As a totally lapsed, atheist Catholic, I was amazed by the omnipresent religiosity of Sicily: shrines built into city walls, innumerable churches and statues. From the ancient carved temples to the well-maintained cemetery mausoleums, this is a country dedicated to the hereafter. Perhaps this impression was heightened because my sister and I visited during Easter week, when slow processions of nuns and priests marched through the narrow streets, carrying life-size statues of the crucified Christ.
But in Sicily, the dead are not merely buried. In ancient times, graves were carved into the stone.
In the past few hundred years, some bodies have been mummified, like in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo. In more recent times, the dead have been given their own cities...
We had seen a few of these odd edifices as we drove along, and one rainy day we stopped to explore: what IS that? We finally found an entrance..
..into a whole walled city of the dead. There were streets of architectural marvels and other neighborhoods for the less wealthy. Miniature versions of the cathedrals and monuments we'd seen.
Back home, I assembled some fabrics into a composition, which I photographed. By photoshopping images over it, I was able to create a working plan. Then I started to transform the places I had seen into cloth:
I printed images of the mausoleums and a confessional, decorated with copies of the enameled portraits found on many of the crypts.
The small shrines found on so many walls became holy medals (and a hamsa - hey, Sicily has been invaded by everyone) sewn under netting. The 'wall' here is formed from old, dyed, kitchen calendar towels, and the openings are constructed like bound buttonholes.
Digging into my collection of rosaries and religious paraphernalia, I found objects to glue onto wool, then sewed them under cloth. Above the larger crucifix here, I sewed a label from a scapular ("whoever dies wearing this shall not suffer the fires of eternal damnation") and added in some beautiful embossed leather from an old wallet. The skeleton? I once found a string of Halloween lights shaped like skeletons, and cut them apart. The pieces have turned up in a lot of my art.
The wonderful cathedral in Siracusa (which is actually built over the structure of an ancient temple) was distorted into a tall, skinny line drawing of a tower. That image was printed on oaktag, fused to wool, and the lines and openings cut out with an Exacto knife. I glued on a few beads, and embedded it all under cloth. I happen to think it's really cool that a temple embedded under a cathedral is now, in my art, embedded under cloth.
Two more details: these cherub faces are small doll heads, cut in half and drilled with tiny holes by the eyes, mouth and nose so I can tightly sew the cloth over them. The small skulls on the right are part of a 100 skull necklace that I bought long ago in New Orleans.
I wrapped it all up in an old shirt as a border (and a hug):
The finished piece, guarded by the Virgin Mary and some of the many goddess figures found in a museum there.