Black Madonna at Casula Powerhouse by Emilia Salgado

Black Madonna at Casula Powerhouse by Emilia Salgado

SUNDAY, JULY 25, 2010

Sumptuous and textured, laden with floral motifs, beads, and mother of pearl, Karla’s new works invite you to almost touch. Black Madonna is a sensuous, introspective yet life affirming and deliciously feminine exhibition. Using a lush and uninhibited palette of bright colours and media, this series of nine explores themes of maternity, spiritual protection and memory. Religious iconography and Aboriginality are central to the framing of the image of the Mother, fortifying against the fear of malevolent spirits, curses and death.

Bold retro fabrics and faded upholstery florals form the background for many of Karla’s new mixed media work. Highly decorative they also invite association. For me the associations were intrinsically female; memories of my grandmother, of being a child fascinated by textured cloth, the smell of a widow’s formal parlour room, the embroidered cushions on a faded settee. One can remember what it is to feel small, in a vast old house with curios, spirits and dust.

Black Madonna was inspired by Dicken’s recent experience of a malevolent spirit that invaded her home and attacked her daughter and herself. Aboriginal elders were summoned to purge her home of its presence. During what was a most difficult time Karla turned to the image of the black Madonna for protection. In all this series the mother is central and powerful, she holds, nurtures and shields the living. Her body is also a fountain of life and regeneration. Heaving with texture, Liberty flowers, beads and tropical flowers she is also goddess of memory, darkness and renewal.

Karla’s work is both intentional and casual, occasionally almost childlike. In once piece precise floral collage lie beneath the arch of a clumsily painted rainbow. Under the Madonna words such as Holy Mother, Divine Mother, Black Mother are written with a natural unpolished candor. Some of her smaller pieces are far tighter, the composition is refined and clean. On a larger scale the effect is more organic, naive and loose, occasionally rough in places. The other small works, Shining 1 and Shining 2, combine both styles. Using delicate mother of pearl tiles, shimmering and refined, heavy outlined figures are illuminated by broad spontaneous white brushstrokes.

The Black Madonna has been portrayed for hundreds of years, across cultures. Karla’s first Madonna was a leather shadow puppet that also had the shape of Sheela na Gigs, the Irish female creative spirit. Karla too is of Aboriginal and Irish descent. The Black Madonna has been a controversial figure that has refused to be buried or forgotten. She has been revered, privately and in some cases illicitly for eons. She is the outsider’s protectorate. For Karla the fascination is apt. The Church refused to bury her grandmother and her uncle due to the nature of their death and lives. In return Karla’s family forbade her to attend Church. In this realm of marginalization and expulsion, Karla has retrieved this oft abandoned deity and given her centrality and prominence. She has wrapped her in flowers, adorned her with jewels and invited you to worship. A defiantly spiritual exhibition Karla Dicken’s Black Madonna was on at the Casula Powerhouse, 1 Casula Rd, Casula.

Author: Emilia Salgado,