The ever-great Wellcome Collection has just opened its doors to its newest exhibitions on the cynicism busting theme of the “magic of faith, hope and chance.” Be you religious or be you not, anyone who does not fall for the incredibly human, gracious stories of drama and deliverance in Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings, is obviously undead. Equally moving are the curious and potently personal amulets in the Felicity Powell curated Charmed Life: The solace of objects – the hopers “please” to the votives’ “thank you.”
In 1885, an unfortunate woman went mad. Her husband entrusted himself to the Holy Mary of Solitude of Santa Cruz of Mexico and she was instantly cured. He dedicates a painted votive in gratitude. A victim of ten gangsters also finds reason for thanks and commissions the talents of a local artist to immortalise his moment of reprieve. In these and countless other fascinating renditions of deliverance from disaster or death, the artist carefully paints to order the whole scene from beginning to simultaneous end in graphic detail. Which ever saint that has been implored to help is usually to be found floating omnipotently in the top corners – like a divine light-fitting or an uncanny super hero – they illuminate the scene and give focus to the prayers there after. Most of these ex votos have been lent by the churches of these people and their descendants, and are incredibly moving. Much better then any soap opera. One shows a man who denies that the child his young wife is carrying is his, divine help is called for, given, and the man embraces the child at birth – thanks Mary! Take that Eastenders.
In Charmed Life: The solace of objects, the artist Felicity Powell presents a series of cabinets full of vague taxonomies of “unsung and unseen” charms, collected by Edwardian amateur folklorist, Edward Lovett. “Hope and anxiety is nebulous” Powell said, “and probably doesn’t have a form” – these charms become tangible, external objects of those emotions that the carrier would keep incredibly close, and are therefore powerfully intimate. A rabbit tongue against poverty, peony seeds for incapacity, soldiers mascots, mothers talismans – unlike the Mexican miracle paintings, these are mostly secular and wildly superstitious. Wonderful stuff. The exhibitions will run until February 26, 2011.
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