Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Trials by fire unite two martyrs across time

Bearing a pair of eyes on a platter, Santa Lucia, or Saint Lucy (283-304), watches all entering the Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo, home to El Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. The patron saint for safeguarding eyesight and writers, Santa Lucia always has ranked among my favorites.

Upon reaching what was considered a marriageable age, Santa Lucia opted to dedicate herself to God and pledge herself a virgin. Born into a wealthy family in Sicily, she began distributing her worldly goods to the poor.

Alas, Lucy’s mother previously had promised her daughter’s hand to a suitor, a man displeased with the dispersal of the family’s wealth perhaps more than the personal rejection. Vengeful, he reported her Christian beliefs to Roman authorities.

The Roman authorities sentenced Lucy to reside in a brothel and to be forced into prostitution. Divine intervention rendered her immovable, despite the soldiers’ repeated efforts to budge her in order to carry out the sentence. Thwarted, they gouged out her eyes and set her ablaze. But Lucy proved impervious to the flames so they resorted to ending her life by thrusting a sword through her throat.

This background is why Santa Lucia would seem ideal to offer temporary sanctuary to a Penny Siopsis’ powerful short film, Communion, relating to the end-of-life experience of a Dominican nun, Sister Mary Aidan (1914-1952). The Irish-born doctor, Elsie Quinlan, had devoted years to lovingly tending and healing Black South Africans in a clinic in New London, South Africa, when she turned her automobile into a public square in November of 1952.

Apartheid was institutionalized by the National Party of white rulers of the country, and public gatherings of Blacks were outlawed. The African National Congress spurred a protest in the square as part of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, and soldiers firing into the crowd killed several Blacks.

By the time Sister Aidan drove into the midst of the then angry mob, instead of recognizing a nun who had been helping them the rioters only saw yet another white person determined to harm them. She was stabbed seven times and set ablaze in her car.

The fire had fused my rosary beads….

“voice” of Sister Mary Aidan narrating Communion

The crowd still was determined to avenge the deaths of those shot by the soldiers. The first-person narration continues with the inquest:

Parts of my body were missing. Someone said a lady had a bread knife.

By the time police broke up the riot, the government admitted to fatal shootings of at least nine. Unofficial reports placed the number at closer to 200.

And that is all of the tragic tale I can bear to relate. What could be sadder than, as artist Siopsis described during a dialogue with artist William Kentridge, “being killed by people you love and who love you?”

The film is part of “Hacer Noche/Crossing Night: Arte Contemporaraneo del Sur de Africa,” an exhibit at the Museo de las Culturas closing February 5.

The dancing skeletons visible in the background of one of the photo’s of Simphiwe Ndzube’s “Rain Prayers” are a frame from Kentridge’s short film “30% of Life/30% de Vida.”

To see more of Kentridge’s work, visit an older post from Puebla in 2015. For more photos from the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, visit here.

Postcard from Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy: History with a horse hanging overhead

Mankind will discover objects in space sent to us by the watchers….

Michel de Nostradamus (1503-1566)

With prophecies such as that, it seems amazing contemporaries of Nostradamus placed much stock in his words. Yet he was a favorite of the French royals.

Nostradamus was dispatched to Castello di Rivoli, outside of and perched above Turin, at the end of 1561 to assist Margaret (1523-1574), the Duchess of Savoy, as she approached time to give birth. Well, not merely to assist as much as to bear witness to confirm the newborn truly emerged from the birth canal of the 35-year-old duchess.

Margaret’s brother, King Henry II (1519-1559) of France, hoped this would be impossible. If the Duke of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto (1553-1580), failed to produce an heir, the Savoy holdings would be transferred to France. Nostradamus, however, predicted a son would be born and, lo and behold, was proven correct.

Despite her advanced age, Margaret saved the House of Savoy by producing the requisite heir, Carlo Emanuele I (1580-1630). A brilliant flash in the sky above the castle served as a sign to Emanuele Filiberto of the significance of this miraculous occurrence.

While the court moved down from the Castello di Rivoli into Turin, the palace on the hilltop always remained important to the Savoys. Carlo Emanuele I commissioned architects to transform his medieval birthplace into a palatial retreat, with towers added to link the main residence to the adjacent Manica Lunga housing some of his art collection.

After the French destroyed much of the compound during their invasion, Vittorio Amadeo II (1666-1732) determined to resurrect the castle as a grand symbol of the power of the new Kingdom of Sardinia. Much of the work was undertaken under the direction of architect Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736).

In 1883, the Savoy family sold the castle to the city of Turin which, to the detriment of the buildings and their interiors, rented it to the army. Then there was the damage caused by German occupation and bombings associated with World War II.

There was new hope for Rivoli, however. Funding began to arrive and the architect Andrea Bruno, whose name is tied to the complex’s rebirth, provided the first projects. Almost all the exterior doors and windows had disappeared, stucco work and paintings had been damaged through rain and dampness, tapestries were destroyed, woodwork had rotted. The first collapses took place in 1978, with the large vault crumbling to pieces in the grand hall on the second floor…. Coming to the aid of Rivoli was Marquis Panza di Biumo, an important contemporary art collector, in search of a venue where he could install a part of his collection.

In August 1979, restoration work on the Castello alone began, and would last until 1984, when it opened its doors as the Museum of Contemporary Art. This work took into account its entire past, respecting its architecture, but with modern additions like the elevator, the suspended staircase, the platform on the late 1700s vault, and the panoramic area on the third floor.

From 1984 to 1986, Andrea Bruno began working on the Manica Lunga, but unfortunately a lack of funds closed down the site, which reopened only in 1996. It was in February 2000 that the building, first born to host Carlo Emanuele I’s picture gallery, refound its age-old splendor. The structure was maintained with the inclusion of the vault’s overturned hull-shaped steel cover and the steel and glass stairs joining the 17th-century structure.

History of Castello Di Rivoli

When we visited Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, a major Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) exhibition was featured (sorry, no  photos allowed). But you probably want to know about the horse. Of course.

The medium for this 1997 installation piece, “Novecento,” by Maurizio Cattelan is obvious. An embalmed taxidermy horse, unavailable at most artists’ supply stores.

A different allusion to an existential condition, where the subject is deprived of any possibility of action, is elaborated in “Novecento” (1900), 1997…. A new take on the concept of natura morta (“still life,” literally “dead nature”), the final image is one of frustrated tension, of energy destined to find no outlet. By the artist’s own admission, insecurity is a defining aspect of his approach, and the idea of failure is a theme that recurs in many of his works.

While waiting for the regular bus running back and forth from Turin, we passed up on the handsome museum’s café for a spot a flight of stairs down the hill. Nothing fancy. Plastic chairs. But the private bocce club welcomed us.

Bocce competition was fierce on the court adjacent to the patio. Regular local foursomes also were engaged in serious, to the point spectators would pull up chairs to observe, games of scopa (sweep). The regional card game is played with large, unfamiliar decks of cards.

For us, the most unexpected aspect of the bocce and scopa games was the participants’ choice of beverages. While we sipped our beers, everyone else was drinking water.

Postcard from Turin, Italy: Where the donkey fell, the Holy Spirit rose

A quick glance at several churches:

During one of the periods when the Duchy of Savoy was failing to get along with French cousins, the French rudely plundered a town and its church outside of Turin.

On the Feast Day of Corpus Christi in 1453, the scavengers brought their seized riches into the plaza of Turin to sell. A donkey bearing the ciborium containing the sacramental hosts fell. The Holy Spirit rose up from the saddle bag and illuminated the plaza. An obvious miraculous sign indicating the site for construction of a church.

Replacing an older church on the spot, the “new” Basilica del Corpus Domini was built in 1607 with later Baroque interior remodeling.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Mark 10:35

Charitably showing their devotion to God – and perhaps an unwillingness to worship with those less successful – the Pious Congregation of Banks, Shopkeepers and Merchants established their own church for “encounter and prayer” in 1692. With an entrance almost hidden down a hallway in a building in, appropriately, Turin’s shopping district, Capella dei Mercanti is noted for its vault with frescos by Stefano Maria Legnani (1661-1713) and paintings by Andrea Pozzo (1642-1709).