Fearful female energy, not for the fainthearted

WITH voluptuous intercourse goddesses and feminine deities able to tear their male victims aside, the “Feared and Revered: Female Energy via the Ages” exhibition shouldn’t be for the fainthearted.

It makes a change, for when the British Museum blockbuster “Historical Greeks” got here to the Nationwide Museum of Australia final 12 months, there was appreciable grumbling in regards to the extreme masculinity of the present, subtitled “Athletes, Warriors and Heroes”.

This 12 months the 2 museums go a distance in the direction of addressing that downside.

Retitled from the British Museum’s preliminary identify, “Female energy: the divine to the demonic”, the present canvasses the efficiency of the female precept within the West, in Africa, the Pacific Islands, South America and most notably in India, the place the fearsome aspect of the feminine is personified within the “horrible” goddess Kali.

“Mom of the universe, mistress of all parts,” one of many enormous labels reads, as we embark on a visit via varied facets of the female – creation and nature, ardour and want, magic and malice, justice and defence and compassion and salvation. 

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The titles reveal the complexity of this exhibition, for it’s not all black and white, because the fearsome Kali and the lioness-headed goddess Sekhmet, are additionally revered as moms.

Visiting British Museum curator Belinda Crerar instructed me it wasn’t particularly the macho “Greeks” that impressed them to embark on this present, however extra the truth that most museums and artwork galleries have been male-focused – “we wished to redress that”.

And anyway, as Chaucer, quoted within the catalogue, wrote, “By God, if ladies had written tales they might have written of males extra wickedness than all of the mark of Adam might redress.”

In the event you have been in search of redress, you would hardly go previous the “Magic and Malice” part of the exhibition, the place the traditional Indian idea of Shakti – power, capability, power and energy – are seen within the individuals of divine warrior-goddesses corresponding to Kali and Durga. 

On this part, Crerar says, we see many outsider ladies who have been labelled as demons and witches, displaying how a lot feminine authority was feared, which has come into prominence these days because the parliament of Scotland begins on a public apology for historic executions of “witches”.

For a bit of sunshine aid, the gorgon Medusa, together with her petrifying stare, is used for a touchscreen colouring-in recreation.

A very scary fashionable paintings by Bengali artist Kaushik Ghosh, Kali is proven dancing on prime of her supine consort Siva as she makes use of her Shakti to deliver issues again into steadiness.

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“That’s a real portrait of feminine energy,” Crerar says, including that it’s not a easy matter, for Siva is each the god of destruction and creation whereas Kali is each the destroyer of males and, as a mom, the creator of them.

Among the many most putting displays are two statues of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet who, with a head of a lioness, symbolises terrifying energy however who was additionally referred to as the “mistress of life” so is usually proven holding an “Ankh”, the hieroglyphic signal for all times. 

In nature, Crerar notes, it’s the lioness, the feminine of the species, who does the looking within the killing and the awe of Sekhmet pertains to the true world in North Africa of the time. 

A simple feminist narrative, then, is not going to do to summarise this exhibition of 160 objects courting again to 2800 BCE.

The “Ardour and Need” part options historical goddesses Inanna and Ishtar alongside Eve, Radha and Venus and prominently, a Roman statue of Venus seen rising from her bathtub in a second of sheer magnificence, however Aphrodite’s bloody revenge was legendary amongst those that disobeyed her instructions.  

A very contrasting facet of the feminine is seen within the closing chapter, “Compassion and Salvation”, which options Isis, Mary “Queen of Heaven” and the Chinese language Guanyin (Kannon in Japan) goddess of mercy and compassion. 

There’s even an interesting porcelain determine named in it by which Guanyin is seen holding a child within the method of the Madonna holding the Christ youngster, however that affiliation, Crerar says, is probably one we make from a western viewpoint.

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This exhibition might not have as a lot white marble as its predecessors “Rome: Metropolis and Empire” and “Historical Greeks”, for a number of the putting displays such because the statues of Sekhmet, manufactured from the igneous rock granodiorite, are manufactured from many substances and media. 

However they’re value a great look and a few critical rethinking. 

“Feared and Revered: Female Energy via the Ages,” Nationwide Museum, till August 27.

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Ian Meikle, editor