What do you get when you mix one of the most important symbols of the Catholic faith with elements of pop culture? Quite a bit of controversy.
The refurbished Virgin Mary statues created by French artist Soasig Chamaillard have been criticized for portraying the Virgin Mary in a sacrilegious way. As a Catholic who has sat through 12 “Living Rosary” celebrations while earning my “good, Catholic education,” I can attest to the fact that Mary is a pretty important woman to Catholics.
A blog called “World ReligionNews” has a good explanation of just how important she is.
Catholics have a strong affinity toward Mary as the mother of God and view her as an ultimate compassionate human being, giving her full self to birth Jesus Christ via the Immaculate Conception. Mary in a sense is viewed as mother to all.”
I understand and appreciate the beliefs of my religion, but my first thought was not how offensive these statues are. It was how funny and creative they are. I think the artist’s mixing of religious symbolism and pop culture is creative and original. I was interested to learn that her idea for the art came from wanting to give a damaged figurine from her father a more modern take.
An article from the Huffington Post describes Chamaillard’s modern Mary statues as “blending iconography from the realms of religious tradition and contemporary kitsch into results that can hardly be described without using the words ‘cute’ and ‘adorable’ at least twice.” I completely agree with that. The statues are just plain fun. When I first saw these statues I did have a feeling that many of my fellow Catholics probably did not feel the same—and I was right.
A post from a French-language religious blog urging readers to protest an exhibition of Chamaillard’s works in Nantes, France received quite a few comments.
There were ones that were critical of the artistry:
And there were a few that expressed offense regarding the statues. This comment was particularly extreme, especially the final paragraph:
Although I don’t feel this way, I can understand why a lot of Catholics are offended by the statues. Mary is a big deal to us, and these statues could very easily be interpreted as poking fun at her. However, I think it’s important to look at the artist’s intent and hear what she has to say before we draw conclusions and hope that she “burn in hell.”
Chamaillard does have a response to the controversy surrounding her art, and she says she was surprised by the amount of offended Catholics. An article from Art Info France quotes Chamaillard as saying, “ I suspected that this could shock the sensibilities of certain people, but I didn’t think there would be so many of them,” she says. “As an artist, you don’t necessarily see the clash between your internal world and the external world.”
She goes on to criticize her critics by saying, “Faith is not in statues, and perhaps they should remember that … Faith should be strong enough to remain unshaken by simple objects. I think they need to step back from the object and not forget that it’s an artistic work.”
Not only did Chamaillard not intend to offend Catholics, but she doesn’t interpret her work as religious in any way; she sees her statues as purely artistic.
Unfortunately, I don’t think Chamaillard’s art will ever be accepted by her critics, but as the World Religion News says, “like most things described as ‘scandalous,’ ‘shameful,’ or ‘blasphemous’ it will all blow over and the next outrageous religious crisis will appear. But while they Catholics are still upset, Chamaillard will always have her Virgin Mary Power Rangers to defend her.”