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I recently contributed a poem to a zine called Ethel. When the editor shared the cover art for the issue, it shocked the group of women in which it was shared–Christians, agnostics, churched and unchurched.

The cover features a collage by artist Sara Lefsyk, in which an image of Mary as the Virgin of Guadalupe is overlayed by the instructional diagram from a box of tampons.

Menstruating women see that same diagram every time they open a box of tampons. I remember studying that image for hours even before I started my period, finding it kind of mysterious and maybe even titillating.

My body was already a mystery to me.

This hadn’t changed much even by the time I had a baby at 29 years old. When the nurse asked if I wanted to watch my daughter crown, I recoiled. I couldn’t bear to look.

What might it have meant to me to have grown up with images of Mary that showed her to have a body like mine, facing the same kinds of challenges and changes? How might it have altered my experience or perception of menstruation, childbirth, to connect the workings of my own body to the workings of a woman’s body deemed sacred and holy?

Dr. Katie Kresser, Seattle Pacific University’s resident art historian, believes that great art teaches us that kind of empathy, unveils human nature, and forces us to think outside the box.

“The great artists are the ones who have forced a paradigm shift, literally reshaping the outlines of human perception.” 
– Katie Kresser

Her essay, “Christ the Chimera: The Riddle of the Monster Jesus,” appeared in Image 99. In it, she revisits two controversial renderings of Christ from the late 1990s (see show notes below), explaining why they might have more to offer people of faith than our initial reactions assumed.

Katie and I talked about many controversial images of Christ throughout art history, and I asked her, how can artists help people of faith to resist a deadening of their religious vision? How do artists destroy our schemas and disrupt the calcification of faith?

The Alexamenos Graffito in Jessica’s issue of Image 99

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