Our Lady, Queen and Protectress of Nigeria
Commemorated on October 1. 

Perhaps the most striking photograph in Other Faces is of the image of “Our Lady, Queen and Protectress of Nigeria.” The subject is conventional: Mary and the little boy Jesus, whom she holds and presents to the viewer. But the pair are painted as black Nigerians, both in physiognomy and in clothing. Their bodies are semi-transparent, and they stand in front of a map of Nigeria, which bears the names of dozens of the nation’s tribes. Mary’s white dress bisects the green background of the painting, so that the painting as a whole resembles the green and white Nigerian flag.

The painting was commissioned by Jesuit missionaries in the 1960s. Originally shocking, the painting is now beloved by Nigeria’s Catholics, who constitute approximately twenty percent of the nation’s population. The image of the strong protectress has very direct implications for the place of women in Nigerian society. The nation’s Christian community, dedicated to the universal dignity of every human being regardless of sex, must contend not only with pagan traditions (which leave widows destitute, their homes stripped of every possession by their husband’s family), but also with aggressive Islam in northern Nigeria, which seeks to impose the hideous Sharia code on Christians, Muslims, and pagans alike.

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