An Imperfect Grace


EACH YEAR DURING THE HOLIDAYS we look back to the Catholic traditions with which we grew up. Through the iconography of the church, we try to identify some universal truth or cultural relevance that goes beyond our personal experience and instruction and create an installation to celebrate the season. This year Curious Matter presents an icon of the Madonna and Child. Upon discovery at a flea market booth, the icon instantly appealed to us — a handmade devotion, cobbled together from bits and pieces. The wood, brass, glass and printed elements are aged, weathered, worm-holed and patinated to a nearly indecipherable darkness. While the icon is a modest ruin, it has dignity. The thoughtfulness and precision of intention is apparent in its bejeweled and gilded remnants. The seller informed us that it hadn’t left the care of its creator for over 30 years, but who that might have been remains a mystery. Homemade devotions captivate us. If your very salvation is at the heart of your work, it’s not a leap to imagine the maker has put all they have into its execution; their ownpetite voie. For us, that can make a work transcendent. Every detail is significant and wrought with care.
The gestures, colors and compositions of icons are codified and have specific meanings. Most commonly this type of icon depicts the child Jesus seated on Mary’s left as she gestures to him with her right hand. This is her ‘”speaking” hand and she is communicating that he is the salvation or “the way”. The gestures of our icon are unusual. Mary’s lowered hand, held out with her palm up, communicates that she is open to God’s will and accepting of His grace. Her face belies the sorrow of her knowledge of the future — the tragic fate of her son on her lap. The hand of the child is missing, but judging by the position of the arm it was held up in blessing in the traditional pose of the Prince of Heaven and the Savior of Mankind. Most icons are based on originals that were said to have divine creation stories and purported to possess miraculous properties. These icons are venerated as holy relics.
In the Catholic tradition, we turn to Mary for comfort and guidance. She is the compassionate Mother. At this time of year, the qualities of Mary become increasingly apparent in all of us regardless of faith. In venerating the Virgin and Child, or with the lights we hang outside our homes, we declare aliveness and hope in the face of fallow winter. We declare it to ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors — good will among all. Whether or not the icon of Mary speaks to you, there is grace in attempting to manifest a symbol of nurturing, forgiveness and acceptance. The Virgin endures for many as the symbol of perfect grace. For us, we celebrate the flawed, the imperfect, and the ruined evidence of our glorious attempts to manifest a vision of perfection in the face of our limitations.

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