artNotes from Hyde House: Our lady of chains

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“Our Lady of Chains” is enjoying a renaissance of recognition. Over two days they kept coming—requests for prints made from my painting of the Black Madonna, “Our Lady of Chains”.

The requests came from within the states and far beyond—from New Mexico and Canada and San Diego and Australia, too. They arrived via my personal art-centric website, www. alicelynn.com, where I market my original art and derivatives—prints and cards of multiple images.

The upsurge of interest in my work was a pleasant surprise! Ever since I took on directing and curating artCentral, my focus has shifted from producing and promoting my own creative efforts to promoting other artists and their art. As the traffic on my website has slowed considerably over the past several years, this influx of orders, though greatly appreciated, was perplexing

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“Why all these requests coming now and all at once?” I asked my husband David. “I wonder what has generated the renewed regard for this particular image.”

Finally the answer came to me by way of Susan Adams, Interim Executive Director of Spiva Center for the Arts in Joplin. She posted on Spiva’s Facebook page a kind recognition of my Black Madonna that she apparently came across as a Facebook post made by author Sue Monk Kidd. Sue, who has a worldwide Facebook following of 25K, had posted the image of “Our Lady of Chains” along with five other images of the Black Madonna. Several of Sue’s followers tracked my Black Madonna to my website and then placed their orders for prints.

Sue Monk Kidd wrote on her post: “I became deeply interested in the history and meaning of the Black Madonna many years ago.

Most scholars believe her blackness derived from her connection to dark-skinned, pre-Christian Goddesses once worshipped in Europe—Goddesses with African, Eastern and Mediterranean roots. When Christianity emerged and began to spread, the images and replicas of these Goddess were not always destroyed, but were simply renamed Mary.

I find this blending of the ancient Goddesses with the Christian Mary fascinating. In effect, the Black Madonna inherited the symbolism, functions, and roles of both the Goddess and Mary. She retained the fearlessness and power of the Goddess and the empathy and mercy of Mary.

In my novel, “The Secret Life of Bees”, the Black Madonna has a rather prominent part. I think of her as the queen bee in the hive. The raised fist and painted red heart on her statue represent her untamed power, strength, and autonomy, as well as her compassion for those who are silenced, excluded, abused and marginalized.

In the novel, she is called Our Lady of Chains, not because she wears chains, but because she breaks them. Her role in the story is not only to comfort and sustain the female characters, but to inspire them to find the Black Madonna’s attributes within themselves. She is a kind of Civil Rights Mary who empowers the women to act.

Today, the Black Madonna still carries these meanings for me.”

As noted on Amazon: “Sue Monk Kidd’s debut novel, “The Secret Life of Bees”, spent more than one hundred weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has sold more than six million copies in the United States, was turned into both an award-winning major motion picture and a musical, and has been translated into thirty-six languages.

Her second novel, “The Mermaid Chair”, was a number one New York Times bestseller and was adapted into a television movie. Her third novel, “The Invention of Wings”, an Oprah’s Book Club pick, was also a number one New York Times bestseller.

Her latest novel, “The Book of Longings”, was published April 21, 2020.

She is the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter”, her groundbreaking work on religion and feminism. She lives in North Carolina” where a Black Madonna keeps watch over her writing desk.

For Sue’s shout out for my work and for the fans who have tracked me down I am most grateful!

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