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The role of spirituality in art

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Hend Al-Mansour
Hend Al-Mansour practiced medicine in Saudi Arabia for nearly two decades. She moved to Minnesota in 1997 and fulfilled her dream of becoming a full-time artist.
Nikki Tundel | MPR News

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of artists from different faith traditions to talk about the role religion and spirituality have in their art.

Their answers ranged widely, from how a faith can reveal the art of even the most mundane activities, to how their work actively strives to transform views shaped by religion.

Many talked about the difference between spirituality and organized religion, and the importance in distinguishing between the two. 

Full for the full discussion, use the audio player above.

• Irna Landrum

Writer and theater artist Irna Landrum was raised a strict Christian.  

"We learned that art was temptation, in a lot of ways, because Lucifer had been the minister of music and arts in heaven before his fall," Landrum said of her upbringing. "So, some of the questioning and picking apart of things was actually rebellious and sinful, and yet there was still so much art in our religious practice: liturgical dance, praise dance, amazing choir music. All of my favorite parts of worship now are still in the art of it, the music of it, even in the pageantry of it."   

• T. Mychael Rambo

  Performer and vocalist T. Mychael Rambo moved to Minnesota 26 years ago from Texas. He says his faith journey has covered a lot of ground.    

He was raised in a home with his extended family and a mix of religions. His mother was Catholic, his grandfather was a Baptist minister, his father was Episcopalian and his aunt was Methodist — he went to services with all of them. He absorbed the different ideas and has come to understand his own spirituality.

"I've come to find out that spirituality for me is how I behave when no one else is looking," Rambo said.

• Ranee Ramaswamy

Choreographer Ranee Ramaswamy is the founder of Ragamala Dance, a company rooted in classical Indian dance. 

She says dance in India is believed to have been created by the Hindu gods for the enjoyment of the people, and the first dancer was the god Shiva. She says art, religion, and everyday life is tied together.

• Mankwe Ndosi

Multidisciplinary artist and singer Mankwe Ndosi says singing is a form of prayer for her, and the earth is her god. As a black woman, she says she often feels that she's living in a system that wants her dead.

"Singing allows me to circumvent, to unlock, to reaffirm my humanness, to physically alter my state inside of those systems," Ndosi said. "Singing is the way that I mourn, singing is the way that I've kept myself alive."


• Hend Al Mansour

Visual artist Hend Al Mansour is Muslim and says one of the things she values most about Islam is its sense of justice.

Al Mansour was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, but left due to the gender inequality she encountered there.

"My art speaks to my spirituality in trying to affirm this justice and the quality between genders," she said.