Picture Today

August 26, 2018

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Today is the birthday of Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu… or, as she became known and loved throughout the world, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

She was born in 1910 in Macedonia. In the late 1940’s she moved to the slums of Calcutta, India to work among the poor and the sick. You know the important parts of her life and story so I’ll focus here on her image which has become as important as her biograpghy in making her into an icon (used here not so much in its religious meaning, as in its more crass meaning: brand).

Googling Mother Teresa generates a surprising amount of created images, drawn, painted, realistic, symbolic, abstracted, accomplished and otherwise. Artists are drawn again and again to Teresa’s quiet spirituality and to her wrinkles and creases. Not surprisingly, most of the representations fall into rote expectation and cliche. How to portray other-worldly devotion after all? How to improve on the many great photos of that weathered and saintly face?

Here are three that stand out. I include them to illustrate how the artist can approach tired subjects, images we have seen so often we no longer see them at all, and make us take another look.

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Darlene Smit, Mother Teresa. Smit is an Artist from Cape Town South Africa who uses tiles to effectively capture the well known and well worn face. Her materials reference religious art and devotion but avoid its trap of trite spiritual sentimentality.
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Mother Teresa Real Superhero. Javanese artist Anton Palo uses acrylic ink and pencil to create a fresh image of Teresa and child. The free handling of materials, the bright colors, banal hearts and childlikelettering all convey the joy of Teresa’s service.
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Though based on a common photo image of Teresa, this duct tape painting by Michelle Kivisto (Zenfinite8) makes us see her anew. This work transcends the original image and the novelty of the tape medium. Coming from almost the exact opposite direction from Smit’s traditional mosaic medium, the duct taped portrait and minimal color separation makes an arresting image that recalls screen printing, another medium not usually associated with religious art.
These three artists help us to remember and celebrate Teresa on the anniversary of her birth, and remind us of the joy of looking.

 

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