HEIDI SALZWEDEL IS A MIXED MEDIA ARTIST FROM CAPE TOWN AND ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF 40STONES, A FAITHBASED ART COLLECTIVE BASED IN SOUTH AFRICA. BEFORE SETTING UP 40STONES, HEIDI SPENT FOUR MONTHS IN ITALY, THRASHING OUT THE VARIOUS IMPLICATIONS OF COMBINING ART AND MISSIONS. SHE DID THIS WRESTLING THROUGH THE INCARNATE PROGRAM.
FINDING OUT ABOUT INCARNATE
I first went to Belgium to do a Strategic Arts Leadership Training conference, run by OM Arts International (now Inspiro Arts Alliance). While at the conference, I found out about Incarnate from a friend who had completed the program two years earlier in 2014. I signed up for the program because when I heard about it, it lined up well with my desire to merge my faith with professional art making in a holistic and honest way. I am wary of any form of “Christian” art and so it took a lot of wrestling with God for me to fully commit to joining the program. I did not know what it was going to be like and was a bit afraid of the unknown, but God made it clear that I should participate.
Every one to two years, a group of artists from all over the world join the Incarnate Program to practice their skills and learn how to put their God-given talents to work for His Kingdom. For several years now, the Inspiro Arts Alliance from Operation Mobilization (OM) has hosted this program, helping artists to grow in their art and their faith.
Incarnate is an artist’s journey of discipleship, theology and cross-cultural ministry. From dancing to theater, to music, to visual arts, at Incarnate artists from every background can join for sixteen weeks of holistic training. The training includes artistic and spiritual mentorship and academic courses to learn more about who God is, what role the artist has in God’s story, and how each artist can interact with the stories of others worldwide.
One thing that makes Incarnate special is that the hearts of the leadership team are in the right place. Their genuine desire is to equip artists to do what God has given them a desire to do. The desire could be becoming a fulltime artist, a worship leader, an artist in ministry in the church, or someone working a regular job in a creative field. It is like a spiritual springboard for artists to be what God has shown them about who they are and what they are called to be.
Below: Heidi experienced the Incarnate program to be like a spiritual springboard for artists to be what God has shown them about who they are and what they are called to be.
At Incarnate, there is an intentional pursuit of living in a Christ-centered community every single day for four months. Though it could have been an intense experience, it had a clear purpose. The goal is to provide students with a safe environment where they can practice their interpersonal skills and be part of a community culminating in a cross-cultural placement where students learn to engage a community and its arts. Afterwards, students can transfer the skills to any place God is leading them. The people from Italy who ran the center we stayed at were just wonderful and I soon began to love the artists I met. I became very good friends with my roommate. The worship was wonderful and the unity of mind and heart from the leaders was beautiful. They laid a solid foundation for us.
A TYPICAL DAY
A typical day included getting up, eating breakfast, and worshiping together. There was a teaching slot followed by smaller discussion groups. Topics were taught in a variety of teaching styles: lecture, discussion, collaborative activities, and masterclasses. Some of the teaching focused on forgiveness. I found that taking time to clear out hardheartedness and bitterness really helped a lot. It can be difficult to try and attempt ministry when your heart is still holding unforgiveness. Worship included corporate singing and praise, creative worship with visual arts, dancing, reflective worship with lectio divina, cinema, and visio divina (a form of prayer using visual elements).
There was ample studio time in the afternoons. I appreciated that I had set times for creating work - the residency aspect of the program helped me a lot. Time and space to create became very important. Incarnate did not focus on teaching artistic techniques, but rather it had time set aside each day to create, hone your skills, and where you received constructive feedback. Artists could really grow and develop during their stay.
There is such a beautifully difficult relationship between artists and structures. Some artists can be anti-establishment by nature; they do not want to be boxed-in in any way.
While I loved the Incarnate program and knew God had placed me there, I struggled with the sense that I was part of a missionally focused Christian organization. As an artist, there is a love-hate relationship for me with structure, be it religious or not. My heart is fully for the Gospel, and I have a desire to share my faith with others and at the same time I was very aware of all the difficult cultural and historical implications that could be present with the word 'missions'.
I also struggled with not wanting to participate in anything that contained a brand, especially a missions related brand. As an African, there are really difficult connotations with the word mission: like colonialism and cultural appropriation. It frustrated me that I had signed up for something that was officially Christian and missional in its focus. Part of me wanted to be a maverick and hang out in the random Italian town and make art and see what might happen. In contrast, the other part of me knew that for things to work, we did need structures, focus, and a brand with a vision statement.
Before I left for Italy I met an artist theologian who suggested we start a conference for artists of Christian faith. Incarnate gave me the space to start preparing for this, and we ran the first one of these about a month after I returned. Seven years later these mini conferences, organized by Krux, are still running once a year in the Cape Winelands and many artists have been blessed by them. There artists have found community and a safe space to explore their artmaking and thinking in the context of academics who are of Christian faith.
Above: For several years, the Inspiro Art Alliance from Operation Mobilization (OM) has hosted the Incarnate program, a discipleship course to help artists grow in their art and their faith.
WRESTLING WITH GOD
Before getting to Incarnate, I already had a sense of what I needed to do once I returned to everyday life. I needed to get to work on 40Stones: a faith-based exhibition and art collective. 40Stones had already been putting on exhibitions of contemporary art in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), South Africa, but I knew I needed to expand the exhibitions to Cape Town.
40Stones is a volunteer based curatorial team that is passionate about the public intersection of faith and the contemporary arts. I am able to apply my learning at Incarnate to the artistic community I was already a part of.
Going through the program has helped me in numerous ways. As mentioned before, just the opportunity to be making art in a wonderful community of artists was unforgettable. It encouraged me to listen to what God was asking me to do. It gave me the courage to do the ministry related tasks when I returned to South Africa.
Incarnate gave me the opportunity to mentally prepare for my future and once again, it boiled down to wrestling with God. It was a place which forced me to lay down 'my way' and encouraged me to listen to God for His plans. It pushed me to trust Him.
Heidi Salzwedel is a mixed-media artist and educator who lives and works as an Arts and Design teacher in the beautiful mountainous city of Cape Town, South Africa. She holds a Masters degree in Arts Education from the University of Stellenbosch and she has exhibited her work both locally and internationally. She is passionate about connecting like-minded people, arts education, writing, creating, and last but not least, drinking good coffee.
Follow Heidi on Instagram @heidilieslsalzwedel and check out www.40stones.org / @40stones_
Check out Krux Artist Gathering @krux.africa and www.krux.africa
Interested in following the Incarnate program?
Find more information on https://inspiroartsalliance.org/incarnate