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The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?

Human Identity in the Art of Sky Glabush

Shadi Toloui-Wallace | Apr 17, 2020

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The Baha’i teachings all focus on spreading the spirit of the oneness of humanity, as illustrated in this powerful passage from Baha’u’llah:

O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words

Maybe you can imagine the spirit of oneness illustrated so beautifully here, manifested amongst friends and families, in homes, schools, workspaces, even spaces of policy and governance. But would you expect to see it in a prison? 

In a recent artist residency program at two male prisons in Guyana, artists Sky Glabush and his father, Ted Glabush, witnessed the highest level of fraternity and brotherly love that they had ever experienced. In the days they spent together, the inmates used their voice and prayers to transform their prison through art. In our Cloud9 interview, Sky remarks on the condition of these men’s souls, and the profound sense of connection and unity that he and his father experienced while spending time with the inmates. 

Sky Glabush is one of Canada’s leading artists. Several museums, galleries and public spaces across Canada are home to his collections, including the National Gallery of Canada. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Sky has worked in a variety of mediums. He is known for his provocative work –  challenging assumptions, questioning notions of the self, and searching for truth. 

Born on the remote island of Alert Bay on the West Coast of Canada, Sky lived a pretty hectic and tumultuous life until his early 20’s, when he enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan. Today, Sky lives and works in London, Ontario, where he is an associate professor at Western University. He holds a BFA from the University of Saskatchewan and an MFA from the University of Alberta. 

In his interview with Cloud9, we explore the events that took place in Sky’s childhood and early adolescence. Born to adventurous and artistic parents, Sky had already lived in Canada, Australia, Fiji, Greece and England (just to name a few) before the age of five. After some time apart, he joined his father, who had learned about the Baha’i Faith not long after becoming a Methodist pastor in Saskatchewan. By the age of 16, Sky had quit school with the intention of driving down to Belize, but ended up in California pursuing a career in music. In our interview, Sky elaborates on his tumultuous childhood and youth, the conditions surrounding his father’s discovery of the Baha’i Faith, and the impact this all had on his creative journey and search for identity.  

At the age of 20, Sky met the woman who is now his wife, Julie Rogers. She introduced him to the artwork of her father, Otto Don Rogers, for the first time. Sky shares how he was drawn in and influenced by Don’s work early on. Encountering Don’s work in prayer gatherings and firesides – spaces where folks could learn more about the Baha’i Faith and its teachings – Sky recalls that it was like being exposed to a new and beautiful language he had never heard before. Captivated by this mysterious connection to the Divine in Don’s work, he wanted to learn more, which prompted him to enroll in university for the first time.

We explore Sky’s willingness to take risks as an artist, in order to find his own rhythm, mode, and voice. He shares that following a period of success with his paintings, he spent many months feeling stuck and frustrated, unable to produce art. He began to work with objects and blocks to structure sculptures. This freed him up to explore the creative potential of various objects and materials with his hands. By allowing the creative spirit to flow through his hands, Sky began to understand that the art lived in the creative process and not the final product. His energy became less about what he was making and more about the freedom to explore, and his body’s response to how he was making art shaped his approach and voice to this day. 

We explore the following words by Abdu’l-Baha, written to the radical modernist abstract painter and Baha’i, Mark Tobey:   

I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a letter written to Mark Tobey and translated from the Persian.

Sky shares the profound impact of these words on his own life, and how he believes Abdu’l-Baha’s sentiments of “art as worship” will reverberate for centuries to come. Describing an artist’s tools as a metaphor for the physical, Sky shares that this gives all artists the potential to create meaningful work, and to connect with the Divine throughout the creative process. 

Sky walks us through his prolific exhibitions – in particular Background (2009), Display (2014), and What is a Self (2016) – where he openly explores his relationship with the Baha’i Faith and his creative process, giving him a chance to shed light on how this has shaped his search for truth and identity. When asked where his courage to embrace vulnerability comes from, Sky shares that regardless of how critics responded, he didn’t have a choice, this was the price he had to pay. However, as it turned out, the more vulnerable he was, the more positively the art community responded. Sky encourages artists to be more audacious and not to worry about what people think – that nothing can go wrong when artists are authentic and share what they believe. 

We close the episode by exploring the current conditions of social isolation and distancing that the world is currently experiencing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sky shares his explorations among the Baha’i perspectives of the process of integration and disintegration, in the hopes of finding celestial strength, and reflecting on the daily sacrifices we all need to make at this critical juncture that humanity currently faces.

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  • Shay Whitman Cooper
    Apr 29, 2020
    Strange.. some of the graphics are blocking the text.
  • Siamak Hariri
    Apr 18, 2020
    What a beautiful talk...bravo for putting this out there dear Shadi! Marvellous discussion with dear Sky and so intimate and real.
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