Arts Desk

In “Divine Revelations,” Carolina Mayorga Toys With Catholics’ Obsession With Virginity

In her latest installation, “Divine Revelations: Passages From the Life of Our Lady,” D.C.-based artist Carolina Mayorga reinvents herself as a Virgin Mary-derived character—while abandoning the reverence that usually accompanies such a portrayal.

In her mixed-media show at Vivid Solutions' temporary location, Mayorga is pictured as a virginal mother figure, sometimes with a rubber baby cradled in her arms. She says she found inspiration on a trip to Italy, where she saw Raphael’s famous portrait La donna velata. She later decided to reconstruct the figure in her own image—but with a couple of subversions. In Mayorga's version, Madonna is a Latina woman, and she's wearing nail polish.

Mayorga says she hopes to dismantle the troubling virgin/whore dichotomy perpetuated in part by religious iconography. “I am questioning the role of women and how we are still perceived with all these stereotypes, characteristics that we should have, like being pure, being a mother,” she says.

Though, while "Divine Revelations" critiques Catholicism's obsession with the virgin mother, Mayorga says she's deeply interested in the tradition. “I still have this fascination for the characters, for the Biblical, more historical part of it,” she says, pointing to her own upbringing in a religious Colombian society. “Catholicism is more part of the culture instead of just being a religion. You don’t actually choose to live Catholic—you’re just born Catholic and you’re raised Catholic because that’s what we do.”

Mayorga has dealt with Latina identity in her work before. For the Corcoran's "Take it to the Bridge" series this summer, Mayorga outfitted herself in a traditional Colombian dress and flitted about the gallery's glass performance bridge, tidying up with a broom and a squeegee. Staged over Labor Day weekend, it was a provocative comment on so-called immigrant work in the United States.

Similar to her “Divine Revelations” installation, Mayorga utilized her own appearance to create a character—an artistic practice she says she has been developing for several years now. “I create all these characters based on myself, based on my background,” she says. “It’s bringing what I can to these characters.” But while her experiences as a female Latin immigrant (she is a naturalized U.S. citizen) have offered bountiful artistic windows, she says she feels less connected to South America now that she is living in the States.

“I’ve been in this country for maybe half of my life already, so I definitely don’t feel that I am from Colombia anymore,” she says. “But I’m not from here either, so it’s like this mix of two cultures—what I grew up with and my experience here.”

"Divine Revelations: Passages from the Life of Our Lady" is on view at Vivid Solutions' temporary satellite gallery at 1922 Martin Luther King Ave. SE to Dec. 21. Free. Mayorga participates in an artist talk at the space on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m.

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