Love in Art
BY ANTHONY BARICH
Refugee who lost his older brother to Taliban’s brutality makes new life here, uses talents to sculpt God’s Saints
An Afghan refugee whose brother was executed by the Taliban crafted a statue of St Joseph the Worker in Perth’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception based on what he learned of the saint in Muslim studies as boy.
Perth Archbishop Barry J Hickey blessed the statue in a special ceremony on December 13 at the Cathedral that was officially opened on December 8 after being closed for three years for a $32.9 million restoration and completion project. The sculptor of the statue is Mehdi Rasulle, 25, one of 11 children who was born in Kabul and arrived in Australia illegally by a boat crowded with over 200 people in 2001.
Mehdi’s statue of St Joseph has words inscribed in Hebrew, that reads, from right to left, “Joseph, son of David”, referring to the term the angel used to address Joseph when appearing to him in a dream telling him not to fear taking Mary as his wife though she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
Mehdi spent five and a half months at Curtin Detention Centre, located on the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) base north of Broome, WA before being granted a visa, and has now started a family with Joanne, an Irish woman.
Though he keeps in touch with his family by phone, they are scattered throughout the Middle East.
He has not seen them since he left on his own, but hopes one day to bring them all to Australia.
His wealthy father ran a transport business until fighting broke out in the country over 15 years ago and he lost his job.
His oldest brother Nik Qadem became a working and teaching artist after completing university and military service.
Another older brother, Abbas, also took up art, but later gave it up under pain of death to become a panel beater.
In 1996, the Muslim fundamentalist group the Taliban had taken control of Afghanistan’s government and ruled until the 2001 United States-led invasion drove it from power.
These six years proved tragic for Medhi’s family, which belongs to the Hazara ethnic minority. Once the Taliban, of the Pashtun ethnic group, came to power, life became tough.
As his oldest brother Nic Qadem, who taught him sculpting, also taught classical art which included the Christian-inspired Renaissance art, his whole family was charged with preaching Christianity – though they are Muslims.
Though his family spent much time moving from place to place in hiding, his brother Nik Qadem was found, prosecuted and executed by shooting.
“The same thing would have happened to me if I had stayed there,” said Mehdi, who has forged an impressive reputation in WA as a sculptor artist, though depicting living things is against Islamic doctrine which would have made him a Taliban target back home. He was commissioned by Aquila Estate’s cellar door outlet in Carabooda, WA and has been awarded many public contracts and private commissions, including his latest, by Perth Archbishop Hickey himself.
When Mehdi drew a sketch of St Joseph from what he’d learned as a child of the saint as the father of Christ, who in the Muslim faith is a highly regarded prophet, the Archbishop loved it.
Mehdi also crafted the image of Blessed Mary MacKillop above the statue of Joseph the Worker. Sister Pauline Morgan, head of the WA Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, told The Record after the ceremony that the Sisters were “really pleased” that their foundress received pride of place in Perth’s Mother Church.
“With the imminent canonisation of Mary MacKillop, it’s important that people know about her,” said Sr Pauline, who was appointed was WA leader of the congregation in March 2008.
The Sisters are preparing for her expected canonization in Rome in 2010. Perth is one of the few places Blessed MacKillop did not visit, though she did set foot in Albany, in the south-west of WA.
In her last ‘sending out’, Mary MacKillop sent a group of her Sisters to the monastic town of New Norcia in WA to teach in 1906.
Archbishop Hickey said during the December 13 blessing of the statue at the Cathedral that St Joseph is more than the man charged with bringing up Jesus – significant though that role was.
“There is much biblical importance to him, as the prophecy in the Old Testament said that the Messiah would come from the House of David,” Archbishop Hickey said.
“He enabled the prophecy to be fulfilled. Jesus, belonging to the House of David, would inherit the throne of David forever.”
During the service, Archbishop Hickey handed all the contract workers who had worked on the Cathedral a pouch containing a medal inscribed with his signature and an image of the Cathedral.
During a special acknowledgement of the workers, the Archbishop said that the project became a labour of love for many of them, and some had told him personally that it was a privilege to work on such a sacred building.
“The workers took great pains to finish it in the best possible way,” he said, “with love, skill and devotion, as they knew it was a sacred building.
“It was with great joy that they brought it to completion.”