The time is more than ripe to see Mark Steven Greenfield’s "Black Madonna," a new suite of paintings and drawings that meditate on the fraught, violent history of Africans brought to America against their will. Subjected to numerous delays, including the most recent one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, "Black Madonna" opened this month amid historic protests against police brutality toward Black people and unprecedented political turmoil primarily generated by this country's resurgent and persistent case of white supremacy.
Most of the works in the show center on Greenfield’s consideration of the Byzantine Black Madonna icon, whose true origins are shrouded in the mists of time. Various theories have held that images of the Madonna were accidentally blackened by church smoke, or that they were purposely colorized to appeal to colonized peoples of color. Over time, the image came to be associated with miracles and new beginnings.
Greenfield chooses to focus on the Black Madonna as a site of deep mystery and contemplation, and ultimately a call to inner peace. Each Madonna and child painting is gorgeously rendered in a traditional tondo format, surrounded by gold leaf. Both mother and child have distinctly Black, not European, facial features, and sometimes Greenfield adds humorous accents, such as sunglasses on the child or a marijuana leaf in his hand. These frontal images are always warm and comforting, but they are challenged by furtive action scenes in the background, which depict fantasy acts of revenge against white supremacists — a hooded Klansman is burned at the stake, Nazis are taken out in an explosion while the child holds a stick of dynamite, an alt-right headquarters goes up in smoke. There’s even a scene where UFOs show up to vanquish a neo-Nazi.
Click left and right to see a few of Greenfield's works: