THE DIVINE TO THE DEMONIC

In May 2022, the British Museum will open the first major exhibition to explore female spirit beings in global beliefs and mythological traditions around the world. Tickets go on sale today, International Women’s Day, for The Citi Women’s Power: From Divine to Demonic exhibit.

This exhibition brings together ancient sculptures, sacred artifacts and contemporary art from six continents to explore the diversity of ways in which femininity has been perceived around the world, from the ancient world to today. It explores the embodiment of feminine power in deities, goddesses, demons, saints and other spiritual beings, associated with various realms of human experience, wisdom, passion and nature at the war, mercy and justice.

For the first time, the British Museum has invited special contributors to respond to the themes of the exhibition, sharing their personal and professional views. Video and audio reflections addressing each section will encourage discussion around the show’s universal themes. Contributions will conclude the exhibition alongside a space for visitors to share their responses as part of the conversation.

Special guest contributors include: Dr. Leyla Hussein, psychotherapist and award-winning international campaigner against violence against women, will reflect on Forces of Nature; Professor Mary Beard, classicist, author and broadcaster will speak on Passion et Désir; award-winning writer and host of the How To Fail podcast, Elizabeth’s Day, will explore Magic and Malice; former British Army major and human rights lawyer, Rabia Siddique, will share her thoughts on justice and defence; and Deborah Frances-White, the writer and comedian known for her podcast The Guilty Feminist, will explore the theme of compassion and salvation.

Artifacts from cultures around the world will be exhibited together for the first time, including painted scrolls from Tibet, Roman sculptures, intricate personal amulets from Egypt, vibrant Japanese prints and Indian reliefs alongside contemporary sculptures. The exhibition will include over 70 unique and spectacular objects, drawn from the British Museum’s world-class collection complemented by spectacular loans.

The exhibition will tour internationally later this year from the National Museum of Australia in Canberra before being shown in five venues in Spain in partnership with Fundación Bancaria La Caixa.

A recently acquired icon of the Hindu goddess Kali by Bengali artist Kaushik Ghosh is also revealed today, the first contemporary 3D depiction of Kali in the collection. As one of the most important and revered goddesses in India, this devotional image of Kali reflects the living tradition of her worship, important to millions of Hindus around the world today. Commissioned especially for the exhibition, in conjunction with the London Durgotsav Committee, which organizes the annual Kali Puja festival in Camden, in honor of Kali.

Loved and feared for her formidable power and aggressiveness, Kali is the goddess of destruction and salvation, who transcends time and death, destroys ignorance, and guides her followers to enlightenment. Although superficially terrifying, the bloody heads she wears and wears represent her power to destroy the ego, freeing her followers from worldly concerns, and the belt of severed arms signifies she frees them from the cycle of death and decay. rebirth, through the many weapons it wields.

Since the end of the first millennium AD, Lilith has been known in Jewish demonology as Adam’s first wife and Satan’s wife. Its origins are believed to lie in Mesopotamian demons. The exhibit will include a ceramic incantation bowl dating from 500-800 AD in Iraq, with a rare ancient image of Lilith in female form. Buried upside down under the thresholds of houses, these bowls were engraved with charms to protect the named patrons from demonic forces and regularly named Lilith; sometimes as grammatically singular and feminine, but also masculine or plural.

In the 19th century, the cultural relevance of Lilith grew to embody the challenge of patriarchal moral expectations. Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the sculpture Lilith (1994) by the American artist Kiki Smith. Smith’s sculpture is cast from the body of a real woman, her piercing eyes of blue glass directly confront the viewer as she crouches on all fours against the wall, her hidden anatomy preventing a voyeuristic view of her body . This vision of Lilith is both provocative and disturbing, possessing an intangible quality, acknowledging her changing identity through time.

Kiki Smith says, ‘Lilith becomes this disembodied spirit that goes off and wreaks havoc and does not want to be subjugated. Here, she transcends gravity and the constraints of her body.

Through material culture, this exhibition explores how the representation of female power in global belief and mythology has played – and continues to play – a significant role in shaping global cultural attitudes towards women and gender identity.

Belinda Crerar, Curator of the British Museum, said: “This exhibition is a journey through history and around the world to see the different ways in which women’s power and authority have been seen in spiritual belief. The diversity of these goddesses, spirits, enlightened and holy beings, and their profound influence in people’s lives today and in the past, gives us pause to reflect on how femininity – and indeed masculinity – are defined and valued now and in the future.”

Muriel Gray, Vice-Chair of the British Museum Trustees, said: “The Citi exhibition Female Power: Divine to Demonic is brimming with magic, wisdom, fury and passion. I am very proud that through the breadth and depth of the British Museum’s collection, alongside special loans, we can tell such powerful and universal stories of faith and womanhood, from the oldest cultures to living traditions. of the whole world. I would like to thank Citi, whose continued support made it possible for the Museum to bring this groundbreaking exhibition to life.’

James Bardrick, Citi Country Officer, UK said: “As a global bank, our mission is to serve as a trusted partner to our customers by responsibly providing financial services that drive growth and economic progress. The success of our mission is only possible if we can continue to foster a culture of equality and inclusion that allows and encourages diversity of thought. To convey this message of equality and the power and influence of women over time, we are delighted to see the Museum use its collection, as well as spectacular loans, to create a thought-provoking look at the diversity of representations and complex meanings of the divine woman over time.”

After the exhibition at the British Museum, the exhibition will be seen around the world, starting with the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. It will then tour five sites in Spain in partnership with Fundación Bancaria La Caixa until 2025. The two international partners have long-standing relationships with the Museum, having collaborated on previous exhibition projects.

Director of the National Museum of Australia, Dr Mathew Trinca, said: “I am delighted to bring such a compelling sight to the country in December 2022, with Canberra as the only Australian venue.

“Australian audiences will be enthralled by this show which blends historical and contemporary reflections on female power – the exhibition is the fifth in a series of British Museum exhibitions which have been presented at the National Museum of Australia, and draws on our strong partnership.”

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