“Hope! Hope! Come get your hope!” As the call rang out in the narrow, overcrowded lanes, home to the working poor, I felt like crying. It was nothing short of a picture of heaven, a vision out of Isaiah, the Kingdom of God at hand!
This was one piece of an energetic spread of performance art pieces, murals, paintings, installations, photography, and video art that resulted from our 2nd annual international artist residency. For three weeks 13 Indian artists, and 7 international artists worked to make art with, for, and about India’s vulnerable. Our goal was to love the city by helping people see their city, and each other, with God’s eyes.
As our team of performance artists pushed their cart through the crowds, off-duty cycle-rickshaw pullers, maids, cooks, guards, street vendors, and shop-keepers looked up, surprised, confused. These are the city’s low-income migrants, uneasily gathered from all over India, overworked and underpaid, often abused as ‘outsiders’, vulnerable survivors, clinging to their own ethnic groups. They were used to the cries of the vegetable-cart man, or the man who calls for your used cardboard and glass bottles, but this – “Hope! Come get your hope!” – was strangely different, stirring curiosity, and something deeper within.
Ahead of the cart, two of our artists were handing out free ‘money’. Where the currency of India’s large cities is power and wealth, we were introducing a new currency based not on what you can get but on what you can give.
With this currency in hand people crowded around our cart for the small colorful packages piled there. On opening their free ‘purchases’ they found a chocolate wrapped with a strip of paper that read, “You are a valuable part of the city” or “Life is better here because you are here” or “You belong here and the city needs you”, or “Thank you for loving those who are different from you”, or “You are made in the image of God.” For those who couldn’t read we had artists following the cart to help out. For the literate no explanation was needed. We saw people visibly moved, grateful. Some laughed aloud, everyone smiled. For a few moments another realm had broken into their harried and oppressed existences: a taste of the Kingdom of God.
Another international art residency is happening this November. Many artists describe it as a life changing event. If you would like to learn more or apply to be part of the next residency you can find all of the information here.