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The Face of Kali

L. Caruana 2004
50 x 80 cm, oil in 5 part medium



In my original vision, I saw one Madonna holding the Christ child and another Madonna holding the deposed Christ, each like a mirror-reflection of the other. The first expressed extreme joy at the birth of Christ; the other, extreme suffering at the event of his death. (Both of the figures in my painting are derived from Van der Weyden’s Miraflores altarpiece).
Superimposed over this entire arrangement was the transparent face of Kali, so that the heads of the Madonnas appeared within her closed eyes. The Hindu Goddess Kali accepts joy and suffering equally. To her, birth and death are one.
In the headdress of the superimposed face, we can see the full figure of Kali (right). In one hand she holds the serpent-entwined staff topped with a skull – indicating her mastery over death and rebirth. In another hand she holds a sword with a varja(thunderbolt) handle – it brings death but also enlightenment. Her lower right hand is held in the varada gesture of ‘fear not’ while her lower left hand is in the abhaya gesture of ‘giving’. This is to say, do not fear death or temptation, for the goddess may take away but she also gives in abundance.
From her shoulders falls a garland of skulls. This series of death’s heads enchained in a circle symbolizes the endless cycle of re-incarnation. Meanwhile, over her womb, two serpents entwine like a caduceus. Once more, we are met with a symbol of regneration and rebirth.
At her feet is the Kali yantra (meditative design) of five inverted triangles set into a lotus flower. It invites us to meditate upon the passage through her sex, and the on-going cycle of death and rebirth. (Although Kali obscures her sex with her heel, this triangular yantra symbolically reveals the essence of that which is hidden).
The landscape is Maltese. Among the stones and olive branches at the bottom appear three Maltese fertility goddesses. One is asleep on her side (the famous Sleeping Venus of Malta) and two are sitting. These three earth mothers are the more ancient sources for Kali and the two Madonnas. Meanwhile, in the distance is the walled city of Mdina, Malta’s old capital. I see it as a Christian symbol of the promised celestial city, the heavenly Jerusalem. But, seen through Kali’s third eye, will this promise ever become a reality or forever remain a mere illusion?
The words AVE AUM AVE in the title are words of praise – two AVE’s for the two Madonnas, and one AUM (or ‘om’) for Kali.

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