He who has most sympathy with his subject will obtain the best results. Henry Ossawa Tanner

Paul Hobbs: Unknown Martyrs

ArtWay Visual Meditation August 22, 2021

Paul Hobbs: Unknown Martyrs

Martyrdom Today

by Paul Hobbs

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this
right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.

Article 18 of the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Christian martyrdom is not a thing of the past. It continues today in numerous places. The ‘Unknown Martyrs’ series commemorates twelve modern saints from a range of countries and in different situations where believers suffer for their faith in Christ. Most of the people depicted in these images are little known, or totally unknown, and have often been despised rather than admired by their community. They have certainly suffered; eight of those represented have been killed for their beliefs. They stand for countless thousands of others who, despite the suffering they face, bear witness to Christ today and thus symbolise resilient faith under fire.

These are not canonised saints in the traditional religious sense of persons whose profound holiness is formally recognised after death by a Christian church. Indeed some are still alive, and certainly none would boast of their holiness. However I have named each one as a saint, in the sense of being ‘one of God’s chosen people’, just as all Christians are called ‘saints’ in the New Testament.

These are not traditional icons in the formal sense, yet I have referenced some of the symbolism of orthodox icon writing, e.g. icons are made of wood to show they have come from God’s good earth.

The people depicted are icons in the sense of windows into understanding God because their lives and struggles bear witness to him.

Saint Raymond – Malaysia

Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted in broad daylight on February 13, 2017, only miles from his home in Petaling Jaya, West Malaysia. The abduction, which was caught on CCTV, was conducted with military precision and implies a coordinated attack by trained individuals. At least 10 men in black SUVs blocked a major road and kidnapped him. He has not been seen since.

Three others were abducted around the same time. Christian husband and wife, Joshua Hilmy and Ruth Sitepu, were last seen in November 2016, while Shia1 Muslim activist, Amri Che Mat, was abducted in a highly professional operation very similar to that of Raymond Koh’s kidnapping. It is thought Koh was targeted for being of a minority faith, for effective work with the poor and disadvantaged, and for proselytising. The wives of Koh and Amri say they believe their husbands’ disappearances are linked to religious issues, referencing a November 6th 2016 speech made by Division Chief Assistant Director Awaludin, claiming that the 'Shia enemy’ and Christian preachers are more dangerous than ISIS.

The quote is from 2 Timothy 3:12, ‘Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.’

The icon panel is bound with tape at the top to suggest a blindfold coming down over Raymond’s face. It is bound with two plastic ties lower down to imply restraint, as often these ties are used like handcuffs. The red, white and blue of the flag represents Malaysia as a country belonging to the Commonwealth. The crescent and star represent Islam as the official religion.

Saint Rosalbina – Colombia

Rosalbina had been abandoned by her husband when their two children were very young. Desperate to provide for her family, she became a paid collaborator in the Colombian guerrilla organisation, FARC: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. This was formed in 1964 as a Marxist-Leninist peasant force and fought against the government for more than 50 years. They funded themselves through kidnap and ransom, extortion, illegal mining and drugs, living out of bases in the jungle regions.

In 2006 Rosalbina became a Christian. She spoke about the gospel to her colleagues and even distributed Bibles to them. She told her commanders that due to her faith she wanted to leave FARC. So they gunned her down in front of her daughter.

The drawing of Rosalbina is a composite image made from photos of Colombian women as there is no accessible photo of her. It shows her with her hands together and eyes wide open. Is she praying to Jesus Christ or imploring her attackers not to kill her? Either way she has entered this life of faith with her eyes wide open, knowing the cost. The panel has five bullet holes in it, shot from a 6mm military pistol.

My prayer is that these images will inspire all of us to consider the value and cost of knowing and following the Lord Jesus Christ in our complex, noisy and cynical world.


Paul Hobbs (b. 1964) is a British painter and sculptor whose work explores contemporary social issues in the light of biblical values.

Unknown Martyrs Exhibition – A series of thirteen works called Unknown Martyrs are available for a stand-alone show or as part of the larger mixed media shows that Paul can provide. 

Booklets of the Unknown Martyrs are available for purchase. The booklet shows Paul Hobbs' 13 'icons' commemorating modern Christian saints and addressing contemporary persecution. Each image has notes giving details of the person(s) represented and the symbols used in the artwork. In the introduction the artist explains his re-interpretation of traditional iconography and the symbolism he has developed, including why he has damaged each image to reflect the harm directed towards each individual. There are two pages of ideas for prayer and reflection at the end. 



1. RONDALL REYNOSO ON TRANSFORMING CULTURE – ‘I believe it is beyond question that scripture teaches that the Gospel should have a transformative effect on the individual because of their encounter with God. The question then becomes how that works out in public life.’ Read more

2. ECOTHEO COLLECTIVE CALL FOR ART – EcoTheo Collective calls for visual and written submissions for their quarterly publication EcoTheo Review. Submissions can include poetry, prose, and visual art that explore questions of ecology and spirituality from within and outside all religious traditions. All submissions are considered for publication on their website and/or in the quarterly print issues. To be considered for the next publications, submit your work by August 31. Find more details

3. CIVA’S NEWEST TRAVELLING EXHIBITION – CIVA announces its newest traveling exhibition Heads, Faces, and Spiritual Encounter. Centered around longtime CIVA members Edward and Diane Knippers' personal collection that includes works by Rouault, Matisse, and Picasso, this show offers a thoughtful and enjoyable glance at the mystery of the human face. Launches in Austin at Transcend Biennale and is available for rental in late Spring 2022. Visit the gallery & find more information

4. ARS SACRA FESTIVAL HUNGARY - 4 September – 12 September, Budapest: Ars Sacra Festival. The purpose of the festival is to bring to light the Jewish-Christian roots of the European culture in all types of sacred arts. The Ars Sacra Festival has been certified by ’Europe for Festivals Festivals for Europe’. Several programs are available during the festival and can be visited for free of charge. Within the framework of the Ars Sacra Festival, the Open Church Day takes place on the first day of the festival. The Ars Sacra Film Festival has been part of the festival program since 2016. ;

5. TED TALK ABOUT THE WALK – In a staggering display of creativity and community, theater director Amir Nizar Zuabi introduces "The Walk": a theatrical journey following a nine-year-old refugee girl named Amal (represented by a giant, lifelike puppet) as she makes her way from Turkey to England. Zuabi shares the bold vision behind this cultural odyssey aimed at spreading hope and celebrating the refugee experience and joins us live from Turkey as Amal passes through a village. View here

6. NEW BOOK – Pieter Kwant: Inside the Rainbow: Seeing and Doing the Book of Revelation (Vol 1). Piquant Publishing, 2021. Having immersed himself over the last seven years in reading every commentary he can find on Revelation, and picking up his teenage hobby of painting, Pieter Kwant here retraces the process whereby John first “saw” Revelation before writing it down, now moving from (biblical) text to image. In this, Pieter takes his stand on the shoulders of both giant biblical commentators and visual artists over the centuries as he engages Revelation in a personal way that he hopes will make this, often obscure, text approachable even to children! Pieter’s big hope, and the challenge he set himself, is that readers may be emboldened not to shrink from looking deeply into this concluding book of the Bible – reading and hearing (by doing) it! Inside the Rainbow is conceived to be the first in a series. As such, it focuses particularly on Revelation 1–3. Pieter makes it clear that he does not see these opening chapters as a strong separate section but as integral to the one story of Revelation. ISBN 978-1-909281-87-5, 56 pages, hardback in colour, £35.00. Order here

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- September 2021: Jan Toorop: Apostles Window
- September 2021: Douglas Coupland: I wait for God to appear
- September 2021: Baccio Baldini: The Holy Mountain of God
- August 2021: Josh Tiessen: Harbinger and Whale Hymn

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists