Archetypes are prophetic

Anita Rodriquez
Posted 4/24/20

I painted this in 2016 and it isn't the first painting that seemed to be eerily prophetic. Kurt Vonnegut says artists are like the canaries miners used to take underground to warn them of poisonous gasses humans can't detect.

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Archetypes are prophetic

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I painted this in 2016 and it isn't the first painting that seemed to be eerily prophetic. Kurt Vonnegut says artists are like the canaries miners used to take underground to warn them of poisonous gasses humans can't detect.

My paintings unfold by themselves, as if I am just a captive brush blessed but driven to tell stories that even I don't understand until sometimes years later. I suspect the same thing happens to other artists. Leonard Shlain, an MD and art lover, in his book "Art and Physics" claims that artists unconsciously predict scientific discoveries in symbolic or visual form and convincingly backs up his theory with examples from Giotto to Magritte.

This painting was meant to be a warning and send a message, but looking at it in 2020 it reveals another layer of meaning. I painted it during Standing Rock. The giant skeleton is more nuanced and complex than "just" death - in Mexican iconography La Santisima Muerte, as modern Mexicans call her, is old, old, old.

Before the Spanish came to Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, her name was Mictlantecuitzli-Tantecuitzli, the androgynous ruler of the underworld. The church spent 500 years trying to wipe out the cult, finally gave up, and today all over Mexico she/he is still revered, and known as La Santisima, La Madrina, La Nina Blanca, La Huesuda, La Flaca and in New Mexico we call her Doña Sebastiana.

And today this psychological/spiritual archetype brings real grief and suffering to my town. Our streets are empty, commerce has ceased, in all the languages spoken in Taos we are naming death, locked down in our houses, some of us alone, sharing belly-deep uncertainty about the future and wondering who won't be here when it's over. Or when it will be over.

Just as in this painting, where La Santisima towers above the landscape filling the sky, there is no way to deny the presence of this crisis - she holds the whole world in her hand. Because of her everything has stopped. Her veil swirls in the cold, wild winds of the cosmos and she is holding out the globe of our beautiful planet with a gesture of urgency, as if to say, "Wake up! Think about this!"

At her feet stands a woman, holding up an eagle feather as if to protect the water. Water is life. I got the idea from a photograph taken during Standing Rock of a Native woman, her back to the camera, hair to her waist, alone, kneeling in front of the most powerful military in the world holding up an eagle feather to a solid phalanx of men in riot gear, armed to the teeth.

But in my painting the woman is not alone. The animals have come as if Nature herself brings animal consciousness, animal powers, to the protection of water - of life. A bear, wolves, an owl, a fox, a woman and the water together symbolize the ecosystem, and there is no violence in the weapon she holds up, no fear, only all the resonant meaning and authority inherent in eagle feathers and her power as a woman.

Bears signify spiritual maturity. Mother bears are ferocious in the defense of their cubs, and spend hours educating them. She trees them when she goes hunting and if they come down before she returns with food she punishes them. But one day she trees them and never comes back. Driven by hunger, already trained to survive, bears begin their adult life with an act of disobedience. We must be mature enough to disobey rules that no longer make sense.

Wolves are the most intelligent animals on the continent, an attribute we are definitely going to need and can't afford to ignore science. Owls have been accused of being brujas, but they can see in the dark, they are healers, protectors and are very wise. As for foxes I had to paint one because they are so beautiful.

As for the woman - women are the portal of life, and we nurture, protect and educate every generation. Domination, control, violence toward, colonization and exploitation of the earth and of women's bodies cannot be separated. They are one and the same. Just look at every ideology, religion, political party and country that does one - and in equal proportion - it does the other. The barometer of any system's ethical backbone is how it treats women.

The deepest meaning of the symbol of death - the root and bones of the symbol in this painting - is rebirth, transformation, change, signifying the chance to rebuild a world of equality and justice where women, Nature, ecosystems, the animals, jungles, forests and water are respected and protected - not commodified, plundered or sold. Not just people before money - but Nature, people and water before money.

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