Saturday, February 8, 2014

La Virgen de Regla: A Dreamtime Vision

La Virgen de Regla, by Marissa Arterberry, 2014 mixed media on wood, 12" x 24" 
     This piece was borne out of a very violent dream I had a couple months ago. I was running through a town square, and there were bombs being detonated, people shooting, bodies covered in ash and frozen in terror. I was seeking safety and shelter from what was unfolding. I stumbled upon two large stone churches right next to each other. The first was a church devoted to La Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity) the Catholic saint syncretized with Ochun in Cuban Santeria. Outside the church was A small golden plaque proclaiming devotion to Ochun and talking about Ochun's connection to the beauty of sexuality. After reading these words, and pausing to breathe for a minute, I knew someone was coming to blow up this beautiful church because of that writing on the wall. The secret was out, and someone wanted that knowledge, the connection between La Caridad and Ochun, kept hidden. I had to keep moving.
    I ran to the church next door. In front of this church, I found a small pond with light shining from the bottom of it. The pond was surrounded by palm leaves and watermelons that were cut in half so that they resembled drums. It was then I knew that this church was devoted to La Virgen de Regla, the Catholic saint syncretized with Yemaya in Santeria. The water calmed me, and for a brief moment I felt safe. Then, I was filled with terror as I realized this church was next to be destroyed. I ran from the church, and just before I woke up from my dream, the image that I painted-- La Virgen surrounded by leaves of palm and watermelon-- flashed briefly before my eyes.
     At first I was surprised by the nature of this dream. La Virgen de Regla coming to me in a dream? I have always had a deep-in-my-bones discomfort with Catholic symbols. I never really knew why, but as I thought about the dream, it began to make sense. Within that dream, I experienced the terror my ancestors experienced, and what they had to overcome in order to preserve their African spiritual traditions after they were brought to the Americas and enslaved. The persecution of practitioners of Santeria, Candomble, Vodoun, etc. has been well documented. It is why our ancestors hid their devotion to African deities behind Catholic saints in the first place. It was an act of resistance, an act of preservation.
  "There is an amusing story about a priest in Cuba whose Church enjoyed sudden popularity when a statue of La Regla was installed. It is said that the priest initially attributed the sudden influx of practitioners to his preaching. Imagine his shock when he discovered that Yoruba religious practitioners had placed Afrikan textiles associated with Yemaya under the the Madonna's Catholic robes. The congregation had come to venerate Yemaya!" -Baba Raul Canizares, from Yemaya: Santeria and the Queen of the Seven Seas

   The morning after having this dream, I was ready to paint La Virgen. I began researching images of Her on the internet, and was happy to discover She had visited Mexican artist Jorge Elias surrounded by watermelons as well!
Virgen de Regla by Jorge Elias
  Many of the paintings and statues I came across depicted La Virgen as a dark skinned Black woman holding a White or light skinned child. I decided to go for the reverse, and show La Virgen as light skinned, holding a dark skinned child. This is my way of saying, even though in the past we were subjected to slavery, rape, and the effects of colonization, going forward we embrace our African heritage and the beauty of blackness for generations to come.
Closeup view of a statue of La Virgen de Regla