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JOHN DEMPSTER: Ian Whyte's exhibition in Highland capital is powerful call to compassion


By John Dempster

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Ian Whhte's work There are Places you leave and places that never leave you
Ian Whhte's work There are Places you leave and places that never leave you

Open the Eyes of My Heart is the title of a stunning exhibition of work by local artist Ian Whyte which is on display at Inverness Creative Academy until June 29.

When you enter the room eyes stare out at you from the canvases as if seeking to catch your attention, eyes filled more with grief and despondency than hope.

Ian Whyte is on a mission.

He feels deep compassion for his subjects – migrants and displaced people.

And he hopes his work will inspire a similar compassion in us as he reminds us that migrants, suffering so much, are fellow human beings.

No-one seeing the exhibition can fail to be moved to empathy and indignation.

Take the most powerful image of all – Flotsam: Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.

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It depicts desperate people struggling to stay afloat in an unforgiving Mediterranean, some anguished faces sinking below the water, just one lifebuoy among them all.

How dare we remain indifferent when people can be regarded as “flotsam”, their dreams of reaching a far shore dashed with the sinking of an overloaded dinghy?

These could be our brothers and sisters, these could be our children.

In fact, Ian’s baby granddaughter Evelyn lends her face to the baby in: There are places you leave and places that never leave you.

It’s set in Ukraine: a woman seeks to provide a flimsy shelter for suffering children, her hand stretches towards us, inviting us to seek shelter with her – or join her work of sheltering.

Ian’s work isn’t specifically Christian – though “Open the eyes of my heart” is a line from a Christian song.

But Ian is a Christian, and his empathy with migrants is an expression of the love Jesus shows to all human beings, each infinitely precious to him.

It strikes me that there’s no use seeking to see with our heart’s eyes if those hearts are full not of love, but of stony indifference.

Rather, it is as our hearts are filled with gratitude for the love with which we are loved that the “eyes of our hearts” see truly what is before us. Opening our hearts to love is central.

Says Ian: “I strongly believe that the only solution to our troubles, and the things we do to each other, is finding the love that was epitomised by Jesus’s sacrifice.”


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