MIDNIGHT SAVIOR(Cece McDonald, Our Lady of Self-Defense)
Pyrography, Stain, Acrylic, and Imitation Copper Leaf on Carved Basswood
48x36x2.5 in., 2021
On the evening of June 5, 2011, CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman of color, and a group of her friends were attacked outside a Minneapolis bar. While attempting to free herself from her attackers, CeCe inadvertently stabbed one of them with a pair of scissors. After a coercive interrogation, CeCe was charged with manslaughter and incarcerated in a men’s prison without access to her necessary hormone therapy.
This image is inspired by the Russian Orthodox iconographic Christ in the Dungeon tradition; particularly, one sculpture titled Savior’s Image in a Dungeon (19th C.) by Unknown. Savior’s Image in a Dungeon shows an unfamiliar side of Jesus. This is a very human Jesus – the one who just a few hours earlier prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for a way out of this. You see his pain and anguish, helped by the industriously minimal use of direct light. Not only does his body bear the scars of mistreatment, but the darkness shows the scars of his mind.
I wanted to find a way to emulate the shadow play from Savior’s Image in a Dungeon on this piece, so the image of CeCe is carved into the wooden canvas with the lines that indicate the bars of her jail cell the foremost image and her body has dimension and shape behind those bars which, under the right conditions, will allow it to cast a shadow onto itself. Rather than using paint to color the image of CeCe, I used multiple shades of wood stain to keep the natural wood look while still making her body visually interesting.
The foreground was made to look as if the piece caught fire at some point, damaging the “cell” but leaving CeCe untouched (Divine Intervention?). This was achieved by burning the borders with a blow torch, covering it with watered down school glue and then the blue acrylic paint which cracked as the glue dried, leaving the burned wood visible through the paint.
Notice the gold lettering all over the foreground (α, ω, Ω, χ, and ρ). I’ve also included the wounds of Jesus, a laceration on her head just below her hand, the injuries caused by her attack paralleling with Jesus’ injuries from his 39 lashes. Even a canvas this big could not hold in the enormous gold and copper leaf halo that surrounds CeCe, so it breaks at the edges, but also, the bars interrupt the hallo as well, giving the impression that the halo is shining from behind the bars of her captivity.
This is my largest piece so far, and has been featured in three exhibitions. It is currently featured in an Exhibit for the International Juried Art Competition as the winner of the Finalist Award.