Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Remembering the past in the present: Msgr. Oscar Romero
One topic I have yet to truly investigate in this blog is my passion for public art and my experiences with the poor. I have stayed quite subdued in my religious beliefs/moral boundaries at the risk of being ignored or shunned. I hope to broaden my writing into more foundational elements of what has lead me to visual culture studies. In the last couple of weeks, I have reconciled the fact that I will most likely be struggling with the intersection of my gender, my sexual identity, my family and my religion my entire life (as I think a lot of people do). I am embracing this as another struggle; another cross that we all carry. Yet, there is always grace that bellows up like air bubbles from the deep ocean. The last two years have been a constant "breaking free."
I was reminded today, once again, of my "breaking free" with the 30th anniversary of Oscar Romero's brutal assassination. In my time there in El Salvador in the fall of 2007, I was able to paint a mural with my community I had been working with during my time studying at the University of Central America - San Salvador. This highlights the importance of art in my life; visual imagery, positive visual symbols in communities. (At this time in my life, I was recently 'out' and had not even thought about working in museums).
What a journey it has been? Now, on this 30th anniversary of a tragic murder of a leader who stood for all the things that I do, I am at this intersection again. I take solace in Romero's words, his teachings and his ability to articulate his beliefs. I think one of the things that I see in the power of images is it's simplicity. Humans desire communication and connection. We connect to icons and to simple images because they make sense for reasons that social scientists have studied for decades. We grasp onto images as if it were the foundation of our Earth on which we stand upon.
Romero is an icon of El Salvador. His face and his body have been immortalized in paintings, murals and books. In the mural above (in El Salvador, outside his last residence), his body has been enlarged to show huge muscles, as if this priest worked out three times a day and was taking protein supplements. Though humorous to most visitors, Catholic Salvadorans and those who followed Romero's teachings, it is in the most serious of memorials. Maybe it is not so much to remember his physical body, but their own idea of him. Of course, it is maybe the most simplistic of ideas, but nonetheless important to note. This is how they remember him. This is how visitors may remember him. Or we remember through the dramatic movie, "Romero." Very few have heard his voice, more have read his words. But, those scattered images of an icon are what sticks with us.
It is disappointing to me that not more people know of Msgr. Oscar Romero, but that is what happens to dissidents in this world, pushed aside into the time-line of forgotten history. He spoke against the injustices of the poor. He spoke truth to power. He transformed himself and followed his strong beliefs, even if it eventually killed him.