Linnaeus's ClamThursday, November 01, 2012
|Santa Conchita de Denpropetrovsk|
I was raised as a Roman Catholic by my mother and grandmother. My grandmother went to Mass several times a week and was from a generation that said her rosary twice a day. But she and neither was my mother, of the bible thumping variety. My grandmother who was a product of an education in Spain at the later part of the 19th century was anti-Semitic. She would point out people on the street in Buenos Aires who had the “map of Jerusalem” on their face. And she asserted that the Jews had killed Jesus Christ. I don’t think she really meant it but simply repeated what she might have learned in a nun’s school.
In the mid 50s I attended a Catholic boarding school in Austin, Texas. I had very good teachers who taught me math, science, civics, music, world history, American history and religion laced with a generous amount of theology and philosophy. My teachers, almost all Brothers of Holy Cross became very strong paternal surrogates for me and I remember them all with fondness and pride.
But in spite of the above, like my grandmother or my mother I am not a bible thumper.
I will not deny the killings involving religion, and in particular an almost forgotten and very religious 30 Years’ War (1618-1648). And most certainly I will not deny the existence nor defend all the proven allegations of priestly abuse, financial corruption within the Vatican, the selling of indulgences so damned by Martin Luther and many more etcs.
But I will also bring into this mix how religion, and in particular Roman Catholicism has given us cathedrals, light/knowledge in the Middle Ages, illustrated manuscripts that salvaged on paper ancient scholarship and the works of Aristotle and Plato. Roman Catholicism, and its offshoots into Lutheranism and Protestantism, have given us religious music and inspiration for such works as Haydn’s Mass and so many of Bach’s choral works.
Many would argue that such works, including much of the art of the Renaissance, would still not condone all the abuse and death. They would be right. But we should live that reality.
As it happens with so much of that behind us and with so much awareness of all those religious wars few politicians in the present are willing to say publicly, “The Middle East is a conflagration between the differences of the Sunni and the Shiite Muslims.” They are no different from the Catholics and the Protestants of the 30 Years’ War.
On the slightly lighter side I must write here that Catholic symbols from the doctrine that I was taught so well, have served me well in inspiration for my photography. Many of my poses are based on images in my mind from Russian religious icons. My inspiration has been based on the Maddonas of da Vinci or the saints of El Greco.
The original reason for stained glass windows and statues of saints in Gothic cathedrals was to bring images to people who could not read or who had no access to illuminated books chained to the wall. It is not coincidental that the revolution of printing and of books started with the Gutenberg’s bible. How many Last Suppers or Adam and Eve in paradise or about to be cast out have been painted?
Sometime in the 80s my friend, Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sánchez, while sipping a café con leche in a sidewalk café in Buenos Aires was asked to name his favourite saint.
The idea of asking such a question is a Spanish tradition called the tertulia. Originally it only involved men. Post Franco women have taken part. In a tertulia men got together at a bar or café to drink and discuss politics, religion, football or who was the first man to circumnavigate the globe. Tertulias held heated discussion on the later citing that it could not have been Ferdinand Magellan as he was speared to death by local in the Philippine island of Mactán. It was his second, Juan Sebastián Elcano (very Basque) who finished the voyage.
Sanchez’s answer was Santa Conchita. What follows is a bit irreverent and off colour so be forewarned.
Any woman called María in any country where Spanish is the national language is never just a plain María. She can be María del Perpetuo Socorro (call me Soco or help for short!), María del Pilar (call me Pilar), María de Guadalupe (call me Guadalupe or Lupe) and finally the problems one María de la Santísima Concepción. This latter María is affectionately called Conchita the diminutive of Concepción.
Conchita is universal in all Spanish speaking countries except in my and Juan Manuel Sánchez’s Argentina.
And the culprit for not being able to use the word Conchita is the Swedish father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus. The image shown here will illustrate why in English a clam is sometimes a term for what women have that men don’t.
So when Juan Manuel Sánchez says his favourite saint is Santa Conchita it is a bit of an irreverent joke on his part.
For a few years both Juan and I painted (he) and photographed (me) women in settings suggesting ethnic Maddonas or Santa Conchitas. There was a Chilean, a Peruvian, an Argentine, a Coptic Egyptian and a Vietnamese. I cannot show any of those here as they all involve extreme nudity. The Vietnamese one is one of my faves as she is called Santa Conchita de la Cochinchina.
Cochin China was the old French and Spanish name for Vietnam. In Argentina, even to this day, the place in the world that is the furthest and if you want to wish someone to hell you would say, “Vete a la Cochinchina.” Even though the word Cochinchina is not at all obscene in any way it sounds obscene. In Argentine Spanish Santa Conchita de la Cochinchina sounds awful.
It is in this spirit of my playful irreverence to my Catholic background that I post in this blog my latest Santa Conchita. It is a Santa Conchita for which I took a version that I can show here without any fear of death threats from the Vatican or Burnaby BC Bible thumpers.
As a young boy I looked at the map of the world that was much vaster then than it seems now. One of those spots that I looked at with sheer wonder for being far away was the town of Dnepropetrovsk then in Russia but now in Ukraine.
A couple of weeks ago I photographed a young woman from Russia. Here she is as Santa Conchita de Dnepropetrovsk.