The Cross, the Church, and the Butterfly

Skunder Boghossian Ethiopian-Armenian

Not on view

A long and narrow band of parchment covered with brightly colored motifs using a variety of media such as acrylic paint, pastel crayon, pencil and pen. The artist plays with the opaque and almost translucent quality of parchment, overlaying colors and materials. The overall form and color of the work are reminiscent of Ethiopian personal healing scrolls created by debteras, unordained clerics of the Ethiopian church who also practice traditional medicine. Such scrolls are made of parchment assembled and stitched together to be of the height of the person who commissioned it to address specific ailments. Alternating familiar prayers and talismanic images cover the entire surface and offer head to toe protection. In the 1980s, Ethiopian artist Skunder Boghossian began focusing on such serons as a source of inspiration.
While in most instances, Boghossian took his systematic investigation of the healing scrolls' forms and meaning to large-scale painted canvases, "The Cross, the Church, and the Butterfly" is a more personal and delicate work. It is infused with a spiritual quality that emanates from the deeply layered treatment of the surface covered in a succession of abstract and figurative forms. Within Boghossian's scroll-related corpus, this example stands out as it follows the overall form and material of Ethiopian scrolls, and both appropriates and departs from their iconography. It beautifully and powerfully conveys a sense of the scrolls' original function as personal objects imbued with secret and sacred meaning through the layering of material, motifs and techniques employed (parchment, Japanese paper, collage, stiches, stencil, and a variety of media such as pen, ink, pastel, or acrylic). Like the healing scrolls from which it draws inspiration, the decorated surface is organized in distinct fields while creating a coherent whole. The abstract and stylized patterns filling these fields can be interpreted in light of the work's title as a cross, the representation of a church, and a butterfly. Further drawing on Ethiopian liturgical art, Boghossian declined the motif of the cross in a variety of ways, making it a leitmotif in the design, from rectilinear lines to volutes and negative spaces. The color schemes, including shades of red, orange, green, and blue, are reminiscent of those used in illuminated manuscripts created in the monasteries of Ethiopia's highlands.

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