The “Virtues of Unity”

Messums, the barn and art gallery in Tisbury, is always an impressive setting, but I was particularly moved by the work of Halima Cassell in a recent exhibition entitled ‘Of the Earth’.

For ‘Virtues of Unity’ she has created 54, beautiful, bowl-like, sculptural vessels, each unique yet clearly related, with a shared rhythm to their design. Hand-carved from the clay of different countries, there is a span of texture and colour, all laid out with stunning simplicity on a hessian cloth.

Halima Cassell was born in in Pakistan but brought up in Lancashire, and she has reflected on her experience of such a cross-cultural background where she feels sometimes that this leaves her as a foreigner everywhere. Through her art she seeks to represent the richness that lies in variety and the beauty we find in similarity, using shapes and patterns which come from nature itself or from art traditions across the world.

It is a particularly inspiring project because her work is on-going and collaborative. Clay is being collected by participants around the globe; white clay from Israel, and black clay from Germany, with vessels from Marrakech and Mississippi, Jordan and Cuba. She hopes one day to have a piece for every country on earth.

Cassell wrote; ‘This piece is my reflection on the shared commonality of the human race. Whilst we appear superficially different so we are also fundamentally the same; we are one species, united by our DNA regardless of cultural background, religion or skin colour… there is more common ground that unites us as human beings than that which divides and separates us.’

Each of Cassell’s vessels is beautiful in its uniqueness, and yet clearly related to the rest, made more fascinating by being seen in relation to others, sitting harmoniously side by side.

That every bowl is made from clay also reminds us that this is the earth from which we have all come and to which we return. In the 2nd account of Creation given in Genesis, God forms humans from the dust and breathes into us the breath of life. I think there is something profoundly valuable in the way Cassell reminds us of our common origins, at a time when our world is filled with so much alienation, fear and division. We urgently need to reflect, as she has, on how we might learn to treasure and appreciate the distinctiveness of individuals or cultures, without needing to disparage, denigrate or destroy.

Revd Kate McFarlane