Pieta- pain and acceptance
Today my work on this painting caused me pain. I’m at home looking for images of crack pipes and needles and spoons and similar drug items to have on the ground in this painting. It will not be littered with them, but they will be there. The visual research is painful. Mothers addicted to crack neglecting children. Children imitating their crack-addicted mothers by pretending to smoke crack with plastic tubes. People glorying in their ride, somehow not quite aware of the rabbit-hole they are swiftly falling down. It made me feel psychically ill.
One of the slippery slopes to homelessness is undeniably drug and alcohol addiction, so it has to be there in the painting. There are so many ways to end up fallen through the cracks into this state of utter societal rejection- rejection as a human being. Fleeing sexual abuse is the start for many, as is mental illness, costly debilitating disease and simply old age without money and family who will care for you. They are people without a net. That’s why I wanted this Mother there. Where is that person’s mother? Is there someone who could love unconditionally and simply embrace them? When did that person stop being someone’s baby and become human trash?
The person in the painting is not necessarily a drug addict, but that possibility and association has to be part of the piece. What they are is abandoned, and here they are taken up again. Yes. the religious imagery is loaded, but it’s not just Catholic. The Mother is a very, very old goddess found across the world. Something I never forgot from my Early Church History course in college was that Mary was very nearly canonized as part of the Trinity, but the “Holy Ghost” prevailed in her place. Even though she was not given that official status by the Church, if you go into a church you will notice that Mary’s altars often have more candles than Christ’s. Her role in prayer for Catholics is someone more forgiving to appeal to- Mother will forgive you or pity you even if God has bigger plans. Go ask Her to talk to Him for you. It’s interesting. For the record, I’m not Christian, let alone Catholic, but my academic undergrad was in History of Religions.
The important aspect for me of the classical Pieta image is the iconic image of a greater-than-life Mother symbol, and the sense of a possibility of a second life, a rebirth through some state of grace. It needn’t be religious Grace. It can be compassion. Such an archetypal Mother can be a symbol for that state of empathetic unconditional acceptance that one potentially can find in oneself for another human being. It is recognising another person as a precious human being despite the state they may be in. A person’s real mother might contain more baggage, real people being human and fallible, while symbols can be pure.
I work with iconic images because of their power to unpack into so many ideas of such depth. The pieta is a pervasive, loaded icon with a lot to offer. It need not belong only to the religious world. Like many images and stories within religions around the world throughout history it has the potential to speak to greater human experience.