Zak Benjamin
Spears
1986
110 x 80cm
Acrylic on board
Private Collection
SPEARS
By Dawid Kuyler

Experiencing a painting by Zak Benjamin is like listening to a good sermon.
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A good sermon contextualizes a message from God. It does not tell you what to think, but makes you a participant in the discovery of meanings. It takes you seriously as an individual who can and must react in your own way to what is being said. Zak's Christian orientation lends a particular dimension to his art. He paints paintings that I enjoy. His symbols and simplicity engage one, making one want to discover the riches in his work.

I will try to share with you what I have seen and heard in this visual sermon by Zak Benjamin. If it were up to me to give it a title, I would call this painting Genesis 1:28 "...live all over the earth and bring it under control. I am putting you in charge..." The three different homes in the painting could be symbols of the diversity of people who are responsible for the stewardship of God's Creation. The power stations and boats across the top of the painting show that man has control over the elements of nature. The field, the tractor and lorry in the middle speak of the central labour of providing sustenance. In the midst of this entire human endeavour, only one person is to be seen: a bearded figure who is integrated with the leaflike shapes in the foreground.

Who is this person? To me, it is both He and he:

He is wearing the robes we know from Bible stories since childhood. He has a halo, traditionally signifying a holy person. He is Christ.

His crown is a windmill: He is the source of living water, that man may drink and never thirst. It is the wind that drives the pump: the Spirit of God makes Jesus known. And the Spirit crowned Him king.

The other "he" in the picture, is we: sustained by the water of life and driven by the Spirit of God, mankind is called to live and work and rule the earth, in the image of Christ.

The church in the background is quite interesting. Directly above it the sky is more open than elsewhere, where it is filled with threatening clouds and pollution. Sadly, the doors of the church are closed. The church is in the middle at the top of the painting, at the fringe, as it were, of the landscape. Its position suggests that it has an important role to play, but also that it is marginalised. The fact that the sky is open above it indicates that there is still hope to be found there, if only someone would come and open the doors!

Two of the three dwellings also have closed doors. Only the hut has an open door. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.

I have left my comments about the leaflike symbols until now. They fan out across the foreground. What could they signify? They are richly decorated and colourful, yet they are hard and pointed. They stand aggressively, yet they are beautiful. They are spears being transformed into living plants, with Christ in their midst.

Violence and bloodshed is our inescapable reality, yet it is not the final one. A spear pierced Christ, and His death turned Death into Life for us. His promise is our final reality, which we would do well to remember in these times of war:

"He will settle disputes among the nations, among the great powers near and far. They will hammer their swords into ploughs and their spears into pruning-knives. Nations will never again go to war, never prepare for battle again. Everyone will live in peace among his own vineyards and fig trees, and no one will make him afraid. The Lord Almighty has promised this." Micah 4:3-4


Dr Dawid Kuyler is a prison chaplain in Bloemfontein, and a minister of the Uniting Reformed Church. He is married to Wilmien, and they have three children. His eldest son Admill is a member of the South African Ballet Theatre Company. Dawid's rich Eastern Cape accent and dry humour make him a wonderful storyteller.