Deborah Bell: The Annunciation, 1995


The Annunciation, 1995, mixed media on paper.  Deborah Bell born 1957, South Africa.  Smithsonian Museum of African Art, Washington, DC


 This is an African Annunciation.

  There are three differences between this representation and those which are normative in the Western tradition: 

Mary is naked; her face is completely veiled; and the spiritual power resides in an inorganic object. 


In many African societies as in many traditional cultures as in pre-modern Europe, spiritual power inheres in organic and inorganic objects. People are and were in active communication with their natural environment.


The archangel-in-the-stone – three-sided for the Christian triune God – has come to Mary when she is both alone and in a place allowing her nakedness.

I take this to be a recognition that the working out of our spiritual lives is always private and invisible to others.   Even if they require translation into our behaviour to mature.


 Mary’s face is completely veiled.  This may be because she is Anywoman.   Not a member of an elite with a recognizable face. Anywoman.

  It may be a representation of a woman who was given no choice.

  It may be a commentary on the role of most women: we give birth. Not terribly much to discuss for most women (amor fati).  Certainly, the disposition of Mary’s arms indicate that she is quite relaxed.

It may be that it is not a good idea to look directly at a spiritual power: you might go blind and burn up. 

I don’t know. 




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