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“Visions of Mary” reimagines and reimagines the Mother of God – The Cavalier Daily

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When viewers ventured to the back of Second Street Gallery in downtown Charlottesville, they found a small, dimly lit room to the left. The room was filled with eyes, all belonging to a familiar face – the Virgin Mary.

This room, the Dové Gallery, was home to an exhibition entitled “Visions of Mary” and was held December 2 through Sunday. Created by Charlottesville artist and musician Ramona Martinezthe exhibition was a collection of iconography that seeks to serve as “an invitation to every visitor, regardless of faith, to sit with the love of the Virgin Mary.”

The gallery contained 12 pieces, all of which depicted Mary or a related figure. Prints have been made of most of the pieces linocut – a technique in which a sheet of linoleum is cut, ink is applied to the surface and printed on paper or fabric.

Martinez explained that the medium is relevant to the exhibition’s message because it represents accessibility to religion.

“Printmaking, unlike painting, is really accessible for people to own,” Martinez said. “Icons have traditionally been something that only wealthy people were able to command or existed only in the church. And so the idea that you can have easily reproducible, but still beautiful and meaningful icons that people can obtain is important to me.”

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a large altar along the left wall, below a piece titled “Our Lady of Guadalupe.” The artwork shows Mary, eyes downcast, surrounded by the questions “Am I not here? Me, who are your mother?”

The altar was decorated with paper roses, prayer candles and pictures of various saints. In front of the altar was a pew for the public to sit, mimicking the appearance of a real church.

Most of the other pieces depicted the mother of Jesus in various situations. A print, “Miraculous Medal”, shows the Virgin Mary surrounded by constellations. Another, “Nativity”, sees the Virgin Mary looking over Jesus in the manger after his birth.

Not surprisingly, Martinez’s religious background was the main source of inspiration for the exhibition. While the artist was raised Episcopalian, she stopped going to church in her late childhood. However, her relationship with religion was rekindled after seeing the work of religious leaders in the 2017 counter-protests Unite the Right Rally in charlotteville. At the rally, hundreds of white supremacists protested the removal of the Lee statue in Charlottesville, leading to violence that eventually culminated at the death of Charlottesville citizen Heather Heyer on August 12, 2017.

“I had seen priests marching through the streets and using their bodies to protect protesters,” Martinez said. “I think it really made me see Christianity in a different way, in a way that was really a means of trying to rebuild the kingdom of God on Earth from their lens — by which we mean bring justice and fairness.”

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This relationship between religion and activism was evident in ‘Visions of Mary’. A piece titled “Our Lady of Anti-Fascism”—the only painting in the collection—depicted Mary as a protective figure of anti-fascist advocates.

“Ultimately, I think anti-fascism is based on love and this vision, you know, of a society without authoritarianism,” Martinez said. “I felt that the people who were and are doing that work deserve a vision of Mary that is for them and for everyone.”

The Paint is full of references to anti-fascism and related political movements. The halo around Mary’s head is a symbol of the Iron Front, an anti-Nazi organization that operated in 1930s Germany. Several other features of the piece—the black-and-red color scheme, her black face covering, and the roses placed at her feet—have anti-fascist associations as well.

Perhaps the most important feature of the play is Mary’s position. She stands with her arms open and welcomes all who seek refuge – emphasizing Martinez’s vision of Mary as a protector.

The artist reflected on the universality of the exhibition and its ability to provide comfort to the audience.

“I think what I’m really proud of is that the exhibition was an open container, like a vessel – as Mary is – for people to fill with what they needed. And so people could come and find some peace or a connection or meaning, whatever that looks like to them,” Martinez said.

Now that the exhibit has closed, Martinez plans to turn her prints into a deck of oracle cards. She also fronts Honky Tonk band Ramona & the Holy Smokes, which can be found playing locations around Charlottesville.

Ramona’s work can be found on her Instagram @by_ramona_martinezand on its website www.ramonamartinez.net.