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April and her daughter Sarah

image: 40 x 32 in. (101.6 x 81.3 cm)

Claire Beckett (American 1978 - ) Primary

Medium and Support: archival pigment print
Credit Line: Gund Gallery Collection; Purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Graham Gund ’63.
Accession Number: 2017.1.1
In her series Converts, Claire Beckett takes documentary-style portraits of Americans who have or are in the process of converting to Islam. April gently cradles Sarah on her lap, mimicking the depiction of the Madonna and Child in Italian Renaissance paintings. In Christianity, the Virgin Mary is the pinnacle of white womanhood, the ideal mother. Beckett’s representation of a black Muslim woman in this pose complicates the concept of the Madonna. Beckett’s new envisioning of the Madonna calls attention to the double standard of the veil, in which the niqab worn by April and other Muslim women is viewed from a Western perspective as oppressive, whereas the Virgin Mary’s blue veil is celebrated by Christians as a sign of modesty and purity. The opposition between Christianity and Islam is a current that runs deeply throughout history, most infamously with violent confrontation in the medieval Crusades and more contemporarily in the prevalent stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists based on a few extremist sects. Beckett’s intimate portrait quietly and sweetly bridges this longstanding divide.

-Erica Littlejohn ‘19 and Harlee Mollenkopf ‘17

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