Madonna Tableaux

My work examines religious imagery and uses this imagery to express ideas and concepts outside the boundaries of faith and spirituality. Through this imagery, I am examining my identity as a woman, the lineage of womanhood, and what a woman represents.

The Virgin Mary has been the most visible woman in history. Throughout the ages she has been a favorite subject in Christian art including frescos and oil paintings, music and literature. Typically portrayed as a young woman, Mary/madonna has served as a role model to Christians and non-Christians alike, and even as a pin up to some early patrons of the arts. This imagery reinforced patriarchal values and projected a model of appropriate female behaviors and values for all women. The Virgin Mary’s purity and perpetual virginity make it impossible for any living woman to match her ideal. Today, the media tells women that fulfillment lies in balancing marriage, child rearing, community involvement, and a successful career, all while retaining a desirable weight. Women are doomed to fall short of their goals.

My series of tableaux twist expectations about age, gender, sexuality, and culture to explore contemporary issues. I have chosen to use different types of women for my madonnas to represent the many types of women in the world.  The madonnas in my images are often glitzed up and a bit sexy, portraying what our society expects of women. I focus on the sensuality, and other contemporary issues such as women postponing parenthood until later in life, in order to represent the vast variety of ways women live today. The women I depict are confident. They are women who have human needs and wants: the whole range of them, ranging from the spiritual to the natural carnal tendencies that are dominated by fleshly, worldly tendencies.

The process of constructing and performing is important to this body of work. I am interested in symbols of excess as exemplified in the lushness of fabrics, fruit, or skin. The hand crafted construction of the sets and props illustrate the superficial and cultural construct of these much-valued elements. I cast real people (often friends) who are not experienced models or actors to play the characters, which often lead to odd unexpected moments. These images show the imperfections, and the humanness of individuals, creating a tension when juxtaposed with the religious and sacred iconography. I am reinventing and reclaiming religious iconography, rather than destroying it.


Rose M Barron