Making an Image for Swarthmore
Many of you who have walked on the path bordering Kohlberg Hall and the Trotter Hall lawn might have noticed what looks like a tree shrine straight out of the streets of India or rural China, with its flags on a rope chain proclaiming the virtues of Compassion, Wisdom, Peace, Equality, Solidarity, and Respect. Well, you'd be right. Naia Poyer, Art Major and Religion Minor '13, has constructed an icon and a tree shrine to honor the values of Swarthmore College as she sees it.
Inspired by Hindu and Buddhist icons that she studied in Professor Steven Hopkins' class The Power of Images in Spring 2012, Naia made an icon of Lucretia Mott as a transgendered, multi-racial and multi-armed goddess astride her flaming Phoenix, holding safely in her womb the campus Quaker Meeting House, and brandishing in each of her graceful hands symbols that represent service and leadership, scholarship, the Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Humanities, and the virtues of athletic discipline. Naia performed a "consecration" ceremony for her icon the day of the course final exam review, painting in the eyes of the image, and the class all walked over to the tree together, where Naia installed Lucretia in her natural shrine-cave at the base of the tree. The image and shrine flags will remain there as long as they survive the weather, a witness to some of the manifold virtues of the College.
Naia reflects on her process and the meaning of this image for Swarthmore:
" I think I love religion too much to sign up. It's like asking me to commit to one kind of tea forever, to dress in a single color for life, or to share my secrets with just one friend. Nope. I'm a religion voyeur. I like to WATCH . . . When I took The Power of Images taught by Steven Hopkins . . . I stared and stared at those gorgeous snapshots of Hindu shrines sprung up overnight like miraculous technicolor weeds, at Jizo shrines overflowing with little statues; shimenawa, omamori, baby Krishnas, reliquaries, Shiva processions . . . Do you know what it's LIKE to be both an artist and a student of religion? Have you ever been forced, starving and depressed, to look at hundreds of professional photos of world-class sushi or baked goods? It was a lot like that. I thought, 'why don't we DO anything like this?' The religious experience—ANY religious experience—is a thing beyond everyday description. To me that comes across best in a riot of color, clutter, sound, smell, and ceremony.
Now most religious doctrines will tell you that merely sitting around complaining is bad (although Lao Tzu would be totally okay with just the sitting part). So I went into Artist Mode and fixed the problem. Now my only remaining lament is that I wasn't born into a family of lost-wax-process-using Hindu icon makers.
The Goddess Lucretia is very much enjoying her snug little yoni-shaped tree aperture. She is made of wood, PC-7, acrylic paint, and more coatsof lacquer than a Zen mummy. Her eyes were opened with a special consecration ceremony and offerings of water and tealeaves (being a Swattie, she is partial to all things caffeinated).
I won't go into all her symbolism, because I'm sure at a glance you can figure it all out. You're a Swattie, and Lucretia loves you. You'll find a box of prayer slips and a pencil hiding in the tree with her for leaving notes, prayers, and wishes."