Reclaiming the Sanctuary for Saint Manoubia and the Women of Tunisia
I made this painting as a reaction to the burning of a shrine in Tunis dedicated to a female Muslim saint named Manoubia. St. Manoubia is the patron saint to the poor, the sick, and the most vulnerable in Tunisian society. For centuries, young women have come to this shrine to write their names on the walls in hopes of finding a husband or having a child. Poor women seeking a safe place to sleep take refuge in the shrine’s chambers. The ritual Sufi spinning dance continues to be performed there.
On the night of October 16, 2012, Islamist extremists robbed the women sleeping there and set the building on fire. This act of destruction outraged the people of Tunis, who are working to rebuild the structure. The shrine’s dome is the starting point for my composition. Concentric patterns move around the center like centrifugal force (which refers to the twirling dances). The radial design also suggests a Mandala – an ancient spiritual motif that represents the universe, rejuvenation, and gives a symbolic offering. The palette of reds and oranges glows like fire. Although red is a color associated with violence, it also symbolizes birth. Outlines of mosaic tile fill the corners – look closer and you see breasts.
In Reclaiming the Sanctuary for St. Manoubia and the Women of Tunisia, it is my intention to show something that has been violated and emerges stronger than before. The painting is a projection of empowerment to women in Tunisia, and to women everywhere, who work to change the climate of oppression and exploitation that women face. I dedicate it to those who share the vision of a world without violence against women and to those who have the courage and conviction to bring about that change.