I’m not sure that Infintas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings currently on exhibit at the Wellcome Collection through 26 February would appeal to everyone. The exhibition failed to touch me emotionally, but it gave me a lot to think about. As for the exhibit of miracle paintings, Mexicans who believe that they have experienced a miracle, give thanks by painting or having the scene of their miracle painted as a way of giving thanks to the saint to whom they prayed. The primitive paintings are on cardboard, paper, wood and tin. A prayer of thanks is inscribed on the painting. A couple of photographs will tell the story better than I.
The text reads: “In the year 1896, Calixto Ayala, who was 6 years old could not stop his bolting horse. His brother, Miguel Ayala, invoked the help of the Holy Mary of Guadalupe, who granted him his miracle, and as a testimony he dedicates this retablo. (April 19, 1923).” Museo de la Bacilica de Guadalupe.
And one more. This text reads: “I hereby show my gratitude as promised and with all my heart I give thanks to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the miracle received by my husband, Juan Avila healing him of a wound after being run over by an electric tram in Mexico DF in the year 1910. Your devoted M. Socorro Vieyra.”
The retablos are interesting in a historical sense, but of greater interest to me were three years of contemporary “artifacts” lent by the people who live in the mining town of Mineral de Carta, Guanajuato. These mementos, amulets and petitions, in their natural setting would have been pinned to the church walls and notice board near the figure of Senor de Villaseca more commonly known as the “Cristo Negro” or the Black Christ. Wedding dresses, funeral wreaths, first communion dresses, baby shoes, bouquets and handwritten letters fight for space among drawings and amulets to include small brass legs, arms, hearts, eyes, and animals.
Such faith is touching. In fact, this “touching” is what it is all about. Montaigne writing in Essais, 1580, wrote: It seems that the soul… loses itself in itself when shaken and disturbed unless given something to hang on to; and so we must always provide it with an object to butt up against and to act on.”
We may not necessarily consider ourselves “believers,” but I would be curious to know how many people carry a rabbit’s foot, a holy card, or a smooth pebble as a worry stone.
In addition to the permanent and changing exhibits, The Wellcome always has thought-provoking free events linked to the current show. Many of the free events corresponding to the miracle paintings have come and gone, but two talks remain: “Leap of Faith,” What can science tell us about the unexplained? and “Pilgrimage” on Thursday Feb. 16 is a late-night (four-hour) journey into the land of miracles. We fly on the 16th – life is so unfair. I would love to attend. If you are in London, you might want to pencil that date on your calendar.
I love interactive art exhibits. In the case of Infinitas Gracias, gallery-goers are invited to sit at a computer and write their own note of thanks. Once you have written your note and ticked the box to indicate that the Wellcome curators have permission to use your piece, your note may be chosen to be turned by a contemporary artist into a contemporary votive. How cool is that! Go to the Wellcome across from Euston Station. Give it a go. Maybe your note will be chosen for illustration. To see thank you notes that have already been illustrated, go to www.wellcomecollection.org/contemporaryvotives.
- Do you have a lucky charm? Describe your charm – first, write objectively and then write about your charm more subjectively.
- Montaigne speaks of the soul. How would you define a soul? Follow your thoughts with a dictionary definition. Compare/contrast the two definitions.
- Reflect on the quote by Montaigne.
- Do you believe in miracles?