Two of Manitoba's artists have been presented with a prestigious award.

Manju Lodha and Ray Dirks received the 2017 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for the Advancement of Interreligious Understanding. The award was presented by Lieutenant-Governor Janice Filmon at a ceremony at the Government House.

Lodha and Dirks have worked together to promote understanding, respect and acceptance for over 10 years. They have worked in classrooms and places of worship, and use the universal language of art to bring faiths together.

"It was an honour to receive the award, and I think especially an honour to receive it with Manju," said Dirks. "Before we knew each other we were both working regularly on interfaith (and) multifaith kind of issues and projects. But I think when we got to know each other, suddenly we opened up doors for each other."

Dirks said he was in a Shiite mosque with people of different faiths, including Muslim, Hindu and Christian, when he missed the call from Lt.-Gov. Filmon.

"It was a good time for that call to come through, as that was a little snap shot of what we do," said Dirks.

Lodha and Dirks both use art for cultural expression. Their collaborative project, 'In the Spirit of Humanity,' allowed students to explore religious and cultural diversity and to express their experiences through visual art and other forms.  

"We've done a lot with students and also a lot with English as an Additional Language," said Dirks. "Art, I think, opens expression that doesn't have to be based in language."

Dirks said Lodha wanted to express herself as an artist who is Canadian, Indian and Hindu.

"She wanted to feel at home in a country that she loved," he said.

Dirks is the founder and curator of the MHC (Mennonite Heritage Centre) Gallery on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University.

"I thought it was a place where we could get to know each other, across cultures and faiths, and I thought that was important because we are increasingly diverse and we need to get to know each other and there needs to be safe spaces where people of various faiths can get to know each other in an atmosphere of respect."

Dirks noted knowing Lodha opened up opportunities for him. He began working more in Manitoba rather than overseas.

Another collaborative project he and Lodha worked on is a DVD called 'Leap in Faith,' used in Manitoba schools. They are currently working on a book in relation to the DVD, which may be finished by the end of this year.

"It all will be about Manitobans and how they live and what they believe, and as we've run this past various teachers and administrators, we're been told they're not aware of anything like this anywhere else in the country really," said Dirks.

He believes knowledge and education about different religions and cultures is the key to respect.

"You will know people, and so when you hear something bad about a particular group, what will come into your mind is someone who you actually know, and you will see them as opposed to the stereotype."

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