.

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Chaim van Luit, Ex:3, 2015.

The relation of Van Luit’s 930°C to the Jewish religion is not immediate, only after reading the press release does it become clear. Van Luit collected metal bullet shells and grenade fragments from World War II on the border of Germany and Belgium. He melted them together and formed a copy of his doorknob, an item he handles in freedom to go outside or inside his house. It represents the fate of the Jewish people in WWII, their incarceration in concentration camps.

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Chaim van Luit, 930 °C, 2015.

The most overwhelming are the spaces occupied with Hamid El Kanbouhi’s artworks. In the first room paintings are hung tight on the walls, they seem to refer to current events concerning radicalized believers of Islam. Above them we find the text ‘Who has peed in my mind’, a complaint about people telling others how to believe. Then there are sculptures made out of Oriental rugs and prayer sounds, which links the first space to the second. The entrance to the last room is somewhat obstructed, inside it is dark, but one can see papers with writing on the wall and a branchless tree in the middle.

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Hamid El Kanbouhi, (detail), 2015.
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Hamid El Kanbouhi, (detail), 2015.

The first space of El Kanbouhi appears to discuss diversity in society, struggle and interference. Whereas the second space seems calmer, more religious. Together they describe the difficulty of sticking to ones beliefs in a tumultuous environment, but also the peace believing could offer.

The exhibition in its entirety does not aim to convince its visitors into becoming religious. It is an exploration which provides insight into the positive values of religion to their followers in times of conflict.

I am closer to you than your very self
29 november t/m 31 januari 2016

Nest
De Constant Rebecqueplein 20b
2518 RA Den Haag
www.nestruimte.nl

Photographs by author.

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