In a world full of discord, the artist’s role as a conveyor of truth becomes ever more essential. With divisions among us growing and hate speech, propaganda, and lies proliferating, the power of the spoken word, along with our ability to communicate verbally, seem diminished. Images thus take on an increased importance, and we turn to visual artists to make sense of our world through works that transcend our many differences of language, culture, and politics.
Erin Currier is one of those artists whose trenchant visual commentary breaks through our preconceived ideas and leads us to a new awareness. She has spent decades traveling the world and in the course of her journeys has cemented her belief that there is more that unites us than divides us when it comes to human values, individual strength, and especially beauty. Humans are hardwired to perceive and appreciate beauty, and Currier uses that perception as a means of confronting oppression, injustice, and intolerance. Her mixed-media paintings are brought to life through her collaging of post-consumer waste—discarded product wrappings, containers, and other colorful refuse—which add color and texture to her work and provide subtle commentary on our disposable civilization, where materials are tossed away and entire groups of people marginalized and devalued.
Currier’s work over the years has exalted the humble, ordinary people whose unsung heroics and steadfast pursuit of survival enhance our world. Her latest endeavor, From Manet to Mexico, Más Las Meninas, is the newest in her continuing series in which she takes Classical and Modernist masterpieces and reimagines them in a contemporary context. For example, American Women (Dismantling the Border) V (after Tiepolo) is part of an ongoing theme in her work that depicts indigenous American women from both sides of the border as they dismantle the border wall. “Most borders defining nation states are false constructs, hastily drawn lines carving up lands inhabited for millennia by indigenous peoples,” Currier points out. She portrays Tiepolo’s mythological deities and queens as indigenous women who are at what she calls the “vanguard of feminine solidarity and dignity in action.”
Another painting inspired by the same painter, Shipibo Madonna Immaculada (after Tiepolo), portrays a Shipibo woman from the upper Amazonian jungle as the Madonna to celebrate her unapologetic femininity and strength. The Christian symbol of the snake with an apple in its mouth, representing sin, is replaced by an anaconda, which symbolizes knowledge. The rose is represented by the sacred caapi flower, while the Madonna’s traditional robe and gown are suggested by her flowing hair. The colorful jungle birds replace the cupids, angels, and doves of Tiepolo’s painting.
In a similar vein, Magnolia Maymuru as a Not So Repentant Magdalena (after Titian) replaces Mary Magdalene of Titian’s much-discussed Penitent Magdalene with a young Australian Aboriginal model, Magnolia Mymuru, who became the first indigenous woman to represent the Northern Territory in the Miss World Australia competition. Why “not so repentant?” Currier notes, “I feel that women should not have to repent for their passion, their sexuality, for defending their fellows and fighting for what they believe in. In this portrait Magdalena has shifted her radiant face to gaze proudly yet kindly, and unapologetically, into the eyes of the viewer.”
Currier’s eloquent celebration of womanhood, women of color, and the working class not only provides us with a contemporary interpretation of old masterpieces but also highlights the resilience, power, and beauty of these women in a modern-day context of pressing social and political issues. “The spiritual and political are inseparable,” Currier observes. “It all boils down to human dignity and respect for all living creatures.”