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What Does the Dark Magdalene Mean for Me?

Mary Magdalene paintings by Tanya Torres

"Sending light, lots of love, and a warm hug. The Dark Magdalene blesses you from the depths of her warmest darkness."

The words of my friend Jerry Kolljeski touched me deeply. He sent them to me on the day of the opening of The Dark Magdalene part of The Routes of the Black Madonna at The Bronx Music Heritage Center. I had expressed to Jerry that I was a little nervous, and his words soothed my soul and my mind. They expressed what I had not yet been able to put into words.

This is new work, a step into something unknown. It may not be apparent in the images, after all, I have a style and it always shapes my work. But at the same time, these paintings integrate the experiments and techniques I had been exploring in other works that were not related to Mary Magdalene.

The title of my new exhibition, The Dark Magdalene, was the guiding principle in this exploration. Why the Dark Magdalene, beyond the general theme proposed by Elena Martínez, the Co-Artistic Director of The Bronx Music Heritage Center, who invited me to participate with an exhibition in a night of events exploring the Black Madonna. This was not new territory, since I had both painted and written about the Black Virgin by connecting the Virgin of Czestochowa to Mary Magdalene.

But the title took me in a different direction, the direction in which my own soul was heading at the time. I was getting ready to spend time alone, something I had only done very briefly and never while doing my artwork. I was also creating space for me and my art away from the difficult and uncertain situation of fixing our home in New York City. There was nothing more I could do to improve the New York situation, so I left to take care of the fact that I had to present an exhibition in a month and a half and I only had done half a painting.

But the time one spends thinking an letting ideas flow, reading and absorbing elements of future work, is never wasted time. I know I am not the only artist who does most of the work inside, and then sits (or stands...) to let it all come out in one big burst. Still, I was a little afraid of not being able to finish on time. But I had to, so I did.

What made me most afraid was really having to live up to the title of my exhibition. What was the Dark Magdalene for me? Not just a literal image. I have been painting the Magdalene with a dark colored skin since the beginning. And while the connection between the Black Madonna and the Magdalene is not necessarily well known, people who love to learn about Mary Magdalene have encountered this idea in the work of Margaret Starbird and other authors.

What the Dark Magdalene was suggesting to me was a journey to the inner self, finding the darkness that I was carrying within and coming back from it having learned something.

I bought 3 books: The Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Begg, The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag, and Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith.

The first book, The Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Begg, is about the history of the Black

Virgin, her connections to the ancient goddesses and the development into the image of the Black Madonna, including the connection to the Priori of Sion and the Merovingians. The book ends with the following words: "...let us hope that the Virgin turns towards us her 'most merciful face of the night' as we recall that to the Sufis, blackness if the final stage of the journey of the soul towards beatitude."

The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag is more traditional, an examination of Mary Magdalene in the context of The Bible and the history/culture of her time. It has some interesting details that I have not processed yet and that I'm reserving for the reflection I have been invited to give at the Magdala Prayer Service hosted by the Sisters of Charity, Office of Peace, Justice and Care for Creation, in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 22.

Because my quest this time was the Dark Magdalene, the first book I began reading was Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith. This book is not about Mary Magdalene, but about the journey of the soul to the underworld. The book focuses on "feminine myths of descent" such as Persephone's, Inanna's and Ishtar's descents and returns. The first page of the book reminds us that "we don't always remember her [the Dark Goddess] face of compassion, healing and rebirth." I held on to the ideas expressed in the introduction as a guide to encounter the Dark Magdalene in my paintings and in my days alone. I did not follow the exercises, so I don't know if my own journey was deep enough, and I also wished to just follow the path that my own soul suggested. But the ideas in this book and in The Cult of the Black Virgin helped me decide on the images I would be working on.

Also, in a way Journey to the Dark Goddess also helped me face some prejudices I had for my own art, that dark side that told me not to use certain materials when I was painting Mary Magdalene... pearlescent ink, tile paint, gold, gold, gold... For about a month I had been painting my formal oil on canvas paintings of Mary Magdalene, and progressing very slowly.

Mary Magdalene, Our Lady of Community by Tanya Torres. Acrylic, pearlescent acrylic ink, acrylic gold outliner.

One day, I had about 3 weeks left, and still not enough work. I asked myself, what do I really want to do? The year before I had been creating other work that integrated a certain kind of writing that looks like something, but can't be read with the mind. It represents the stories never written and never told. It is written in gold ink or in black ink on gold background. It is a kind of meditative writing I began doing on fabric for another series of work. And I found so much pleasure in it that I could not stop doing it. When I let myself do what I wanted to do, the writing soon began emerging on the veil of the Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene of the Growing Heart by Tanya Torres

Mary Magdalene of the Growing Heart by Tanya Torres.

The writing on the veil of the Magdalene means what was never written, what is unknown.

Once Mary Magdalene of the Growing Heart was finished, I felt free. I also felt free to use black, which I almost never use for painting Mary Magdalene. But at the moment, I felt both the brightness of the red and yellow paint and the deep darkness of the black ink. So I painted The Passion.

The Passion by Tanya Torres. Photo by Yarisa Colon

The Passion by Tanya Torres. Photo by Yarisa Colon.

I also began painting Mary Magdalene as a priestess. That is one aspect of the Magdalene that some, more alternative authors mention, such as Lars Muhl in The O Manuscript, an account of his own journey with the Magdalene. Or Tom Kenyon and Judy Sion in The Magdalene Manuscript: The Alchemies of Horus & the Sex Magic of Isis (I only read a part of this one.)

Mary Magdalene, Priestess of Isis by Tanya Torres

Mary Magdalene, Priestess of Isis by Tanya Torres

I usually make an effort to create images of Mary Magdalene that are respectful of all traditions and interpretations, although occasionally I get inspired to represent other views. But I never departed like this. I feel that's why I used different materials. The Magdalene, in the context of an exhibition in the Bronx, could be the most obscure Magdalene. After all, I lived in the Bronx when I was 18-24 years old, dark and difficult times, but at the same time bright and hopeful. Like The Dark Magdalene.

What does the Dark Magdalene mean for me? Beyond skin color, she represents the darkness that allows light to shine. The need to go deep within one's own soul to rescue the truth of one's existence. What did I rescue? I rescued my creative space, my right to freedom of creation in solitude, a sense of courage to face difficult times, and the joy and delight of using playful materials to explore that which is obscure and scary.

At one week left, I still did not have enough work. I had started a painting in panels that I did not think I could finish. But I still tried. And this was my last painting.

Goddess Transformed by Tanya Torres.

Cybeles, Hator, Sekmet, Isis, Artemis of Ephesus to the Black Virgin.

Inspired by The Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Beeg.

Also, my strangest painting.

The Magdalene did bless me from "the depths of her warmest darkness." I reemerged from the journey with my own house, a large studio, new friends, a vision for the future in which I once again gather my tribe within a safe creative space.

That is why the house my father built is now called "La Casita de la Pintora de la Magdalena" or "The Little House of the Painter of the Magdalene." And my first visitor was María C. Rodriguez, who found me through this blog and happened to live in the nearby town of Mayagüez. We met for the first time and spent 4 hours talking as if we had known each other forever! The gifts of the Dark Magdalene.

My heart is full of Gratitude.

La Casita de la Pintora de la Magdalena (Guamá, San Germán, Puerto Rico)

La Casita de la Pintora de la Magdalena (Guamá, San Germán, Puerto Rico)

My studio, a place to be. The vision: to gather kindred souls in the path of Creativity and Imagination.

To visit the exhibition, Wednesday and Saturday Afternoons:
The Dark Magdalena by Tanya Torres

An exhibit of works inspired by Mary Magdalene, and the Black Madonna's Caribbean expressions.

Open from May 19 - August 18.

The Bronx Music Heritage Center

1303 Louis Niñé Blvd., Bronx, NY 10459

T: 347.708.7591


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Tanya Torres  
Art for Love, Peace and Joy

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