I'm thrilled to start the New Year with a feature on my work in Fearlessly Magazine, now read in 129 countries around the world. Fearlessly is a remarkable social enterprise, lead by Dr Eve Hepburn. It promotes Mental Health, Creativity, Feminism and Community in creative and inclusive ways. The invitation to contribute to the Communities edition of the magazine has allowed me to reflect at length on my fascination with the Medusa and her Sisters, those icons of feminine unacceptability who must live in exile from the civilised world. You can read a short excerpt from the article below. Fearlessly will be using the full article as spotlighted content on their website over the next two months.
'Take an overview of current discussion on mental health and gender politics crises, the same conclusions tend to emerge. We need to learn to soften our judgements of ourselves and others, we need to properly interrogate received norms of acceptability, we need to become less ashamed.
To this list of sensible goals, I would add the practical advice that we need to be more playful. No one makes these kinds of changes if they get swamped in dogma. We need our creativity to kick in.'
Rebelles & Outcasts, Natalie Sirett, Fearlessly Magazine January & February Edition, 2019
In continued exploration of cultural perceptions of women, I am slowly making a series of little icons, painted in oils on aluminium and drawn with pen and ink. They are portraits with additional symbolic elements. American civil rights campaigner Angela Davies is shown bursting forth from the ground, a bright flower with radical roots. The petals surrounding reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson are made of her poems written on tiny scraps of envelopes, discovered in her room after her death. Given her current iconic status, you could argue there’s no need for another image of Frida Kahlo. However, while touching on her celebrated ‘look’ and style, this painting also celebrates Kahlo's love of symbolism and, in the votive offering of a baby in the top left of picture, honours her unrequited longing for a child.
In this series I am also unearthing and aiming to rehabilitate some female 'monsters'. Baba Yaga, a typical witch/crone stereotype from Russian folklore lives deep in the forest in a hut that stands on a chicken's leg. Children were warned to be good or Baba Yaga would steal them, eat them and add their bones to her garden fence. Reflecting on issues of body shaming and the prevalence of self-harm in adolescent girls and women today, it seems to me that, two millennia on, we are still paying for The Fall, which makes Eve the woman most in need of rehabilitation. Here she is in all her glorious, curious sensuality.
* Illuminate Herstory: https://www.facebook.com/events/1202726563192895/
** Religion and the Decline of Magic https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Religion_and_the_Decline_of_Magic.html?id=yQwSAQAAIAAJ
An icon is defined as an image worthy of uncritical devotion but uncritical devotion is a dangerous thing.
December 11th is fast approaching. All details on times and events here:
The Greek playwright Aeschylus places the Graeae and the Gorgons on Kisthene’s dreadful plain where ‘neither does the sun with his beams look down upon them, nor ever the nightly moon’*. In fact Weird Sisters never do belong in the community. They are banished from the kingdom to deserts and wastelands; living, like so many outcasts, beyond the pale. People have always preferred to banish 'monsters' and these times are no different to any other, look at Brexiteers' views on EU Freedom of Movement or the ideology of ISIS. It's hard to find any example of modern conflict that lacks the basic (and base) desire to cleanse territories of 'foreign' influences. It’s also hard on the level of the individual human body to find any example of modern concerns that don't equate non-standard appearance with monstrousness. (see January’s Blog).
There are ways of looking at and embracing our differences, which is fortunate considering fewer lives are devastated when we're guided by tolerance and inclusivity. It is in this spirit that I have begun a series of new drawings about the Weird Sisters of the plains, imagining them as whole people rather than symbols of all that is fearful, people who might from time to time want to visit new places and try new things. What, for example, might Medusa's first kiss look like? Or the Graeae's first trip to a nightclub?
I am, however, decidedly against moving Medusa and her sisters to the city full time. Psychologically, I don't believe wildernessess are places to avoid or to fear because they are where we exist undisguised, in all our uncertain vulnerability and individual truth. Perhaps in this series, the Belles will visit the outlands while the pariahs go to the ball... I'll keep you posted!
Incidentally, I wasn’t sure why I was drawing mythic monsters until I remembered something I read years ago by James Hillman. He describes wildernessess as places where ‘we never learn, cannot help, fall back to and cry from again and again’, as an essential (if uncomfortable) landscape of human experience.**
* Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound C5th B.C.
** James Hillman, Abandoning the Child, LOOSE ENDS, Spring Pubications, 1975