Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic is now on display at The British Museum through September 22.
The exhibit explores feminine spirituality in over 80 artifacts from six continents. Artifacts include elements of the divine and supernatural: demons, witches, spirits, goddesses, and saints. The display covers over 5,000 years of history, exploring how spiritual beliefs have shaped our understanding of femininity.
Curators Lucy Dahlsen and Belinda Crerar have spent the past ten years collecting and organizing artwork for the exhibit. It is the first major exhibit to examine femininity through spiritual beings.
Dahlsen and Crerar elaborate on critical elements of the show in their post on the museum’s website from April 11. They explain how different representations of female figures shift long-standing beliefs of femininity across cultures. The exhibit does not shy away from darkness or terror; it embraces all associated femininity in spirituality: nature, justice, compassion, and evil.
Perhaps the most striking embodiment of darkness can be found in a sculpture of Kali, the terrifying Hindu goddess. Artist Kaushik Ghosh dresses the goddess with a garland of severed heads between her welcoming arms. The depiction conveys the duality of aggression and compassion, destruction and creation, that conceptualize femininity in Hinduism.
Compassion further shines through the porcelain figure of Guanyin, known as the Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism. Guanyin is displayed with many arms, symbolizing her vast capabilities for providing help. Conceptualized as male in Tibet and female in China and Japan, the feminine portrayal of Guanine also speaks to gender fluidity in culture and religion.
Artist Kiki Smith’s sculpture of the demon Lilith is a tribute to feminism and female sacrifice in religion. In Jewish texts, Lilith refuses to subordinate herself to sex with Adam, abandoning Earth and surrendering herself to Satan. The statue demonstrates defiance and equality: though naked, Lilith’s body crouches in a way that makes it impossible to see, preventing voyeurism.
These nuanced representations of female spiritual beings reveal different embodiments of femininity across various cultures and religions. Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic displays and reshapes our understandings of gender and its role in the world.
The exhibit will travel to the National Museum of Australia from December 3, 2022, to August 27, 2023, following departure from The British Museum.
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