Anonymous (Kenya)
Madonna and Child
Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. AF 7912

General Description

This sculpture is representative of the Masai people in Kenya. It is made of terracotta; the artist is unknown, but as indicated on the base, the statue was made in 1978 and given to John Paul II. The shaved and polished heads of mother and child, the rich decorations on necklaces, neckplate, appendage, cincture, and purse – they all point to Masai origins. The overall impression of successful inculturation is reinforced by the delicately chiseled facial traits. The only concession made to Western tradition is the long tunic worn by the Madonna. Inspite of its ethnic definition, this sculpture conveys a message of universal motherhood and maternal tenderness.

Mary’s Cultural Charism

The cultural impact of Mary’s figure is clearly visible. She is one of the most powerful cultural figures of Christianity. Here are three reasons to corroborate Mary’s cultural importance for Christianity of past and present.

1) Person Made Culture: Incarnational theology naturally forms a pact with culture. Where the divine claims to become visible and present, as it did in Jesus Christ, culture will have to be the name of its cradle and home. Mary’s person stands tall and highly visible at the incarnational threshold of the Christ-event. There is no way to avoid her; she must be reckoned with. She is culture made individual person and mother into which the Trinity incarnates itself as Jesus Christ. She is the cultural figure to reckon with whenever the mystery of Christ is object of cultural transfer, reassessment, and inculturation. The understanding of the Christ-event as ongoing incarnation invariably makes of Mary a witness, a guardian and sometimes a victim of its cultural challenge.

2) Horror Vacui: Eminently cultural thanks to her role in the incarnation, there is, in fact, little information to describe and evaluate Mary’s cultural profile. But since nature (here theological imagination) abhors void, she compensates, meaning she creates her own marian contraption, more or less in sync with Mary’s original persona. In other words, there is a need for cultural representations of Mary. Cultural representations of Mary are not necessarily detrimental to the original essential message as long as they are not absolutized at the expense of

Mary’s historical singularity and the doctrinal unity of theological reflection about her.

3) Universal Legitimacy: Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Mary’s cultural significance is of a non-theological and non-religious order. There exists a close connection between Mary, the mother of God incarnate and redeemer of humankind, and the universal archetype of mother and of motherliness. Life, human life, is our first and ultimate concern. Life is received, and becomes a matter of survival at all costs. Values such as care, protection, acceptance, growth and affection are paramount to the struggle for survival, psychologically as well as biologically and morally. The archetype of the mother is a universal archetype of the human psyche. Its significance and importance are transcultural, meaning common to all human beings. This puts Mary in a uniquely privileged position to promote and sustain Christian evangelization and inculturation.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog:  The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary,  pp. 124-125

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