St. Ursula & the Eleven Thousand Virgins (2002-3)

Mixed media on Mylar + Intaglio prints (2002-3)

In the series “St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins” (2002 – 03) I masqueraded as the Catholic patron saint of schoolgirls. No longer did I represent myself as a victimized child but as an adult returning as a conquering heroine. I borrowed from the tradition of St. Ursula as a protector of schoolgirls and embellished her character until she more closely resembled a superhero or an avenging angel, replete with sword and angel wings. The series played out as a sort of spontaneous psychotherapy and struck an emotional chord with critics and audiences alike.

The “child brides” featured in the “St. Ursula” series are symbolic of the innocence, coupled with a burgeoning sexual curiosity, inherent in prepubescent girls. The image of the young girl dressed to receive her First Communion is a potent — if culturally sublimated — sexual image. The white dress and veil, reminiscent of a western bride, and the receiving of the “host” are all psychologically and symbolically weighty.

The red that frequently accompanies these young “brides” is not the symbolic blood of Christ, but the literal blood shed by girls and women: the blood of menstruation (i.e. sexual maturation), the blood that is often shed at the loss of virginity, and the blood shed at childbirth.

My version of “Salome” also belongs to the “St. Ursula” series. According to the Christian texts, Salome was the step-daughter of Herod who was instructed by her mother to ask for the head of the imprisoned John the Baptist. There is an apocryphal tradition of this story that implies an incestuous longing on the part of Herod for his step-daughter and includes an erotic dance performed by Salome to manipulate Herod into accepting her morbid request. Hence, the character of Salome has been granted the ultimate femme fatale status in Western art history. My version of Salome is loosely based on Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome”, in which Salome is enamored with the Baptist and places a posthumous kiss on the lips of his severed head. My version takes the macabre eroticism of Wilde an outrageous step further, blending a sense of playfulness with a legitimate expression of female rage.

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