Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magdalena at International House

'Tis the season to be jolly, as Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees and Nativity scenes pop up all over town. Lately, Mary Magdalene--the "other Mary" not seen in the Nativity scene--is increasingly an object of fascination. Unlike Santa or reindeer, she appears in the Bible. As a libertine who repented, she became the most mysterious saint and, consequently, a favorite of renaissance religious painters like Domenico Tintoretto, who depicted her with flowing locks, crucifixes, skulls and satiny skin in sensational works  that reflected the speculation surrounding her story. Timed to coincide with the annual PhotoNOLA festival, this third annual Magdalena show at the International House asked photographic artists to "re-imagine Mary Magdalene: Who she was and Why she was." Curated by Aline Smithson, this year's selections are displayed in the lobby and augmented by works from previous years--for instance, Claire Mallett's Lover, Saint, Servant, Sinner, below--in the Magdalena Gallery on the second floor. All are intended to explore the mythology of  "extraordinary women and the divine feminine" over the ages--a sentiment amply illustrated in an adjacent chamber featuring works by guest artist Michelle Magdalena.

Although the these images might initially evoke notions of pop psychology or feminist spirituality, works like James Wigger's Hope, top--a view of a Mary Magdalene with a Sacred Heart glowing from her chest--suggest contemporary flashbacks to Tintoretto. Saintly mysticism is often associated with intimations of mortality, and in Jaime Johnson's Spine what initially looks like a  braided strand of hair on a woman's back under a turbid sky is revealed as a skeletal spine on close reflection. But in Anna Tomzcak's very Biblical looking, Hector's Mistress, above left, a visually similar object suggests a botanical scepter like an oversize laurel branch. Saints always struggled with the frailty of the flesh in relation to their expansive spirit, and in Nicole Campanello's The Fisherman's Daughter, left, body and spirit are reconciled in a mystical reunion with the sea -- but in Amanda Smith's October 08 (Trying to Fly) an evanescent woman seems to almost dematerialize into the ether. ~Bookhardt / Magdalena: Mixed-Media Art about Mary Magdalene, Through Jan. 4, International House Hotel, 221 Camp St. 553-9550.