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is a series of paintings, drawings, etchings, silkscreens, woodcuts, and
assemblages which was begun in 1996 and continues today. It sprang from my
search for personal faith and a subsequent exploration and questioning of
the visual images that humanity has created in its attempt to express faith.
Some of those images, such as the fish used by early Christians, were created
as clandestine symbols to be used by persecuted members of a cult to recognize
Other images were created
as pure acts of adoration, such as the image of the Immaculate Conception
of the Virgin Mary, the Santa Muerte of the Maya Indians, the representations
of their Gods by the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Assyro-Babylonians,
the Celts, the Norse, the Finno-Ugrians, the Africans, and all peoples of
the Earth from Paleolithic times to the present. There is no race, no tribe,
no group of humans that has not produced art as an act of adoration, and
as an expression of faith.
The thread that both
unites and distinguishes these images is the coloration produced by culture.
Ancient writings from different societies and civilizations reveal Gods and
Goddesses that existed across many cultures, identifiable as the same by
shared characteristics, shared powers for intervention in human affairs,
and shared taboos. Yet these obviously identical Gods and Goddesses appear
very different in images made of them in different cultures, because of the
influence of cultural perceptions of beauty and power.
Nonetheless, even in
these varied manifestations of the same deity, the same divine symbols appear
and reappear, and continue today in modern images in churches and temples
of the twenty-first century.
Ancient crosscultural variations and repetitions of symbology are clearly
visible in the icons and orthodoxy of contemporary world religions.
Just as ancient peoples
did, we interpret our Gods and Saints to conform to our own cultural standards;
and although we thusly alter them, we continue to use the symbols that have
survived for millennia. Nonetheless, if this is pointed out, cries of blasphemy
and profanity arise, and connections and common threads are denied, thus
denying the continuity which, if accepted, could be an abundant source of
self knowledge and understanding.
We accept crosscultural
fusions of iconographic imagery and symbols in societies other than our own;
yet when it is pointed out that our own religious icons have the same fusions
and symbols, we rail against the heresy.
My work focuses on these iconographic fusions
and on the unbroken continuum of symbolic representations that have existed
throughout our history. Of course, my own beliefs and questionings color
the work, and so I become a part of the very phenomenon that so fascinates
For example, I have
painted several depictions of "Santa Muerte," or "Saint Death," a ubiquitous
icon among contemporary Maya in southern Mexico, available on estampas, small
paper "holy cards," in front of churches, cathedrals, or in village squares,
complete with a prayer to Saint Death on the reverse side. I believe this
image to be the blending of the ancient Mayan God of Death, Quetzalcoatl,
with the Catholic notion of Sainthood brought by early missionaries. When
the missionaries would not allow the Maya to keep their traditional Gods,
the Maya simply converted Quetzalcoatl into a Saint. The Church today silently
overlooks this conversion, as did the missionaries, and the Maya kneel at
Mass and pray to Santa Muerte to give them a peaceful and holy
While we accept such
an "exotic" conversion, we have difficulty viewing our own icons as having
undergone similar cultural overlays of piety. In traditional Catholic
iconography, the image of the Virgin Mary in Immaculate Conception is based
on a painting by the 16th century Spanish artist Murillo. Mary is shown standing
on a crescent moon, over the Earth, with her halo of twelve stars, the serpent
at her feet, poised to crush its head, and rays of grace coming out of her
Although it is commonly
agreed that the twelve stars are taken from St. John's vision in the Apocalypse,
it is also agreed among theologians that there is no source for the crescent
moon upon which Mary stands other than ancient concepts equating the moon
with many Goddesses through the millennia, including the Virgin Goddess Diana,
and the great Goddess Isis, whose golden horns are synonomous with the crescent
moon, and whose temples portrayed her riding in her moon-boat.
Isis was worshiped
throughout the ancient Greco-Roman-Egyptian world, from Alexandria to Britain,
through the Asturian mountains and the valleys of the Danube, to the ends
of the Sahara. Her worship flourished in Rome until it was syncretically
absorbed by Christian veneration of Mary, which incorporated extensive
identifications with Isis, including the journey with her child into Egypt.
Our familiar depictions of Madonna and Child have their foundation in similar
iconographic traditions of Isis and her son Horus.
Mary's victory over
the serpent seemingly has its origin in the curse of Yahweh, described in
Genesis, as punishment for the snake for enticing the woman to eat from the
forbidden tree. Notwithstanding the original Hebrew writings which say, "He
will bruise your head," most modern Biblical translations come from Latin
translations which say, "She will crush your head." Nonetheless, Genesis
was the last book of the Pentateuch to be written, and was not formalized
until about the 6th century B.C., during the Babylonian exile.
Even slight delving
into ancient religions reveals the serpent to be the most venerated and worshiped
of animals. It was worshipped among the Hebrew tribes long before Yahweh
arose as the one God; the Hebrew priestly clan, the Levites, were sons of
Leviathan, the great serpent, the wriggly one. The Hebrew word for the divine
serpent was Seraph, which is now colored to mean, "Angel."
Babylonian icons depicted
the serpent attending the Goddess and offering the food of immortality to
her people. For the writers of Genesis, the serpent epitomized all their
rival religions. It was only natural that they would attempt to strike it
from its lofty place and make it culpable for all of the woes and tribulations
of their people.
In my painting,
"Immaculate Conception," my questioning of the traditional icon resulted
in the serpent appearing as friend and protector to Mary. I did not portray
Mary as the fragile, blonde, blue-or green-eyed slip of a girl seen in churches
the world over. Could Mary really have looked so much like a contemporary,
Western Catholic school girl? I painted her as the Semitic woman she was,
swarthy, with dark, kinky hair, robust and sturdy, capable of making the
three-day trek on foot and donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem during the final
days of her pregnancy.
The moon reflects the
Horns of Isis. Mary is painted nude, as Genesis reveals that those who are
without sin are not conscious of nakedness.....Adam and Eve clothed themselves
only after the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge allowed them to see that they
were uncovered. It follows that true depictions of Mary as Immaculata must,
according to the Bible, and if we are not to color them with our own cultural
perceptions, show her unclothed. Far from profane, my intention was to make
this my highest possible tribute to her.
in our most profound and intimate sacred beliefs. Cultural stereotypes permeate
those beliefs. My work is a search for personal faith, and an expression
of faith in our ability to overcome these inconsistencies and stereotypes
to reach a fuller understanding of the consistency we do have with our own
ancient history and belief systems, thus better to understand ourselves,
and to achieve the calm and peace that understanding always