This is my body: re-imagining the mother and the sacred in art and ordinary life
AffiliationCentre for Ideas
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr Rebekah Pryor
This art practice-led project re-examines traditional images of the maternal body in Christian visual culture in order to generate new motifs that more ethically imagine the mother and the sacred for our time. Traditionally, the maternal body is represented as the Virgin Mary: a static, silent, vessel-like figure made divine through relation to her son. In this economical rendering, mother and woman are conflated, and bear little resemblance to real and ordinary maternal experience. Furthermore, given the dominant patriarchal culture of Christianity from which it arises, such a singular symbolic also prohibits the development of a feminine imaginary in divine terms. My research seeks to address this lack through engagement with the thinking of Luce Irigaray whose philosophy proposes an approach to human becoming that recognises and preserves sexuate difference. Remembering our origins in the mother – more precisely, the woman in the mother – broadens understanding of the Incarnation of God and its implications for our own being in terms of our difference and relation-with an other in ordinary life. New artworks and interdisciplinary connections proceed from my engagement with Irigaray and others, including philosophers Marie-José Mondzain, Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes, mystic Julian of Norwich, and theologians Rowan Williams, Catherine Keller, Elizabeth A. Johnson and Heather Walton. In the studio, my practice draws on existing iconographic and architectural patterns from Christianity and my Anglican tradition, and four distinct new motifs for representing the maternal body emerge: Performing the Icon, Lament, Sacred Canopy and Lullaby. She moves, speaks, weeps, protests, makes space and sings in loving, knowing, thinking relation-with her child and her self. In each case, the woman in the mother is revealed and comprehended in terms of her multiple, relational, generative and enduring capacity. (Notably, she is never fully known, since she is irreducible and transcendent in her difference, as Irigaray proposes.) These motifs suggest that a religious symbolic will only contribute to our human becoming when it is invigorated by a feminine imaginary, characterised by a proliferation of images that variously identify the mother and the divine in ordinary contexts.
Keywordsinstallation art; performance art; visual art; practice-led research; maternal; body; mother; divine; Luce Irigaray; Marie-José Mondzain; Julia Kristeva; Roland Barthes; Julian of Norwich; Rowan Williams; Catherine Keller; Elizabeth A. Johnson; Heather Walton; Christianity; iconography; medieval mysticism; the Virgin Mary; feminist philosophy; feminist theology; constructive theology; religious aesthetic; symbolic; religion; architecture; sacred; domestic; difference; sexuate difference; irreducible; transcendent; interval.
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