Tribute to Nancy Spero
Nile Birdwoman Goddess (above)
burnished smoke fired clay | beeswax | limed oak base
God Says Yes, Yes Yes She Says
offset litho cards | papercutting | handlettering
Nancy Spero was a radical American artist and feminist who died in October 2009. Her work consistently challenged the art establishment’s idea of 'art-as-a-precious-object' and the depiction of women as 'to-be-looked-at' passive subjects. She worked mainly in print on long paper banners and moved from documenting abuses against women to celebrating 'woman as protagonist' through developing a pantheon of active and powerful female figures, based on dancers, athletes and positive images of women from other cultures and pre-history.
The divine life force is formless –neither male nor female– and beyond our imagining, but human beings create myths, stories and images none-the-less, to make sense of life. What we have been telling ourselves, and the images we make, have served male divinity for a very long time. The monotheistic, God-worshipping Big Three, have been fighting it out over millennia and have brought us to the brink. Their stories have marginalised women and denigrated their bodies the world over, and in parallel, the body of the earth itself.
Treated poorly, women internalise oppression, which can manifest in body issues: self-disgust, eating disorders, physical symptoms, size zero models and seeking cosmetic surgery. These sever us from experiencing the divine through the body, in sex, dancing, birthing, breast-feeding or feeling a warm wind on one’s skin.
The collective myth-makers have been men and the stories in their own image. In the eroding of male domination and the ability to choose one’s gender identity, women are becoming myth-makers. Now free to make new stories to live by, that honour the feminine: the vessel rather than the sword, whilst acknowledging that we are all both male and female, dark and light, earth and sky.
Photography by Ian Wetton