By Lauren Cooper, Georgia State University
Across the world, the image of the Virgin Mary is an iconic one, easily recognizable regardless of one’s religious affiliation. It goes without saying that many Christians view the likeness of Virgin Mary as sacred, and yet it is not unreasonable to suggest that this reverence for the virgin mother’s image extends beyond Christianity. It is an image universally held in high esteem because of its association with the sacred, regardless of whether or not there are beliefs attached to this association. Although this is not always the case, it is safe to say that there is a certain taboo around disrespecting the image of the Virgin Mary. But how does one define disrespect? That is the question French artist Soasig Chamaillard presents through her artistic re-imaginings of the Virgin Mary.
Soasig Chamaillard collects old statues of the Virgin Mary which she then restores and repaints while incorporating imagery associated with well-known pop culture icons. There is an ongoing conversation among critics about whether or not the images Chamaillard creates are sacrilegious. Chamaillard challenges the idea of what is sacred in our culture with her sculptures. She creates new images that are just as recognizable as a traditional likeness of the Virgin Mary, but these images make people uncomfortable when associated with the sacred.
Because we often work within strict guidelines when defining “what” is religious.
Pop culture images, such as the Power Rangers, Barbie, and My Little Pony are as widely identifiable as the Virgin Mary, and yet people are hesitant to call these images religious. Maybe we should think about how we understand some of our most beloved pop culture icons. For example, a few years back, vampires were the thing. Everywhere you turned you were confronted with a new book, television show, or movie about vampires. People both love them and fear them, turning this fascination into reverence. It is not unreasonable to regard this as a form of worship, though many fail to recognize it as such. This sacralizing of pop culture elements is not uncommon. We often make objects of worship out of elements of entertainment, such as celebrities or fictional characters. Chamaillard is tapping into this phenomenon with her work. Appropriately enough, she has a piece called “Sang Pitié” or “Bloody Mercy,” which is, you guessed it, the Virgin Mary depicted as a vampire.
It is arguable that through constant re-imagining of what is sacred, what we consider “religious” is also in constant flux. The realm of religion is expanding. So, are Chamaillard’s sculptures a new way of discussing the Virgin Mary’s religious role? Or is this art a blatant slap in the face to Christians everywhere? One could say that it is up for interpretation.
Lauren Cooper is a contributing editor at Religion Nerd as well as a senior at Georgia State University working toward B.A.s in English and Religious Studies. She plans to attend graduate school in the Fall of 2014 for Religious Studies, where she will focus on new religious movements in America. Her primary area of interest is religious movements that arise from elements of popular culture. On the side, Lauren writes short stories. Her first short story “Zealotry” was published in the Underground Literary Journal at GSU in Spring 2013.