‘Heavenly Mother and the Wise Women’ exhibit travels from rural India to downtown Provo

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It was the summer before McArthur Krishna started at BYU, and she wanted to make sure every last detail was perfect before school started.

Krishna grew up in rural West Virginia but was out west for a family reunion, where she said she was coercing her mother into helping her with final college preparations. Krishna asked her mother for help with one last detail that needed fixing on an outfit — a moment that taught Krishna a life lesson she still reflects on 25 years later.

“My aunt pulled me aside and said, ‘Your mother doesn’t get to see her family very often. You need to let her spend time with their family.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, but I’m going to college. I’ve got to get these things done,'” Krishna said. “And my aunt said, ‘Nothing in life is started from a place of perfection. Nothing in life do you get all perfectly tidy before you have to launch into it. Life demands that you roll with it. It’s not perfect.'”

Krishna said she was both astounded and humbled by the wisdom her aunt shared with her. Krishna depicted the moment in a colorful textile art piece in her latest art exhibit, “Heavenly Mother and the Wise Women,” which opens this Friday at Writ & Vision in downtown Provo.

The exhibit, which will run through the end of June, features 54 beaded and embroidered textiles, 53 of which represent wise women in Krishna’s life and the wisdom they’ve shared with her, and one of which represents Heavenly Mother.

According to teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Krishna is a member, “all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother.”

Krishna’s project started as a way to feel grateful for where she was living and grateful for the women who changed her life. Krishna has lived in rural India with her husband and three daughters since she got married eight years ago.

“I was 37 when I moved to India. I was good at my job. I had my life ‘put together,'” Krishna said. “(I went) from being a really capable person to being a child — a child in what I could do and a child in what I could understand.”

Krishna said she started her project by calling and interviewing the wise women she wanted to represent. She asked them what was quintessentially themselves, a piece of wisdom they would pass on to loved ones, their current passion and a shape and color that felt like them.

“I took each of those kind of thoughts I’d had on the woman and I dovetailed it with the interview with them and came up with a visual to represent this piece of wisdom,” Krishna said. “They’re all wildly different based on the wisdom and the woman herself.”

Krishna decided to incorporate Heavenly Mother into the collection as she thought about the wise women in her life and realized Heavenly Mother is “the ultimate source of female wisdom.”

“Our doctrine is we believe in Heavenly Mother, and if she is the ultimate of all characteristics, just as our Heavenly Father and Jesus are the ultimate of all characteristics, then of course she’s the source of female wisdom,” Krishna said.

Krishna did all the research she could on Heavenly Mother. One resource she studied was “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” an article published by BYU Studies. The study’s authors compiled over 600 sources referencing Heavenly Mother in the Church’s discourse.

Another step in completing the exhibit was gathering the materials to make each of the design pieces — 53 “wise women” figures that are 30 inches tall with an 8-inch diameter head, 53 smaller versions of the wise women to give to the women themselves, and one 7-foot-tall Heavenly Mother piece.

“I have to run all over India to get supplies because you can’t just order supplies from Amazon, and there’s no local hobby shop to go to get everything you need,” Krishna said. “Even just to find a piece of fabric that’s big enough to do the Heavenly Mother … I had to go to Delhi, so that’s a 12-hour train ride away from me.”

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After Krishna gathered the materials and designed the pieces, she led a team of about nine people to make them a reality. Embroider Hussain Khan’s team created embroidery pieces, Kusum Pandey and her team of village women did the stitching and non-beaded embroidery work and carpenter Mangal Das mounted the pieces on wood.

The entire process took about eight months, which Krishna called eight months of near insanity — especially because she was in the process of packing her things to leave India and return to the U.S., hosting loved ones who wanted to visit India before she left and working on the finishing touches of her most recent book.

“You have 53 women; you have different patterns; you have different materials; you have different sketches,” Krishna said. “I’m trying to hand them off to the women’s co-op and the embroidery man and coordinate. It was like a constant flow of beads in my life.”

Krishna transported the pieces to the U.S. in suitcases in preparation for this month’s exhibit, her second at Writ & Vision. Her first, “Growing Divine,” was on display last summer, and her third is already in the works — an art show set for next year filled with Heavenly Mother images painted by 20 different artists from all over the world.

“We’re going to have a very wide range by at least 20 artists all representing Heavenly Mother in different ways, because we shouldn’t have just one image that becomes the canonized visual of Heavenly Mother,” Krishna said. “We need a range to show the expansiveness and the vagueness.”

The paintings will also serve as the artwork for Krishna’s upcoming children’s book about Heavenly Mother. She’s already published 15 children’s books, including the two “Girls Who Choose God books published by Deseret Book. She’s currently finishing the third book in the series, which focuses on women in Church history.

Learning about Heavenly Mother is important for Latter-day Saint girls and women because it helps them understand who they truly are, according to Krishna. She said teaching her own three daughters about Heavenly Mother brings her pure joy.

“Once you know Heavenly Mother, that impacts every single thing: how you wake up in the morning, what you think when you look in the mirror, what you think when you go about your day, how you treat other humans,” Krishna said. “Every single thing is impacted by knowing who you are.”

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