Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Icon Series: Frida Kahlo as ex voto

The Three-Handed Virgin (Frida y Jesus el Mono)"
Acrylic and gold leaf on board, 24 x 36”
by Alisa Proctor

Traditionally, the “Three Handed Virgin” icon is considered the first ex-voto in the Christian faith. Ex-votos are devotional paintings (or other objects) that are created to celebrate a miraculous event, or objects used as an offering of gratitude for the fulfillment of a vow. The Three Handed Virgin icon originated during the iconoclast period when an eighth-century saint had his hand cut off as a punishment. The saint prayed for healing and promised to continue his struggle for the cult of icons if his hand was healed. He was miraculously healed, and hung a silver hand on the icon of the Virgin. In time, the third hand began to be painted into icons as if appearing naturally from the folds of Mary’s gown.

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo has become an icon of sorts (especially in Mexico), known for her accentuated uni-brow and pet monkeys. In this painting I have portrayed her as the Virgin along with one of Frida’s ubiquitous monkeys (whom I have dubbed “Jesus” - Spanish pronunciation). Frida’s work often had a slightly macabre or surreal feel, and it seemed right to paint her with a miraculous third hand. It also seemed appropriate to depict Frida as an ex-voto icon because she painted a number of ex-voto style works (such as “My Birth”), in which she focused on the pain and tragedy that filled her life.

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