last image is of a contemporary and controversial painting, the Nigerian, Chris
Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996. A controversy arose in 1999 when
the painting was to be exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NYC. Offended
at the representation, Mayor Giuliani threatened to withdraw the city’s
financial support for the museum, due to his perception of the painter’s disrespect
for catholicism. It was the painting’s materials rather than narrative that
offended Giuliani and the public. The artist used paper collage (snips from
magazines representing black women’s buttocks), oil, glitter, resin, and
elephant dung for this 8 foot tall composition. The incorporation of images
of fragmented body parts and dung into a painting of Mary, the Mother of God,
was deemed sacrilegious. But what was Ofili’s creative objective? To create a
visually stunning, yet traditional art object? Or, to create a work that
embodied the power of women’s bodies in respect to cycles of life and death?
Should the painting be interpreted from the Western perspective or the
African perspective? While it subverts many of the values of traditional
European art, it is an earthly embodiment of metaphysical power. All aspects
of the “real” being have been transformed into an allusive, unearthly form as
the Heavenly Mother is no longer of this earth, but represents and is
symbolic of universal issues within the Neoplatonic realm.
Design elements such as
color, value, repetition of line and shape, balance, symmetry, and rhythm are
of little concern to African carvers. Their motivation is to bridge the gulf
between the physical and metaphysical worlds and bring the powers and
blessings of the spiritual realm down to their daily lives.