This week I visited the most extraordinary exhibition at The Wellcome Collection – Miracles and Charms…Two exhibitions exploring Hope and Chance. The first part displayed 100’s of Mexican votives which are small intricately coloured paintings, executed on tin roof tiles or small plaques, painted by members of the mining community around Mexico City in gratitude to their saints for delivering them from disaster and sometimes death.
Dating from the 18th century these touching and sometimes humorous plaques tell immediate and intensely personal stories, from domestic dramas to revolutionary violence. For instance one mining family from the 1800’s gave thanks for the recovery of their donkeys (and livelihood) from illness, and one sea traveler in 1840 was caught in a furious storm – praying to the Virgin of Soledad of Santa Cruz she was delivered safely from the storm and dedicated an intricate tableau to her saint.
There was just something pure and life-affirming about these plaques giving thanks, it got me thinking about how therapeutic it must be to put a thought or feeling of gratitude out there into the universe. When do we ever give thanks whether in a religious context or otherwise, for a good day at work, for a lucky break, or a wonderful weekend with family?
The second part of the exhibition Charmed Life: The Solace of Objects is the result of artist Felicity Powell’s engagement with a collection of 1400 Amulets assembled by the Edwardian amateur folklorist Edward Lovett. One of the few people to have had access to this curious collection of ‘charms’, wishbones and coins and amulets, once carried in the pockets of Londoners for luck or protection, Powell was intrigued by the silent witness they bore to countless personal narratives, most of which are now lost to history. Despite being long divorced from their original owners, these objects seemed to retain an insistent sense that they might yet hold some hidden magic : )
Also on display were Charmed Life curator Felicity Powell’s miniature wax artworks which allude to her own medical ailments and desire for wellbeing. Gothic and haunting these works look large here but in reality were tiny and impossibly intricate.
Miracles and Charms, fills a corner of London with life-affirming energy during dreary times.