|Mary Magdalene of the Roses, by Tanya Torres, Oil on Canvas, 60" x 40", 2010.|
A few months ago, I received a call from a friend letting me know that Holy Rosary Church in East Harlem would be closing. This made me very sad, for many reasons, including that I didn't know what would happen to the painting Mary Magdalene of the Roses.
I had some time ago read about what happens to art when churches in New York City close, and for this reason I had asked my friend there to let me know if they finally decided to close the church. The Archdiocese of New York had been trying to close Holy Rosary for several years now, but the congregation was not happy about it. Many of them had attended that church their entire lives, and it held a lot of history and memories. I had only met my friends there a few years ago, but it hurt a great deal to learn the bad news. I was also afraid this painting would end up in a moldy basement. But thanks to my beloved friend, it is now safe at home.
Several people had asked over the years if they could purchase it, but it was something I made for Holy Rosary, and I was really happy that it was there. It was really sad news to hear the church would be closing, since I got to meet and love the people there, especially the group of ladies who nourished my soul with their love and kind words over the years. At Holy Rosary, I created and taught art, repaired saints, created poetry, helped paint the church, helped decorate the Santo Niño de Cebú shrine, and above all benefitted from the love of a community that didn't know me or expect anything from me. This was enormously healing.
But one day, the old priests were sent back to Spain (they were very old and in bad health), and a new pair of priests were borrowed from nearby Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They were not happy to be there, and it showed.
No more poetry, no more art. The environment got transformed so rudely and so suddenly that I could no longer get myself to show up. And I wondered what would happen to the painting, and If I would be able to smuggle it out of the building.
I had "donated" it, but no papers were signed, so it was technically mine. I didn't want to steel it back! But since nobody trusted the new management, I had to go with my intuition and as soon as my friend called, I was there to get it. My husband Juan and I covered it in black plastic bags and smuggled it out in the middle of the day from the dark church basement. The upper church had been closed for years now, and mass takes place in the lower level, which also means nobody was there to stop me.
I think the right place for it would be at another church. For now it is in my new studio at home, where the old Mixta Gallery used to be. And I am glad, because it is one of my favorites. If you would like to visit and see it in person, let me know! I will make you tea! (Remember "Tea with Tanya"? Coming back very soon…!) And if you know of a good, appropriate, responsible, respectful and loving spiritual place for it, also let me know!
But back to the painting. It also can be attributed a little miracle.
When I was getting ready to draw the canvas, I wanted to buy yellow roses to draw. But I looked all over my neighborhood, and no yellow roses were available.
When I first stepped into Holy Rosary for the funeral of my friend's mother, I had met a woman there who became my friend, someone who, together with the priest (who read the poem I wrote in honor my friend's mother during the mass, and who is also a poet), she and he held my hands and asked me if I could help them bring poetry to the church.
I grew up with a mix of Catholicism and Socialism, and for most of my life, I tried to stay away from churches, but at this point in my life, I could not say no to such a request. The Magdalene had brought me there, and I had to follow through.
For several years I created a poetry publication to publish in the church bulletin. Most of my Heaven and Earth drawings came out of that work.
But that was not the miracle. I looked and looked for yellow roses, and nothing. That same weekend the woman, Judy, visited me, and brought me a gift: very fresh, very beautiful, Yellow Roses. And she had no idea I was looking for yellow roses!
The roses lasted long enough to draw and paint them. And they live on in this images of Mary Magdalene, Our Lady of Lexington Avenue.
Here is the poem that began this adventure:
I was a woman,
Now I am love.
I was a woman,
who looked up to the sky, and wished to fly.
Now I am flight.
I was a mother,
and today I am creation.
I was voice, warmth
and the resounding flow of blood
within the borders of my body.
Now I am silence that rests
in the coming and going
of my beloved hearts.
I was that which reflected a shadow,
Now, I am intense light,
in the infinite space of my being.
I was a limit in time,
but today, wholeness embraces me,
and I embrace wholeness.
I was many things that come to an end.
Now I am infinite eternity,
Within each new and small sprouting of life.
I still am who I always have been.