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Review: Magdalena 

Mixed-media art about Mary Magdalene at International House Hotel

click to enlarge jameswigger_hope.300.jpg

'Tis the season to be jolly, as Santa, reindeer, Christmas trees and Nativity scenes pop up all over town. Lately, Mary Magdalene — the "other Mary" not seen in the Nativity scene — is an object of increasing fascination. As a libertine who repented, she became the most mysterious saint and, consequently, a favorite of Renaissance religious painters like Domenico Tintoretto, who depicted her with flowing locks, crucifixes, skulls and satiny skin in sensational works that reflected the speculation surrounding her story. Timed to coincide with the annual PhotoNOLA festival, this third annual Magdalena show at the International House asked photographic artists to "re-imagine Mary Magdalene: Who she was and Why she was." Curated by Aline Smithson, this year's selections are displayed in the lobby and augmented by works from previous years in the Magdalena Gallery on the second floor. All are intended to explore the mythology of "extraordinary women and the divine feminine" over the ages — a sentiment amply illustrated in an adjacent chamber featuring works by guest artist Michelle Magdalena.

Although these images initially evoke notions of pop psychology or feminist spirituality, works like James Wigger's Hope (pictured) — a view of a Mary Magdalene with a Sacred Heart glowing from her chest — come across almost like contemporary flashbacks to Tintoretto. Saintly mysticism is often associated with intimations of mortality; in Jaime Johnson's Spine, what initially looks like a braided strand of hair on a woman's back under a turbulent sky is revealed as a skeletal spine. But in Anna Tomzcak's very Biblical-looking Hector's Mistress, a visually similar object suggests a botanical scepter like an oversize laurel branch. Saints always struggled with the frailty of the flesh in relation to their expansive spirit, and in Nicole Campanello's The Fisherman's Daughter, body and spirit are reconciled in a mystical reunion with the sea. In Amanda Smith's October 08 (Trying to Fly) an evanescent woman seems to dematerialize into the ether.

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