[Art credit: P. Solomon Raj, Thirst for Justice, 2001. Batik, 88 1/2″ × 59″.]
Dr. P. Solomon Raj is a Lutheran theologian and artist who advocates for cultural contextualization in missions and worship as well as for the upliftment of Dalits, the “untouchables” of India. Both commitments are exemplified in his batik (dyed cloth artwork for hanging) Thirst for Justice, commissioned in 2001 by Bread for the World. Its dominant feature is the cool blue water that flows down from the hand of God—a reference to Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
A man in white stands at the center of the composition, pointing to a flaming wheel that represents God’s coming judgment on all those who oppress society’s most vulnerable, represented in part in the surrounding scenes. Women carrying heavy baskets on their heads (symbolic of deeper, less visible burdens their gender bears), a man pulling a rickshaw for a measly wage, refugees seeking asylum, a prisoner in chains—these are among the people whose suffering Jesus, clothed in red, enters into.
And humanity is not alone in its suffering; the world of nature cries out too. At the top left a factory belches out pollutants, creating black veins of greenhouse gases in the sky, contributing to global warming. The trees in the top left wither and die, and the cattle hang their heads in weariness.
Raj further contextualizes Amos’s prophecy to his native India by borrowing a symbolic image from the Bhagavad Gita: the upside-down tree. Extending from sky to ground, it is an admonishment to be rooted in God above and to bear fruits of mercy on the earth.
Through Amos, God speaks harsh words to his people, telling them that because they “trample on the poor” and “turn aside the needy,” he despises all their religious songs and rituals; they are empty to him. Thirst for Justice echoes this prophetic warning, urging us to consider how we might be contributing to others’ suffering, either directly or indirectly, and so failing to uphold the laws of God.
Do we truly thirst for justice? Does its mighty stream course through our veins and spill over into all our interactions? Or are we among the neglectful from whom God turns his face away?
To view more of Raj’s artworks and to read his writings on art and theology, visit http://www.solomon-raj.com.
The Art Spotlights have been selected by Victoria Emily Jones, who blogs at ArtandTheology.org, seeking to connect Christians to the rich visual, literary, and musical artworks of the church’s past and present. She is currently working on a chapter for the forthcoming book Neo-Calvinism and the Visual Arts, and has just released a Stations of the Cross audio tour of works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Follow her on Twitter @artandtheology.