Art Celebrates Breastfeeding Mothers and Challenges False Idols

nature2While at first you might assume that this piece is religious in nature, it is not. This piece has to do with nature and science. The figures featured are the Madonna and Child because Mary is the most famous mother in all of recorded history. I chose her as my subject because in the time that she lived (and up until about 100 years ago), breastfeeding was natural and normal; it was a given.

The idea of decency, morality or the sexual nature people associate with breasts today did not exist in the same context back then. Breasts were for giving your child nutrition. As the most sacred of all mothers, Christians should feel comforted by the fact that Mary did breastfeed, as it is natural act shared between a mother and child.

Although I do not subscribe to any organized religion, I have a healthy curiosity about each of them. Religion is obviously a powerful motivator for people, as all the wars over it throughout history can attest to.

For me, breastfeeding my son was the closest thing I ever had to a religious experience. The primal connection that I felt while nurturing and comforting him was beautiful and amazing. So I hope that this piece in its own way helps to normalize breastfeeding and allows our breastfeeding patrons know that they are in a safe place where it is welcome.

Additionally, this piece speaks to the worship of false idols. For all of the 35 years I been on this planet I have only seen Jesus depicted as tall, white man. According to modern forensic and archaeological techniques, Jesus most likely appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, and was shorter and darker in appearance. Various religious people have argued with me that I am missing the point: It is not his appearance but his life and teachings that are most important. If that is the case then why paint him as a Caucasian (or African American, or Spanish depending on where the church is located)? Maybe there would be less racism if humans could be inspired by someone who looked different than them.

Painting & Artist Statement by Jody Parmann, Co-Owner Raven Café
Edited by Bonnie Sue Kalmar, Editor Extraordinaire

Reply by Bob Lotz, Raven patron and member of a local Episcopal church:
“I loved your article, and your depiction of Mary and Jesus — and your discussion of where so many Christians get it wrong. Of course Christians too often act like the all-white anti-sex league. Yes, let’s depict Mary, and Jesus, and the whole lot of them, as Jews from Palestine, people of color, descendants of the Hebrew slaves for whom Moses demanded, “Let my people go!” Let us see what this does to the theology in most of our white Christian churches. As for the notion that the point of Jesus is not his appearance … well, your interlocutors should remember that there is a context for everything, and in the context of the Roman Empire, Jesus came as a marginalized outsider, wrong color, wrong class, wrong nationality. If that doesn’t have to do with his teachings, what does?”


6 thoughts on “Art Celebrates Breastfeeding Mothers and Challenges False Idols

  1. Appreciate the art as very meaningful for women everywhere; but, not the comments on Christians. As Catholics, we do not worship Mary, we recognize and honor her life, her grace, and faith in The One God to get her through the times of tribulation she would face. It is not fair to blame Christions for artists’ perceptions or for some individuals who don’t understand their faith. This art is incredible, and I’d love to have a copy for my home. I very much agree with your feelings on breast feeding, I nursed all three of my sons. I’ve always looked at breast feeding as an art, excellent nourishment for my children, and to be encouraged for this generation of mother’s; but, please don’t use breast feeding as a political statement or a condemnation of others. We need to encourage breast feeding and promote healthy diets for mother’s that nurse. The only thing political here is the need to obtain acceptance for mom’s to nurture their child in public. That is why, at my well past child bearing age, I use Facebook to encourage mothers, promote this honored mother-child nourishment and bonding, support, and symbolically smack the heads of the ignorant and scoffing.

    1. I appreciate your comments. My intention is not to shame anyone. My hope is that the piece acts as a reality check. Jesus was not white and I believe over-prevelance of “white Jesus” skews his message and does a disservice to his memory.

      Don’t doubt for one second that painting Jesus as white was a masterful marketing ploy by the Catholic Church, who commissioned many paintings and cathedral art that influenced independent artists. So the question becomes, would Christianity be so popular today if Jesus had been portrayed as brown? If it was would we be more tolerant of other races? Getting people to ask those questions is my intention. To make people think… isn’t that the point of all art?

  2. Beautiful painting and truly breastfeeding is and should be the most natural thing in the world. My mother breastfed us way back in the 1950’s when it was almost taboo in the USA. But…. I need to comment on the statement made tI am in the storhat the breast was only considered as nourishment for the baby more than 100 years ago. This is totally false as the female figure has been seen as beautiful and sexual since the beginning of time and there is nothing wrong with that.

  3. I don’t know if I have ever seen a more beautiful painting! Maybe it I because as I wrote this I am nestled up to my nursing toddler. I do love to find examples of Mary and Jesus together, nursing, and this is awe-inspiring — the pose alone is unlike others I have seen. Their shared look, the colors, the clouds! Everything has been perfectly chosen. I would love a copy of this, please make it available? Wow. It is simply gorgeous. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    1. At second glance I realize the pose is traditional; on my small screen I saw Jesus as a toddler, and thought he was crouched up to her — his bottom to the left — but I see that is her knee. Still lovely :).

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