Stations – “The Passion”
The work explores the story of Christ’s last days using the contemporary metaphor of a black boxer, raising timely questions about race and ethnicity and encouraging thought about marginalized groups in today’s society.
Miriam Cabello was an award winner at the Florence Biennale of Contemporary Art and studied the works of the Old Masters in Italy and Spain as well as the Abstract Expressionists in New York. The fruits of that experience are evident in the compelling, robust figures and splatters that inhabit the Stations series.
Distinguished curator and author Rosemary Crumlin (OAM) stated; "The planned series is quite controversial… she has used the boxer and boxing as allegory and symbol. Her treatment is intelligent, thoughtful and confronting."
Cabello believes her work elevates those traditionally seen as ‘other’ throughout art history to the centre stage and a position of omnipotence. "Like Caravaggio I am creating a contemporary narrative for the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross…the conventions of iconography are given a fresh vision."
The idea of depicting a diverse race representation in art is not new, yet very few artists have dealt with the concept of including traditionally marginalised races. Rembrandt’s John the Baptiste illustrates the conveyance of his message to people of widely different ethnic origins ranging from African and Asian to Turkish and Native American.
The depiction of Christ poses challenges, an issue that was the focus of the exhibition, Seeing Salvation: The image of Christ at the National Gallery in London in 2000. Is there a true image of Christ? Does a true image even exist? A Black Christ is one interpretation. Is it right or wrong? No one image can be correct. African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner depicts Christ as a figure of universality, resisting racial definitions through his use of colour (Braddock 2004).
Cabello’s confronting work "puts art back in the service of the mind" (Duchamp) and issues a challenge to viewers to explore the visual image more deeply than they perhaps have before. Beyond the obvious symbols of the cross and the fish, Cabello references a visual language that requires a level of familiarity that is provided prior to the exhibition in a short tutorial on the basics of Christian symbolism. Through the depiction of black, olive and white skin tones on the same linen, painted according to the techniques of Caravaggio, Velazquez and Van Dyck respectively, Cabello elevates figures traditionally seen in art as ‘other’ to the omnipotent position of Christ himself and his disciples.
The work expresses its universality thus, through a language of symbolism that has permeated much of the world, the message of peace, love and equality rings out clearly, inviting unity amongst those from different racial backgrounds whilst challenging every viewer with the question; why, after thousands of years, are people still being crucified?
“Miriam Cabello is an artist whose life and work comes together with such giftedness that it will always be hard to match that day when it was joined with our lives.” Rev. Dr. Dorothy McRae-McMahon
I draw upon literary classics and biblical stories to explore poignant contemporary issues; transplanting modern day sports figures into age-old scenarios with complex themes. Each painting in the current series is abounding with symbolism and rich allegory.
Caravaggio was the first to translate stories of the Bible into the language of his time using modern settings and costumes; the colours, techniques and themes accumulate to become an avant garde masterpiece. His interpretation attests that the translation’s context, inherent in the translator’s language, enables the audience to connect on a much deeper and meaningful level with the refreshed text. The message of the original becomes universal. Translation reduces the distance to the original, enriching the old text, the new text and, most importantly, the audience.
I commence by writing my own script, followed by a storyboard of the narrative and like a stage/film director; I collaborate with Victor to create the sets, costumes, interior/exterior space and lighting. I direct the models to follow the narrative drama. Locations are hired/sponsored to give the gritty intensity of a boxing match. The life-size complex figure compositions are striking in scale, the massive paintings range up to 2x3 metres (6.6 x 9.8 feet).
The literal content of the work embodies abstract ideas, suggesting a corresponding, deeper symbolic sense than is first apparent. I interpret powerful political, historical, social justice, and gender issues by creating an original way of reading visual allegory.
For example, the painting “Condemned” depicts a weight scale with important national and international historical dates that aligns the White Australia Policy with international conflicts on segregation. The viewer will recognise the significance of our political and social history from a global perspective. The assistant that weighs in the boxer, simultaneously removing his robe and sliding the weights, cleverly draws the viewer to the scale. (The weight rests on: 1963 the year Martin Luther King Jnr delivers his “I have a dream” speech and President John F Kennedy is assassinated). His actions quote those of the Roman guard in Caravaggio’s Ecce Homo who disrobes Jesus after the mocking. The boxer stands defiantly staring back, with bruised bloodshot eyes, this time quoting Rubens’ Ecce Homo. He is not the usual bowed head and hands crossed demurely in front of him.
Works like Agony in the Garden resonate strongly with indigenous and traditionally marginalized viewers. Australian aboriginals recognize parallels with the life of indigenous Dave Sands, whose legacy had a profound impact and the realisation of the Stations. Sands was arguably the greatest boxer in Australian history, holding the middle, light heavyweight and heavyweight titles during his career. He was known as a ‘gentleman of the ring’ and his humility and modesty inspired generations of young aboriginal men to leave the missions and compete (1). These Christ-like qualities coupled with his tragic death at just 26 years of age make him a remarkable inspiration for the black boxer (2). Strength and power pulses almost tangibly in Agony in the Garden; the boxer is elevated from the subjugation of the aboriginal reserve to occupy the most magnified position possible, that of Jesus.
This series Stations of the Cross encompasses so much of what is vital to the arts in our time. Epic subject matter and dramatic story telling combine with a masterful handling of materials to produce a visual and spiritual experience that is engaging, confronting, thought provoking and comforting. More importantly, the work has real resonance today, challenging the viewer to respond to injustice, inequality, assimilation and marginalisation and to confront the reductive, insidious impediment found in binary modes of thought. Beyond their social commentary, the Stations of the Cross recount the apogeal moments of a story of love, sacrifice and redemption.
View paintings available for purchase
(1) Sands was referred to as a "gentleman of the ring" in a tribute to him published in the Daily Mirror, the day after his funeral in August 1952. His inspiration to younger generations was noted by aboriginal community leader Lyall Munro at a memorial upgrade ceremony in Glebe, Sydney on Tuesday 19th December 2006.
(2) For an international audience parallels are drawn to American boxers - Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, and Muhammad Ali.
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© Miriam Cabello:
Station II: The Betrayal.
Station VI: Bearing the Cross.
Top: Station VI hanging in artist's studio, St Peters.
Middle and bottom:
The Stations series photographed at the award winning South Sydney Uniting Church installation.
Stations: Awards + Exhibitions (selected)
||London Olympics, Run with the Fire, UK.
||The Annual International Religious Art and Architecture Design Awards, USA.
||American Institute of Architects (AIA), Design & Art Award Winner, USA.
||Official WYD08 Youth Festival Exhibitor.
||24th Manhattan Arts International, New York
||56th Blake Prize for Religious Art. Finalist & selected to tour.
||Mandorla Art Award for contemporary religious art, Finalist & selected to tour.