A couple of years ago the Cleveland Museum of Art commissioned new artwork from the African American artist Kara Walker. She created original works that the curator told us were very different from her earlier works. She called the exhibit, The Ecstasy of St. Kara, a reference to Bernini’s classic statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. (She was living in Rome at the time.) This is one of the drawings in the collection.
I don’t like a lot of modern art. My common line to my friend when I see modern art that is ridiculous is to tell my friend, “He thinks he’s better than us.”
When I first saw this drawing, I did not like it. The title was also baffling. Then, one of the members of the group pointed out that she could see faces in the cloth.
When I saw that, suddenly it all came together. Kara Walker was referencing the veil of Veronica. In the Middle Ages, a church in Rome had an icon of the face of Christ during his passion. (Passion traditionally meant intense suffering). Tradition states that a woman gave Christ a cloth to wipe his face, and the cloth was impressed with an image of his face.
The woman is traditionally known as Veronica, though that is actually a play on the words “true icon.” This story is commemorated in the traditional Stations of the Cross.
When I thought about that, I realized that I could interpret the drawing. To me, I think it is calling us to see the face of Christ in those we encounter online, and to remember that our thoughts and actions online can hurt.
Is that the “actual” interpretation of the painting? Don’t know. And don’t care. If the author is dead, then the painter or artist must be dead as well. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I do like paintings that are little bit like riddles.