Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Looking Beyond the Picture of Mary

The first time I entered to a church, I couldn’t take my eyes off the picture of Mary. The picture was so interesting to me. I saw a beautiful woman with a long flowing robe putting her hand on her chest. I felt like she was looking at me without any expression. I have seen several pictures of Mary in the past, but I never looked at it deeply and noticed the details of the pictures. One thing that captured all my attention was a head cover that she uses on her head. I looked at myself and realized that we both are woman who wear head cover. According to Christian belief, Mary is a holy virgin woman who bore Jesus Christ. Muslims also believe this. We believe that Mary has a miraculous gift from God which makes her special from any other woman. I spent more than fifteen minutes just to look up the painting closer. One thing really stuck on my mind when I saw it in a deeper level, and then it brought my imagination to relate it to my reality. It made me consider the way some people treated me with my head cover which has been very contrast with the way they consider Mary as a woman who wore head cover as well. 

I looked at the picture of Mary silently, while trying to assume what the people might think when they see the picture. A boy came toward me and looked at the picture as well. He showed much admiration to the picture. I didn’t have idea what he was thinking, but I assume that he didn’t even pay attention to Mary’s head cover. The figure of Mary as a special woman with miraculous gift is the first thing comes into people’s mind every time they see the picture. As Percy suggests “Certain things have been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the people’s mind” (184). What I think he means is that, the “symbolic complex” comprises and veils those ways that things are symbolically represented and/or conveyed either by others or ourselves in communication with others. The thing becomes the thing as it is spoken about and interpreted, not to be the thing-in-itself. Percy is trying to explain that the way people think about something is usually not from what they really see, but from what has been formulated in their minds. Percy gives example about sightseers who visit Grand Canyon. Before coming to Grand Canyon, most sightseers have their own description about Grand Canyon in their mind which they usually found it printed beautifully on postcards or geography books. Therefore, when they see Grand Canyon, they will measure their satisfaction based on what has been formed in their mind. The same is true with the pictures of Mary, no matter what color is used to paint Mary’s picture. No matter what kind of paper they use to draw her picture, the picture of Mary has always been an incredible piece of art. Every time the people see it, they will be mesmerized by the beautiful person in the picture, who conveys a beautiful spiritual message. 

I kept my attention on the picture of Mary and got stunned with her beautiful head cover. My mind suddenly brought me to my experience related to my head cover since the first time I came to the US. Many of American people thought that I am a conservative person who supports terrorism. I remember when the security officer at the SeaTac airport took me out of the line and interviewed me for 2 hours, just because I wore head cover. What if I didn’t wear it as a religious tradition? What if I were just a person who wanted to protect my hair? What if I were just a person who had cancer and had to wear it to cover my head? It’s such a prejudice of somebody’s appearance. I think that the picture of Mary shows us that wearing head cover has been a usual thing since a very long time ago, and nothing is wrong with that. People can only judge somebody based on his/her personality, not his/her appearance. The same as Mary’s picture, Muslim women’s head cover has become a symbolic complex of prejudice. People’s mind has been formed that head cover is a part of conservative Muslim women dressing style. Even if the woman who wears head cover is a really good person, people just ignore it and keep thinking negatively about her. This symbolic complex of prejudice has been formed since the 9/11 when some terrorists, who announced themselves as Muslims, spread terrors to American people by bombing the WTC in Manhattan. People’s mind has been set up that all Muslims are considered to be terrorists. Muslim women, who are identified by their hijab, get the effect of this prejudice. Therefore, anytime Muslim women who wear hijab come to America, they have chance to discover this symbolic complex of prejudice. This symbolic complex about Muslim women's head cover happened to me in reality. I remember when I first time arrived in USA, people looked at me so differently. I didn't know exactly what they thought about me, but I felt like they looked at me suspiciously and cynically. I sometimes asked myself “Is that the way they judge another different person?” I thought that was too inappropriate. The head cover or hijab is an identity of Muslim women, but it never reflects their personalities. 

 The picture of Mary is not just simply a picture of the mother of Jesus. The artist is probably trying to communicate something more glorious than anything in this world. The painting is like a door. We may feel comfortable seeing a beautiful door, but who wants to stand there just to look at the door? We want to open the door and go through it to see what behind it. As Winterson suggests “Art is visionary; it sees beyond the view from the window, even though the window is its frame” (310). Winterson is probably trying to say that if we just simply looking at a work of art without involving our curiosity to understand what actually the art conveys. This is how we should approach the picture of Mary. The picture is not a realistic portrait. We may realize that nobody in the world would ever know how Mary really looked like, and her holiness could never be described in human terms. The artist may just presume the figure of Mary before they painted her picture. Most of the pictures of Mary show a figure of a beautiful woman who wears a long robe and head cover. However, every time the people looking at the picture, they rarely ask themselves why Mary dressed up like that? Why Mary wore head cover? I assume that if I ask them what they see in the picture, they will just give a simple answer “this is the picture of the mother of God”. In contrast, I am as Muslim woman might look at the picture more deeply because I found something interesting about the picture, something that reflected to my reality. Something that made me ask myself why the people judge me by my head cover, why they think negatively about me, they don’t even know me. 

However, I also realize that the way everyone approaches the picture of Mary is normally different. As Allison suggests “Those of us who have read the same books, eaten the same kinds of food as children, watched the same television shows, and listened the same music, we believe ourselves part of the same nation – and we are continually startled to discover that our versions of reality do not match” (11). In other words, Allison is trying to explain that even if we see the same work of art, we will approach it differently. The way we reveal what we see in the paintings is pretty much different. The same is true when we see the picture of Mary. I found it interesting when I saw the picture of Mary wearing head cover, while other people might reveal something different from that. 

Looking at a work of art is probably an easy thing to do, but looking beyond it and finding a message it conveys is a pretty hard thing to do. Just like when we look beyond the picture of Mary. Everyone might catch different messages from the picture, but no limitation for us to define what the picture actually conveys. I am, as a Muslim woman, found it interesting to relate the picture of Mary wearing head cover to my real experience about my head cover. Other people might not reveal the same thing as I did. The picture of Mary and my experience show a different kind of symbolic complex of head cover that is happening nowadays. Art and reality is somehow related to each other, it depends on how we see it and how we define it.  

Allison, Dorothy. “This Is Our World”. Think Vertically! Essays for Inquiry, Analysis, and Reflection. WCC English Faculty. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead,2010. 1-13. Print 
Percy, Walker. “The Loss of the Creature.” 183-203
Winterson, Jeanette. “Imagination and Reality”. 307-22. 

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