Monday, July 20, 2009

I am a Grape Vine

Title: I am a Grape Vine
Artist: Sadao Watanabe
Medium: Stencil print
Size: 22.5 x 33.5 cm
Date: 1973
Location: Private collection

In John 15:5 Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears abundant fruit. However, apart from Me you can do nothing.” The most basic point of the imagery is the obvious dependence of branches on the vine for continued life. But Jesus also uses this imagery to link himself, and the new covenant he provides, to the people of the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 80:8 states Israel was like a grapevine brought out of Egypt by God.

Japan was a Buddhist country when in the mid-sixteenth century Portuguese missionaries landed on Kyushu Island. Initially the Jesuits were quite successful in spreading the Christian gospel in Japan, especially among the lower classes. This early success was propelled in part due to political circumstances favorable to them in a country torn by raging civil wars, but eventually these same politics turned against them. Christianity was banned, and its followers persecuted with harsh and cruel methods until the nearly complete extinction of the Christian religion in Japan. As foretold in Psalm 80:16 “Enemies chopped the vine down and set it on fire.”

Sadao Watanabe (1913 – 1996), was born and grew up in Tokyo. He was a Japanese printmaker famous for his biblical prints rendered in the mingei (folk art) tradition of Japan. The artist specialized in depictions of scenes from the bible, shown in a naive-looking, sometimes humerous, Japanese-like style. As a youth Watanabe was influenced by a teacher to become a Christian and was baptized in 1930. When he became severely ill with tuberculosis, a disease that could easily kill in those days, Watanabe vowed to study the Bible and spread the Christian story through artwork if he should recover.

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