Mirror Madonna

Mirror Madonna (2011) 11×22″. Photo emulsion, pigment, and silver leaf on wax.

On my first trip to Turkey (1990), I collected various ephemera (newspaper clippings, phone cards, ticket stubs, coupons, receipts) during the course of travel.

Part of this impulse was fueled by the need to learn Turkish:  I figured that those little snippets of everyday life contained critical little snippets of everyday vocabulary! Another factor was the laden beauty of the things. At the time, phone cards were adorned with images of miniature paintings, Ottoman calligraphy, and other magnificent artifacts of Turkish history. I still have a fat envelope of favorites.

The photograph for the Mirror Madonna came from the newspaper Cumhuriyet. It was a bit mind-bending to look at a Turkish newspaper because every issue was full of examples epitomizing the hypocritical mainstream Turkish representation of women. A busty peroxide blond in German lederhosen (sort of, but less) invites you to visit the newest luxury condominium, or a blond Bunny in harem pants waits for your call on your new cell phone.

But Turkish women themselves–the majority of whom are neither blond nor comfortable being naked in public– were almost always victimized in some way. The mother of an imprisoned son. The daughters whose father ran away with a Danish tourist. Women kicked out of the Academy of Sciences for wearing a veil. Granted, I could only “read” the newspaper in an extremely limited way, but I understood those images of  Turkish women carried a double burden: victimized and exalted.

This particular image came from an article about a mining explosion in which several miners were killed. It is a portrait of a miner’s wife–now widowed–with her baby boy. Her expression–her longing and resignation–is timeless.

I am a librarian and artist living in Eugene, Oregon — where it is often damp and always green.