Father Tham’s harmonious brush worships God through art

Marco Carvalho

The Art for God: Artworks and Spiritual Reflections exhibition will go on show starting Friday, September 22nd on the Macau Catholic Culture Association’s premises on Rua Formosa.  The exhibition, which will run until October 2nd  , brings together more than fifty artworks by Father Joseph Tham, a Hong Kong-born missionary who makes use of a traditional Chinese aesthetic approach to arts to disclose God’s wisdom and glory.

A member of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Joseph Tham uses his outstanding artistic skills and his grace with Chinese brush painting, calligraphy and seal carving to emphasize and sublimate the relationship between art, harmony and the glory and mystery of God.  Currently based in Rome, Father Tham Kit-chee offers an entirely new approach to the perspective of bringing together traditional Chinese wisdom and Christian spirituality by exploring an idea dear to the Chinese people – of harmony between heaven, earth and humanity.

Organized by the Macau Catholic Culture Association and co-organized by the Regina Apostolorum Foundation, the exhibition brings together more than fifty calligraphy, brush painting and seal carving artworks. The event, Joni Cheng told O Clarim, is the first-of-its-kind being displayed on Rua Formosa: “Father Joseph’s Art for God exhibition and activities are very popular amongst the Chinese-speaking Catholic communities around the world, in countries and regions such as Hong Kong, Canada, Malaysia and the United States. It is a great honor that the Macau Catholic Culture Association can invite Father Joseph to exhibit in Macau,” the managing director of the association tells O Clarim.

“There will be over 50 artworks on display. They include Chinese calligraphy, brush painting and seal carving. This is the first time we have an exhibition of Chinese artworks – Chinese calligraphy and arts being one of our areas of interest,” Miss Cheng adds.

The Art for God: Artworks and Spiritual Reflections exhibition arrives in Macau after having been displayed in several countries and regions, such as Father Tham’s native Hong Kong, Canada, the United States of America, Mexico and Malaysia. A man of many talents, Father Tham is the unusual combination of a Catholic priest, medical doctor, university professor in bioethics and also a thoughtful and accomplished artist. The Legionaries of Christ missionary will be in Macau during the exhibition period, and he will take part in parallel activities, such as Chinese calligraphy workshops, guided exhibition tours and live painting sessions.

Through Father Joseph’s artworks and spiritual insights, the Macau Catholic Culture Association hopes to inspire visitors to appreciate Chinese art from different perspectives and lead them to a spiritual journey, thus fulfilling one of its many missions.

“Arts and Catholic culture is one of the topics that the Catholic Culture Association strives to explore. It looks at different artistic areas that are closely connected to the mission of the Catholic Church on one hand, and to the many cultures of the contemporary world on the other hand. Chinese calligraphy and arts are one of our many areas of interest,” Joni Cheng explains.

“Previously, we have also invited Macau’s renowned calligrapher master Choi Chun Heng to write the title logo for the Living in Faith series and the calligraphy artworks shown in the videos, demonstrating the harmonious integration of traditional Chinese culture and the Catholic faith,” the managing director of the Macau Catholic Culture Association adds.

Harmony, Heaven and Humanity

Born in Hong Kong, Father Joseph Tham Kit-chee started his foray into the world of Chinese arts aged twelve, under the guidance of renowned masters such as Professor Lau Tai Po and Professor Chung Ping Kong.

Then a teenager, Father Tham left Hong Kong aged 15, when his family moved to Canada. An enthusiastic student, Joseph Tham has a medical degree from the University of Toronto, and he worked as a family physician before answering God’s call and joining the Legionaries of Christ.

Ordained a priest in 2004, Father Tham has a degree in philosophy and theology and a doctorate in bioethics from the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome, where he served once as the dean of the School of Bioethics.  Nowadays, the Legionaries of Christ priest focuses on teaching, research and writing in bioethics and is also a fellow of the UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights.

Despite his many responsibilities, Father Joseph Tham Kit-chee continues fostering his sensitive Chinese creations, integrating traditional Chinese philosophy with Christian values, revealing the glory and mysteries of God through his artworks.

An accomplished calligrapher, Father Tham explores, brush in hand, the compatibility of the two cultures within which he was raised: Chinese tradition (with Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism permeating, inevitably, his daily routine) and Christianity and Catholicism.

One of the best examples of such compatibility is illustrated in a seal carving that Father Tham created called “The Harmony Seal,” which depicts the incarnation of God. Typically carved out of stone and then dipped in red ink, Chinese seals have been around for over 2200 years to stamp important documents, contracts, and artwork. They have now become pieces of art in their own right.