Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mother and Child as tribal symbols: African Mursi vs European German

Today, the day before we celebrate the birth of Christ, I was listening to an NPR report about paintings of the Virgin Mary, surely the Western symbol for our collective mother. 

Just at that moment I happened to be scanning a film photograph I took of this Mursi tribe mother breast feeding her child in remote Ethiopia. 

A Mursi tribe Mother breast feeding her child while finishing a clay lip plate. The lip plate has become the iconic tourist symbol for the Mursi tribe in Omo River Valley, Ethiopia.
Visually, I couldn't help but juxtaposition images like Hans Baldung's 16th century painting—which sold for more that $300,000 a couple of years ago, with the tender photo of the Mursi mother in Ethiopia. 

The Virgin as Queen of Heaven by German-born Hans Baldung, also called Grien, I believe painted in 1517. This oil on wood panel was auctioned for more than $300,000. Oh, isn't this painting dripping with iconic symbols with the crown, angel and  halo.

While German-born Baldung's image is definitely Western Christian, interestingly, the religion in Ethiopia predates the painting by about 1400 years.  While the exact date is difficult to pin, Christianity in Ethiopia dates at least back to the 1st century AD and was even declared the state religion in 330 AD.

Count the ways both images burst with cultural symbols.

All images copyright ©Janis Miglavs 2014

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