Saturday, September 15, 2007

A beautiful burden

Yesterday I was looking through the pictures on my computer and found this one by Diego Rivera. The womanchild had uploaded it some time ago, but yesterday it caught my eye. More accurately it transfixed me.

I couldn't stop staring at it, but it bothered me -- A woman carrying a load so heavy that she can only do it on her knees. Even with Rivera's stylized presentation, you can see the strain in her shoulders. My own knees grind in sympathy, as I remember the grind of bone against bone, flesh against hard ground, the redness and swelling that lingers. My jaw tightens as I imagine the pain of crawling down a street to a marketplace where I then spend all day selling the flowers I've raised, harvested and carried. My shoulders contract, and I immediately start rotating them backwards, stretching out away from my neck to relieve this strain I haven't really felt.

Her posture is so...submissive. It's close to that of a supplicant in prayer. Hands clasped, though not around each other. Head bowed. You just know that she is both completely immersed in what she is doing and carrying herself to some other place that makes it possible for her to carry on.

Yet what is she carrying? Calla lilies. In the language of flowers, calla lilies mean beauty. They have such grace and architectural elegance. They seem more fitting in his portrait of that beautiful redhead. Yet before they provide the backdrop for luxury, someone must carry the calla lilies to market. Communist that he was, Rivera didn't forget the labor behind the luxury. In either setting, those flowers are Beauty. Vibrant, fragrant, challenging, difficult, damn near impossible as either a standard to meet or a load to carry. They are life, which will drive us to our knees, which provides the framework of our identities, that wonderful, inescapable burden and blessing we spend trying to figure it out.

It took me a while to notice the character in the background. Somehow I didn't see the feet under the basket or that bald pate peeking between the blossoms. Having also seen The Flower Carrier, I shouldn't have been surprised that someone else was there. After all, we don't carry our loads alone, but the moments we realize that often do come to us with a gasp of surprise, wonder and awe. That feeling drives me again to my knees, and Rivera captured that as well.

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The paintings are (top) El Vendredora des Flores and (bottom) Nude with Calla Lillies by Diega Rivera.

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