Tag Archives: virgin mary

Mary Mary…

As Spring has begun to emerge in NYC I’ve realized officially that while I don’t miss our tiny apartment in Harlem, I do miss the neighborhood.  As antisocial as I can be, I miss the small neighborhood feeling of being in residential a brownstone neighborhood where the tallest building for a few blocks around is not more than four of five stories high. And nothing beats living across from Marcus Garvey Park and watching the seasons change in the foliage there. Ohhh, let me not get too nostalgic. It starts to get me emotional. I have to embrace my new surroundings in Inwood, which is exactly what my husband and I did this weekend.

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The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park was the one thing I had been looking forward to visiting when we moved to Inwood and we finally got to go this past Sunday. First of all, Fort Tryon is just beautiful! I can’t wait to go back when everything is in full bloom. I love that it’s so close to us on the A train. I have so many plans for that park! LOL! The lovely, leisurely ten minute walk to the Cloisters and the Cloisters Museum was perfect. When we arrived at the Cloisters I was totally enchanted by what looked like a castle or a Abbey on a steep hill. It appealed to all my childhood “Sound Of Music” indoctrinated fanaticism.

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We didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the historic details and paintings or artifacts. Mainly we walked around the beautifully assembled structure and enjoyed the peace and stillness of the architecture. I love the use of arches in Medieval European church architecture. I always have. Over the years and as a result of some art history classes I have learned a bit about the strength and receptivity of the arch. Not only is it an aesthetically pleasing shape but it is able to withstand more weight than the more traditional post and lintel door way. To me arches and archways represent the feminine and in Holy places this feels justified.

Medieval art on the other hand does nothing for me but make me cringe. Remember those reprints of Unicorn tapestry that were all the rage in the 70s? My mom had them around when I was a baby and they kinda freaked me out even then. After seeing “Unicorn in Captivity” at the Cloisters, I know my freak out was warranted. At first you think oh it’s a Unicorn that is fenced for protection in and looks pretty content. On closer inspection you see that the Unicorn has been taken by force, has been hurt and is bleeding in places were it’s been poked and prodded. Unicorns aren’t even real! Leave them alone sickos!!

I digress.

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There was one painting I saw that I remember studying in art history class whose significance has deepened for me this time around. It is one in which the Virgin Mary is visited by an angel telling her that she will give birth to the savior. The painting was commissioned by a married couple who it is said were hoping for a child of their own which is part is why they requested it. I cannot find the painting online for the life of me but it’s something like the one above.

I think what made me pay attention this time was the relatable aspect of a married couple wanting a child. It made me really look at the Virgin birth as allegorical and archetypal.  The birth of “Christ” represents the spirit of the creator in the birth of every child. Mary represents a doorway to salvation through Immaculate Conception but that doesn’t mean that sexual intercourse is evil the way many organized religions teach. To me, it means that if we are consciously and purposefully intimate, we are in communion with something bigger than ourselves in order to give birth to more love than there was before. That’s my read anyway. Also, I think Angels are very cool and Mary was just a regular chick in her time who became a celebrity because of a divine visitation. There is Mary and Oshun and an Angel in us all.

See what going to the Cloisters did to me? LOL!!

I can see myself going back there just to hang out, read, write in my journal or have a picnic with close friends. Oh joy!

Visions of Oshun

Oshun Collage
We’re all here for Oshun so I equate that with Oshun being here.

-PBS Documentary on the Nigerian Oshun Festival

So I’ve been working on this project lately that has required a study of different illustrations of the goddess Oshun. Oshun is one of hundreds of Yoroba Orishas, a Goddess who embodies, beauty, sensuality, healing, abundance, harmony, divination and the feminine archetype. I am discovering that there are many different interpretations of what Oshun represents but essentially she is in some ways to ancient African religions what the Virgin Mary is to Catholicism, what Venus or Aphrodite was to Romans and Greeks. But unlike those latter mentioned, Oshun, to my unending delight, is represented primarily as a very dark skinned Black woman. Her colors are represented as a constant spectrum of gold, amber, yellow and orange. She can be found near bodies of water and always carries a mirror. She likes sweet things and is often shown wearing a veil which allows her to see the world eternally as a sweet heavenly vision of beauty. Doesn’t that sound dope?

It hit me yesterday as I looked at all the googled images of her, how powerful the symbols of her identity are with regard to visual interpretations. With all the different versions out there, there are those basic elements that never change. Like the Virgin Mary, Venus or Aphrodite, artists understand that key colors, elements in nature and symbolic objetcs are what communicate to the viewer who and what this woman represents. This is art 101 obviously but I never really even understood this even in art history class. I wish it had been taught to me in this way. A Picasso version of the Virgin Mary will not look like Carravagio’s, but the basic symbolical indicators will be there somewhere whether literal, obscure, abstracted or minimized.

Blue, white, rays of natural light. Yellow, gold, mirror water nature. When we wear these colors, spend time in specific natural spaces, we can recognize that certain religions and cultures would see us as invoking saints, goddesses, gods, spirits that are represented by these things. We attribute powers to elements based on both ancient practice and natural metaphysical laws.

Why do the colors deep blue and purple represent royalty? Why does yellow invoke joy and lightness? Most of us have been conditioned to an unconscious reflexive knowledge of white as representing purity. The color black however has had the worst rap ever. Buried in decades of negative association with death, evil, abyss, black actually symbolizes the highest seat of wisdom as seen in clergymen and ministers who wear all black or martial arts masters who acquire the Black belt in the various disciplines of Martial Arts. We all know that a Black Belt can only be acquired with intense hard work and commands great respect. For me, seeing so many versions of Oshun with this dark black skin is even more of a validation and praise of the color black. It sends the message to my heart that blackness is beautiful, is sacred, is virtuous. And every version of Oshun must be dark skinned in order for me to understand that she is Oshun.

It is said that in the Vatican, there is a black version of the Virgin Mary hidden somewhere and that this is the one the Pope worships behind closed doors. Oooh! My google search of Black Virgin Mary has produced such a range of beautiful renditions! The darker Goddesses are stepping out into the light.
We make it so.
-Team Urban Eve