Micro Teaching // Angel

For the “Micro-Teaching” task, that we’ve been asked to deliver during the group session of the Teaching & Learning  Unit, I decided to test on my peers an activity, that I would like to further develop and implement in my teaching practice, perhaps in form of a lecture or workshop with my students.

The steps I have taken to design the session were:

  1. Personal preparation:
    • Analysis of the academic course in which I’m presently teaching (MA Culture, Criticism, and Curation // Central St. Martin’s)
    • Identification of a subject, that may fit in the course structure and enhance my curriculum
    • Narrowing down the research of the topic, and choice of the object.
    • Planning an activity that is informed both my experience as creative practitioner, and my teaching practice
    • Final selection
    • Planning the activity and the learning outcomes
  • Personal preparation: Analysis of the academic course in which I’m presently teaching (MA Culture, Criticism, and Curation // Central St. Martin’s)

In order to fit the structure of the course, I decided to focus my attention on the role that objects play within a culture. My selection has been therefore based on an ethnographic approach that has taken the object into account just as much as the human being.

  • Identification of a subject that may fit in the course structure and enhance my curriculum. 

Challenging the multicultural background of my peers (This also applies in the context of the MA CCC), I decided to target a debate on the subject of religion, and belief.

My curriculum is enhanced by demonstrating, that I can research and identify elements of multicultural religions, and belief, through the analysis of the aesthetic of visual and artistic languages, in order to promote culture, challenging a better understanding of the medium.

  • Narrowing down the research of the topic and choice of the object.

The chosen object was a little sculpture reproducing an angel, that I positioned on top of the table in the center of the classroom, outside its traditional context and reference to monotheistic religions. The plan was to recreate a “white cube” scenario (a method often used in Museums and Art Galleries), where possibly start a more “neutral” conversation, that allows students to “play” with the object, and see it through the eyes of their emotions, as well as in reference to their personal experience/academic studies/creative practice.

  • Planning an activity that is informed both my experience as creative practitioner and my teaching practice

During my career as creative practitioner, I’ve often incorporated elements of faith and religion in my artistic production, mainly in form of photo exhibitions and painting of Christian icons. Through my experience I learnt that:

“An angel is generally a supernatural being found in various religions and mythologies. Each of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – all acknowledge the existence of angels, however, these are not the only faiths to believe in these spiritual beings. Angels also occur within the Eastern religions of Hinduism, Shintoism and Taoism. Angels are acknowledged by every monotheistic religion and occurs both in mythology and art around the world”.

  • Final selection 

I chose to present a small sculpture of a little golden angel.

Given the premises, that an angel is an iconic figure commonly embedded in our culture, that carries within its design references to religions and ancient mythology. Yet, the representation of an angel can be seen as a mere object of design spoiled of any “pre-concept”? The challenge was then for the object to be observed by different perspectives, with the hope to encounter the observation of someone who perhaps had no specific religious orientation.

  • Planning the activity and the learning outcomes

I planned to place the sculpture in the middle of the table,  where my peers seated around it could engage and play with it. I positioned myself outside the group of my peers, where I could watch the dynamics of their interactions without interfering.

Subsequently, I started to give some info and hints in regards to the object, while making questions fostering an active debate, that I moderated without driving my peers to any preconceived conclusion. The discussion was open to confrontation and the enjoyment of surprise.

The learning outcomes

By taking part in the learning activity, the students can:

  1. Know that angels occur in every monotheistic religion, as well as in mythology around the world.
  2. Distinguish between figurative representations of angels in a religious context and fine arts.
  3. Identify the places where Angelic figures can be found in our culture
  4. Understand that Angels are multicultural aesthetic elements

Micro-Teaching with my peers

When placing my object on the table, during the 10 minutes activity, I could immediately see the interest arising in my peers. I started with a brief explanation of my intention to test their reactions, to inform a similar activity for my students of the MA CCC. Everyone was happy to take part in this process and eager to help me gaining as many feedback as possible.
I asked my peers two main questions: “where can this object be found. And what is its function?”
I was pleased to notice that everything went accordingly to my plans, the object was not perceived as religious, and people actively engaged with it, touching it, and asking questions. A fruitful debate started almost immediately, and conversations in the beginning focus on the quality of the design, and its functionality. I moderated the interventions, adding the info that “Angels occurs in every monotheistic religion”, asking my peers to comment on it. Someone (luckily for my research on the task) had no affiliation to any creed and didn’t spot any religious connotation in the object.

Reflections on Religion, Faith and Belief

“As above so below” – Ph Elena Arzani © 2002

Course unit: Inclusive Teaching & Learning in Higher Education 

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 1

After visiting the Religion, Belief and Faith identities UAL website, I reflected on how I could apply the resources to my own teaching practice. 

Religion, Faith, Belief are all words that refer to the crucial nature of identity, its transformation, communication and movement between levels of consciousness.

The human existence, and its experience, is characterized by universal themes, that are crucial in shaping the identity of a person. Those elements are, among others, religion, faith, spiritual belief, and sexuality (especially when considered in relation to the previous one). Treating the mentioned subjects in multicultural Universities, means to encourage a dialogue based on respect for difference, listening to the students, supporting their needs actively, creating a common ground of inclusion of marginalized identities, equality of race, gender and ethnic minorities. I would therefore apply the resources found on the Religion, Belief and Faith identities UAL website, to foster a multiculturalist approach, that eliminates discriminations on grounds, suggesting the students an abandonment of “difference-blindness”, beyond toleration and state neutrality, particularly at a time in History, ours, in which the concern with Islamic terrorism, and political choices, such as Brexit, affects immigration, and post-immigration integration, as well as the sense of belonging, and religion based identities.

Answering the question of how I could integrate the research/work my students do on this subject into my teaching/professional practice, I’d say that as a photographer, my work often reflects my vision on spirituality. As a Lecturer, there are a number of scenarios in which I could implement the resources. For example, keeping in view the interesting opinions of Dr Erika Doss, whose interview was listed among the UAL resources, I could deliver a seminar, which focuses on the comparative analysis of international artists, whose production is based on Religion. This would facilitate a debate on the related aspects of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusivity. Writing task activity would provide students an opportunity to address religious literacy in their learning journey, and curriculum.  Artists that I would include in my seminar, concerning art and religion, could be: The painter Ibrahim El-Salahi (b.1930, Sudan) a major figure of African and Arab Modernism, renowned for his pioneering integration of Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions. The artist Frida Kahlo (1907, Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico) whose work was often inspired by Indigenity, Aztec symbols/spirituality, her own faith in the Virgin de Guadalupe, and Political Commitment. Bill Viola (1951 Queens, New York City, New York, United States) that often explores in his work the universal themes of human existence and experience. Shirin Neshat (1957, Qazvin, Iran), an Iranian artist best known for films such as Rapture (1999), which explore the relationship between women and the religious and cultural value systems of Islam. Hiroshi Mori (1977, Tokyo, Japan), whose work combines Japanese anime and pop art with some of the most iconic religious portraits of the Renaissance era to create a fresh new take on classical Western and Japanese “rimpa”.

Citing another example, I might discuss the contemporary issues related to the work of Marilyn Manson, or Marina Abramovic, that have caused a panic over a misplaced belief that the performance artists worships the devil, and therefore Catholics are not happy about them. In so doing, I could listen with the student the Interview with Mohammed Ali on BBC, reflecting on how modern artists explore religion in their work.

A third, and final example, could be a workshop on Fashion, and Fashion Advertising Images, that communicate the brand identity, with respect for different religions, genders, and ethnicity. A critical debate, based on the constructive analysis of a comparative number of campaigns, from Nike to Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Galliano, and others, may give the students the opportunity to reflect on the social role of Fashion Industry. For example, the brand’s aesthetic of the Italian fashion duo, Stefano Gabbana (1962, Milan, Italy), and Domenico Dolce (1958, Polizzi Generosa, Italy), mostly known as D&G, is plenty with references to Religion, particularly with Madonna.  In 2016, Stefano Gabbana published on his private social networks the procession of the Holy Virgin, taking place by tradition in Gela, Italy. He was then inspired to produce a fashion line, that featured the Madonna painted on cloths. The criticism could be supported by the UAL resources on Faith, and Fashion by Professor Reina Lewis. 

The pictures display some of my photographic projects, that were based on Faith, Spirituality and Religion: “Loss” hosted by Google Culture; “The Beauty of humanity” presented at Scope Art Fair, Miami; “Forgotten Monuments#2” hosted by Archinti Museum, Italy.

Ph Elena Arzani © 

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 2

  • ‘Religion in Britain: Challenges for Higher Education.’ Stimulus paper (Modood & Calhoun, 2015) 

The stimulus Paper was very interesting, and I found myself intrigued by the reading on the essay in whole, however I chose to focus my reflections on: Western European moderate secularism; Multiculturalism; Minority Identities and Religion and dissent in Universities. Even though I had a sense of it, I learnt how today the fears for the attacks of terrorism have led to disproportional targeting of Muslims, with major consequences for students, and more in general for people, of that religion. Moreover, by going through the reading, and touching upon the Gender segregation in Muslim practice (which is unfortunately a shared by other religions too), I was introduced to the matter of sexuality, and more specifically the “non-binary” sexual and gender identities, and the growing discussions around them in University Campuses. I can see how “intersectionality”, it’s an issue that applies to the case of many people. Tackling the debate around those areas, one must be extremely sensitive, and respectful, while considering a number of elements, that may affect the scenario.  In the Foreword by Professor Sir Robert Burgess, it is stated that: “in terms of academic disciplines, there is an opportunity to address religious illiteracy among students and staff as opportunities arise where insight from different faiths can inform academic debate and understanding.” The dualism between religion as contributor to social wellbeing, cultural heritage, ethical voice, and national identity, finds at its opposite a social division that can lead to war.  Are we, as Lecturers, enough equipped to face the changing realities of our present time?! I wonder.

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 3

Reflections on Kwame Anthony Appiah Reith lecture on Creed

“Most people in the world believes, the most people in the world have incorrect religion believes”  –  Dr Kwane A. Appiah
I particularly appreciated listening to Dr Kwane A. Appiah lecture on “Mistaken Identities”. I felt he succeeded in showing the audience how little we know about religions, and how much we don’t. By deconstructing common stereotypes addressed to the majority of monotheist religions, Dr Appiah has managed to draw a fine line, that like a circle creates more unity, than distance. Interpretation is a key issue in order to understand a religion. And this applied also to gender equality, when he mentioned the Buddhist belief that all phenomena are neither female, nor male. The condemnation of Homosexuality, he suggested, reflects the power of everyday traditions of sentiment. This is indeed a great lecture, that has tackled at least 3 main areas, that I can include in my practice: Religion and the sense of self, that is shaped by your family, and by affiliations that spread out from there, such as nationality, gender, class, race, faith and religion; but also the two aspects that inform religion: the practice, and the action; and last but not least the temporariness, and the need of interpretation, rather than determinism.

Task No. 2: Religion // Part 4

Extension activity: Read the terms of reference from SoN around Faith 

I read the publication “Higher Power: Higher Power: Religion, Faith, Spirituality & Belief “, the content and imagery were both really strong and thought provoking. The words that I, in certain ways, take with me from this research on Terminology on Religion, are: Atheism, and Ally. By practicing tolerance, respect, common sense and understanding, all valuable elements, people can found a common ground that is the base of unbreakable legacies.