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img_0270The Mary wall in Marlena Wyman’s studio

I am not a religious person. I spent a few years of my youth in the United Church but I stopped attending church when I left home. There are aspects of organized religion that I know are positive such as charity and community, but I am troubled when I see intolerance and inequality.

It is odd, then, that I have a fascination with the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, as an artist whose work is largely memory-based, I visit cemeteries for inspiration, both at home and when I travel.  They provide me with history and stories of the community. I think of them as creative spaces as well as places of private contemplation and reflection.

When visiting cemeteries, I seek out and photograph the Virgin Mary for her aspect of meditative calm and peace. My interest in women’s history also brings Mary to me; a strong female figure in a religion that can be inhospitable to women.

I began to create a wall of photographs of Mary in my studio, and have added Mary figures and collectibles that I have found in thrift stores. It has become an unintentional shrine of sorts.


When Mary Joyce, curator of the In/Hospitable exhibit at the upcoming SkirtsAfire Festival, came for a studio visit, she saw my Mary wall and immediately suggested it as inspiration for my artwork in the group exhibit. I have been looking for a possible creative project for my Marys, so I was delighted to have this spark to get me going.

For the exhibit, I decided to focus on the cemeteries of Newfoundland which are populated with small Mary figures. Newfoundland seems to have three or four unfinished plaster-cast versions of Mary that can be purchased and hand painted by family and/or friends of deceased loved ones. These Marys suffer some of the most inhospitable conditions of Newfoundland’s wind and weather due to the local tradition that the dead be buried overlooking the ocean.

bellevue-cemeteryBellevue Cemetery, Newfoundland

img_3543Conch, Newfoundland

I will post photos of my art installation over the next few weeks, leading up to the In/Hospitable exhibit at the Nina Haggerty Gallery, which will take place at the SkirtsAfire Festival from March 6 to 12, 2017.

All photographs by Marlena Wyman