Hanna-Cheriyan Varghese of Selangor, Malaysia, was the artist in residence at OMSC for the 2006–2007 academic year. She was born to Christian parents, and she remembered her mother taking her to a different worship service every week: “My parents encouraged me to attend different churches so that my siblings and I would appreciate the liturgy and traditions of the Christian believers of different denominations. Christians are a minority in Malaysia so we continue to struggle for our identity in a Muslim society. There is no open conflict as such.”
She always had a passion for painting and drawing. She worked in the mediums of acrylic paint and Batik dye, the latter medium being an ancient decorative craft that has come into use as a high art medium in the last 50 or 60 years. A Batik image is created as a pattern or picture dyed in fabric. Certain parts of the fabric are covered with a wax, which acts as a “resist” to the colorful dyes. Hanna Varghese mastered the medium, and the sacred art images she created with it are original, bold and graphic.
All creative work, be it the spoken word, the written word or the sung word, are essentials in praise and worship, meditation, education, inculturation and evangelism. This also includes art and pictures, which is universal seeing.
— Hanna Varghese
Hanna was coordinator of the Malaysian Artists Fellowship, and served on the committee of the ACAA (Asian Christian Art Association) from 1998 to 2003. Her work has been featured in many journals and publications, and while she was artist in residence at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in 2006-2007, exhibitions of her work were held at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale Divinity School (“A Batik Bible”), and at Princeton Theological Seminary.
She painted for many years and her work has been exhibited in Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, China, Sri Lanka, South Korea, and the Philippines. She was a past recipient of grants from the China Christian Art Association (CCAA) and the Asian Christian Art Association (ACAA). She was also the coordinator of the Malaysian Christian Artists’ Fellowship and a council member of ACAA.
Hanna began work on Christian themes after being inspired by the art of Asian Christians in early issues of Image: Christ and Art in Asia, a publication of the Asian Christian Art Association. For many years, as a full-time wife and mother, she was unable to devote a great deal of time to developing her talent. Nonetheless, there were opportunities to nurture her artistic gifts and she began creating art for publications as well as posters for churches and Christian organizations. Later, however, Hanna began to devote more time to art, creating paintings that would be shown at art exhibitions and conferences around the world. Of her work, she said, “When I see one image that I worked on being used by a publisher or presented in a workshop/seminar/Bible study, I know it is my one drop of contribution to Christian ministry. We are all here to be a blessing to others.”
During her stay in New Haven, Hanna’s work was exhibited at the City-Wide Open Studios event, the Yale Institute of Sacred Music at Yale Divinity School, and at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.
A color monograph of her work, Reflections on God’s Redeeming Love, was published by OMSC in 2009. More information about her and her artwork is on her website.
Hanna died in 2009 after a valiant battle with cancer.