We had a great show on Feb 17th!
Hope you'll join us again next year!
Hope you'll join us again next year!
Original artwork by Valerie Desautel
An art historian’s take on The Vagina Monologue’s “Virgin”
Valerie Desautel’s adaption of the Virgin of Guadalupe as both mystical mother and earthly woman, continues a conversation about the matriarchy that stems from the first images of humankind. Tens of thousands of years ago Prehistoric imagery described women as fertile and their bodies the promise of pro-creation, good health, and abundance. The Christian manifestation of fertility in Mary connotes similar representation. While drapery covers Her body, it’s folds and activity suggest her feminity. Her drape is the cloak of the heavens, and in Desautel’s image, the folds of the vulva. The pink clitoris is perhaps its most bold element: the artist places it opposite its home inside the upper hood of the vulva, it sits at the base of the Virgin, like a rosebud of Mary’s womanhood. Mary here is envisioned as woman in this one tender detail, recalling instances in art history where, for example, the Virgin proves her humanity by bearing her breast to nurse her Son.
Historically, this symbol of the Virgin as the Catholic “Empress of Mexico”—emanating the glory of Her sanctity in a full body mandorla with rays of light radiating in an aureola around her—is the most recognized emblem of Mexican Catholicism. Its image was shaped in the 16th century after Spanish conquistidors destroyed a temple to the Aztec mother goddess, Tonantzin, outside of Mexico City. Apparitions of the Virgin were reported and a new symbol of sacred mother was constructed in what is revered today as the Virgin of Guadalupe. The appropriation of the Virgin of Guadalupe by Desautel requires sensitive and deliberate consideration.
As a body artist, Valerie Desautel is versed in culturally sacred images appropriated and adapted for the body, including variants of Mary. The taking of Maori, Celtic or Christian symbols, to name a few popularized tattood designs, and transposition of them onto the body, is a kind of regenerated reverence and adornment commonplace today. (Additional elements seen in tattoo art used here include the upper bracketing, lower banner and stylized text.) Cross-cultural appropriation of design exists in an unusual manner in body art; a symbolism crafted by and for the individual. Unlike the very public and broadly recognizable icon of The Virgin of Guadalupe, Desautel’s design is born from the tattoo tradition. There are noteworthy compositional choices to consider too.
The vagina’s oval opening has been exalted in images of the sacred and secular. To draw from Medieval Christian iconography, the choice of this shape is reminiscent of the German Benedictine abbess, mystic, and artist, Hildegard von Bingen’s, 12th century divine visualizations of The Universe (Das Weltall). Appearing as the ultimate feminine opening, The Universe is a deep centralized cavity in a floral laced sea of blue, surrounded by undulating, red trimmed tendrils extending outward like an anemone. Associating the divine feminine with the literal feminine is abundant in the history of art.
A final symbol worth our attention in Desautel’s Vagina Monologue’s Virgin, are the full blossom microphones flanking Her on each side. If the clitoris is the seed of Mary’s womanhood in this illustration, the microphones can be seen as stylized rose heads, recalling Mary’s symbolism as the rose in a garden of thorns, further amplifying a truth of women in their divine and earthly manifestations.
Natalie Coletta is a cast member and a professor of Art History at the Community College of Rhode Island with an interest in the representation of women in art. The artist Valerie Desautel is a former student of Professor Coletta’s.