"For the faithful, the Black Madonnas represent the basis of theological mystery from which all possibility emanates. For the clergy, they provide cover for some unexplained religious dogma. For me, they held all the intrigue of confronting a blank canvas.” — Mark Steven Greenfield
William Turner Gallery is pleased to present, Black Madonna, an exhibition of new and recent work by Mark Steven Greenfield. The exhibition explores aspects of the African American experience in American culture, often critiquing and offering unique perspectives on a society still grappling with the consequences of slavery and racial injustice. As Greenfield has stated, “My work incorporates irony, humor, tragedy, pathos, history, and a myriad of other tools, to challenge long-held notions of race in a different way."
The exhibition highlights a striking new series of 17 Black Madonna paintings, which re-imagine these unique religious icons, that began appearing in the 13th and 14th centuries in churches throughout Medieval Europe. The origin and purpose of the Black Madonnas in religious iconography are somewhat of a mystery and the subject of much scholarly debate, which inspired Greenfield to infuse them with his own contemporary meaning and perspective.
Greenfield's versions are rendered in the Byzantine style of their art historical predecessors, with the black Virgin Mother and Baby Jesus as the central focus within circular compositions, or tondos. These tondos float amongst abstract discs, set within fields of lustrous, gold leaf. The Madonnas predominate before a variety of backgrounds, which were traditionally innocuous. Greenfield, however, presents these backdrops as various revenge fantasies, where white supremacists are cast in the role of victims, suffering the fates they often inflicted.
The effect is striking, the meaning unexpected. For Greenfield, a dedicated meditator, the discs symbolize the mantras one repeats during meditation, and often appear in his work. The Black Madonnas, seated innocently before the violence playing out behind, are the thoughts which come unbidden during meditation between mantras - to be acknowledged, then released. The Madonnas play their traditional role, conveying notions of maternal love, seemingly oblivious to these various scenes of retribution, where the rope is decidedly on the other neck.