NOTE: This article first appeared on MAN in 2011. The exhibit is closed
On November 1st and 2nd, Mexico celebrates La Dia de Los Muertos – The Day of the Dead – a time when families exuberantly celebrate relatives and loved ones who have passed away. Vibrantly colored temporary alters are erected in living rooms, smiling sugar skulls leer from shop windows and bouquets of marigolds festoon grave sites where groups gather to picnic and remember.
The Mexican culture also embraces the Hispanic tradition of milagros, small, metal or wax religious charms that are often attached to statues of saints as offerings or carried in a pocket for good luck. The shape of a milagro refers to what divine assistance is requested for; body parts relate to health issues – a silver plane is likely a request for a safe journey. Once purchased, each small figure becomes instantly imbued with a very personal story.
Currently on view at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center in Dallas, Texas is the exhibit Tres Milagros featuring work inspired by these amulets by artists April Begay, Rebecca Collins and Katrina Doran. The works here tell many stories.
The works are a study of symbolic imagery, an inquiry into the meanings made of things, and an honoring of a creative cultural heritage where art and prayer meet.
12.5″ x 10″ x 4.5″ Internal organs milagro, glass beads, carpet tacks, 24K gold glass
Photo Katrina Doran
Noli me tangere or “You can not touch me” is what Christ said to Mary Magdalene after he rose from the dead, his body no longer in the cave where they had placed him to rest.
While preparing for this show, I fell ill with internal organ issues that resulted in the loss of quite a lot of blood. At the same time, a favorite cousin was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer and an uncle was having trouble with his appendix. My cousin’s faith in Jesus is strong and she completely trusted that he would heal her. This impressed me very much.
My version of faith is to wrap myself in love, to surrender to something that cannot be held or touched and to trust that all will be well. The tacks represent my need to protect myself when the loss of blood made me feel so incredibly vulnerable. When at my worst, I imagined myself sitting in a heart-shaped cave like this one where nothing could touch me. In there I would be safe and well.
By the opening of the show, all my test results came back clear; my cousin continues to have good test results and my uncle’s doctors can not find anything wrong with him. I find this mysterious.
Rebecca Collins tells her stories quite literally on the face of her mosaics. She employs a technique that enables the viewer to see selected printed words or phrases and her water color paintings and drawings through the multi-colored stained glass she applies on top. Collins tells us that the inspiration for Heart Milagro came from her concern for a much-loved friend.
When we first approached the Tres Milagros project, I knew I wanted to do a heart milagro that would be a prayer for a very dear friend of mine who battles depression and has led a very secluded, solitary life. I initially thought I wanted to make something that would help to open up her heart and then I realized that it was my own heart that needed to open so that I could be a better, more accepting friend.
The thought of creating a mosaic that would speak to all of this was too big in my brain and so I postponed doing the heart milagro. Finally, with just a few weeks left before the exhibit opening, out of the blue new friend gave me a heart milagro. That symmetry – a new friend helping me with a project that was a prayer for one of my oldest fiends – inspired me to begin this piece.
We applaud Apryl Begay’s Quetzacoatl – Dreaming of Legs for its incorporation of a Mesoamerican deity (also called The Feathered Serpent) into a child-sized, quintessentially Catholic milagro. The imagery is clear and striking and captures much of the Mexican spirit for millennia. Begay says:
As an anthropology major, I have always been interested in symbols and their history. Quetzalcoatl is believed to bridge the space between this physical world and the spiritual world. As I continue down a path of self discovery it becomes more apparent to me that I can attain a quality of peace and joy in this life that can only be compared to heaven. To me, this is the path of the Feathered Serpent, anything can happen here, nothing is outside of the realm of possibilities. A serpent can grow feathers, a serpent can grow legs.
Quetzalcoatl – Dreaming of Legs began as a dream. I woke up one morning, went to my studio and grabbed the porcelain leg I had bought when I heard that our proposal for Tres Milagros had been accepted. I drew the Feathered Serpent on the leg and began nipping tile. I love it when a piece seems to finish itself, as if it is pushing its way into the world through my hands.
We suggest you see Tres Milagros at the Oak Cliff Cultural Center in Dallas, Texas before it closes on November 18th. We are certain that you’ll come away with stories of your own.
Enjoy – Nancie
PS Happy Halloween!