Today, December 5, one of the most ambitious special exhibits to grace the halls of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., opens. Â It is titled “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea” and features 60 works of art depicting the Blessed Mother in her various roles in Christianity, and as her role in Christ’s life as mother. Â The museum employed a priest as a guest curator for the occasion, and managed to borrow works for the exhibit that include pieces from the Vatican, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, among other rich troves of art. Â Some of the biggest names in the Renaissance and Baroque periods are represented, and a number of works from and Ursuline nun never seen before in the United States. Â (For non art people, this is a BIG deal.)
As usual before any special exhibit opens, the critics were allowed a preview and The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott penned a review that begins with a kind of back-handed compliment regarding an exhibit that is sure to bring in the crowds, but seems to be more of a lecture on Catholic Dogma (because we Catholics know nothing about art and care more about the subject matter, right?). Â Without reading the captions and the wall blurbs actually in the exhibit, there is no real way to know for sure.
And then Kennicott says this:
How can an organization that champions women and womenâ€™s art leave off the table the powerful feminist critique of Mary that has animated thinking about this imagery for the past half century? How can a museum that wants to be taken seriously as a site for contemporary art ignore works such as Chris Ofiliâ€™s â€œThe Holy Virgin Mary,â€ the locus of a major art scandal in Brooklyn in 1999 and perhaps the most famous image of Mary painted in the last quarter century?
The painting in question?
Having been a Catholic since before I was born, any resemblance to any image or icon of the Virgin Mary, Blessed Mother, or Theotokos (as our Brethren in the east call her) just is not there. Â A scandal is exactly what it is. Â Feminist critique of Mary? Â Hello! Â We would not have Christianity – or any of the great works in the exhibit in question, or women’s rights at all – if a scared Jewish teenager had not said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38, Douay-Rheims Bible) Â What that painting is is an insult.
The Wikipedia description says it all:
On a yellow-orange background, the large painting (8 feet high by 6 feet wide) depicts a black woman wearing a blue robe, a traditional attribute of the Virgin Mary. The work employs mixed media, including oil paint, glitter, and polyester resin, and also elephant dung and collaged pornographic images. The central Black Madonna is surrounded by many collaged images that resemble butterflies at first sight, but on closer inspection are photographs of female genitalia; an ironic reference to the putti that appear in traditional religious art. A lump of dried, varnished elephant dung forms one bared breast, and the painting is displayed leaning against the gallery wall, supported by two other lumps of elephant dung, decorated with coloured pins: the pins on the left are arranged to spell out “Virgin” and the one on the right “Mary”.
And this is what Chris Ofili thinks of the figure in Christianity who demonstrates what giving oneself to God’s will is all about? Â The woman who exemplifies humility? Â The woman who took an unbelievable risk in her culture and lifetime by saying “yes” to God? Â It seems that in order to be “relevant” in modern art terms, one has to cast aspersions on any sort of tradition and sling mud at the thought that it could be beautiful, both physically and as as ideal.
One also has to toe the party line on who is to blame for all of women’s supposed problems Â in society. Â From Kennicott’s review:
But Mary isnâ€™t entirely a feel-good icon. She was routinely invoked in wars against Islamic states and anti-Semitic campaigns. One of the ugliest blood libels in literature, Chaucerâ€™s ferociously anti-Semitic Prioressâ€™s Tale, begins with an invocation to Mary. Another fascinating side channel of her iconography (illustrated in the catalogue) depicts her as a warrior queen, armed and triumphant in battle (one 18th-century statue from Sicily shows her on horseback, trampling a dark-skinned Moor). Many people who recoil at the Catholic Churchâ€™s treatment of women and gay people will find little to love in the way Maryâ€™s purity and virginity have been used to indict sexuality in general, especially unregulated sex. Powerful feminist thinkers, including Simone de Beauvoir, have argued that Mary is one of the churchâ€™s most powerful weapons in a war against womenâ€™s dignity and empowerment. Many have argued that the celebration of her virginity is indissolubly linked to patriarchy.
Picking this diatribe apart, Kennicott is going to use the Virgin Mary as an excuse to defend Islam, a religion that concerns itself with not with women’s rights at all, and seeks the elimination of homosexuals? Â Is he kidding? Â No one holds up the dignity of humanity in all forms like Christians, and in Catholicism, certainly no figure other than Christ Himself is a role model for treating others as you would have them treat you, than the Blessed Mother. Â Homosexuals are accepted for who they are. Â It is the actions of homosexuality that are condemned – and acting as a homosexual is a choice no different than heterosexual promiscuity. Â Sexuality, whatever form is manifests, is a gift from God and not be abused, no different than any other gift from God. Â (Really, it’s not that hard.)
Yes, Christ and His Mother were invoked before the Crusades, which were really more pilgrimages that featured defensive wars than not. Â That’s part of the reason, at least, for why the first one was won against overwhelming odds. Â Without the Crusades, we would all be Muslim and there would be no “women’s rights” movement since hard core Islam does not allow it. Â And then to use a Marxist to defend modern thought on “women’s empowerment” when Marxists espouse the destruction of the one institution that sought to protect and cherish women in their natural roles more than any other? Â Liberalism must really be a mental disorder if this concept is championed.
Critics like Philip Kennicott have their place in the world of art. Â They really do. Â Their affection for artwork that uses excrement as a medium certainly reflects their world view. Â Not sure that it is a good idea to explore that thought any further.
Now…how to get to Washington to see this exhibit. Â The online gallery is available here.
H/T – NewsBusters