Carolee Schneeman, Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions (Photograph of performance,1963)
Minoan Snake Goddess (Seventeenth Century BC);
Archaeological Museum, Crete
Egyptian Rocket Goddess(1990);
Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York
A new interest in female divinities and in spirituality involving the worship of a goddess or goddesses has been one of the more striking results of the Women's Movement. It is something which stretches well beyond the boundaries of the art world. Within the art world, as also in archaeological studies, fascination with visual representations of goddess figures has been fuelled by the publications of feminist archaeologists like the late Maria Gimbutas (1921-1994). Though these interpretations have inevitably been contested, sometimes by other feminists, they have seized the imaginations of many women and have been a continuing source of energy within feminism. They necessarily shift our perspective in looking not only at extremely ancient works but also at all art in which a goddess figure or some equivalent appears.
making images of deities is an age-old human occupation. The very first three-dimensional representations of human beings, dating from the Palaeolithic period and usually interpreted by modern scholars as divinities, are those of females rather than males. Nevertheless, when one attempts to discuss this long series of divine images, one immediately starts to run into some problems. Are they, for example, representations of a mythical universal mother figure, who manifests herself in a variety of physical guises? Or do they simply represent the common cultural phenomenon of fertility figures, responsible for only one- albeit a very important - aspect of human life?
Images like those of the celebrated Minoan snake goddesses or the snake priestesses discovered by Sir Arthur Evan's in the ruins of the ancient palace at Knossos in Crete have been absorbed into contemporary consciousness and have thus acquired a popular life of their own. Contemporary artists like the American painter and sculptor Audrey Flack (1931) have used the Minoan snake goddess as a symbol of female empowerment. Flack's Egyptian Rocket Goddess, illustrated is a sophisticated Post-modern sculpture which combines Minoan elements with others borrowed from the ancient Egyptian representations of Isis and yet others taken from Art Deco.
When confronted with such an unusually complicated play of imagery borrowed from several different epochs and major civilizations, it is impossible to be sure just how seriously the artist intends her divine symbolism to be taken. One thing of which we can be certain is that the sculpture forms part of a resurgence of interest in making representations of the divine female.
While Flack's figure may not actually be intended as an object of worship, it does make a statement about eh importance of the feminine element with the world. Furthermore, it presents this element as an active force and, as such, is a positive image of femininity. Association with the divine helps to reinforce the image.