5,000 Years of Feminine Power and Prestige Are On Display in ‘Revered and Feared’


#art history

January 11, 2024

Grace Ebert

a sculpture of a goddess with many hands and flowers around her feet

Porcelain, about 1700–22, China. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum. All images shared with permission

From goddesses and deities to demons and witches, women’s spirituality has always been fraught and the instigator of both awe-inspiring respect and immense anxieties. An exhibition on view now at Caixa Forum in Madrid brings 5,000 years of these complicated feelings together through 166 historical and contemporary artworks.

A collaboration between La Caixa Foundation and the British Museum, Revered and Feared: Feminine Power in Art and Belief considers how spirituality has informed notions of gender since time immemorial. The exhibition is global in scale, featuring ancient Greek monsters like Medusa, the Hindu goddess Kali, and depictions of the Christian icon, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Alongside these historical statutes and objects are works from contemporary artists like Zanele Muholi, Marina Abramović, Ana Mendieta, and Niki de Saint Phalle that contextualize these legacies within today’s cultural and political landscape.

Given the long history of fear over women’s power and independence, the imagery in the exhibition “speak(s) of the human desire to feel safe and find direction, of the natural cycles of fertility and the continuity of life,” a statement says. “They personify desire and passion, chaos and harmony. They are associated with witchcraft and evil spells. They represent female independence and are either central to society or on the fringes of it.”

Revered and Feared is on view through January 14. (via artnet)


a black and white portrait of a nude woman with textured hair flowing around her

Zanele Muholi, “Somnyama IV” Oslo (2015). Image courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York

an abstract white figurative sculpture with part of the right leg missing

Cycladic figure, about 2400–2500 BCE, marble, Greece. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

a sculpture featuring a face and a crown of stone feathers

Contrasting portrayals, about 500 BC, painted terracotta, Italy. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

Dance mask of Taraka, 1994, from the workshop of Sri Kajal Datta (born 1973), papier mâché, clay, fibre and silk, West Bengal, India. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

a blue statue of a feminine figure with a cat head

Egyptian amulet, 1069–664 BCE, glazed composition, Egypt. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

a sculptural clay slab with a woman and cats and owls around her. She has wings coming from her hips

Queen of the Night, about 1750 BCE, painted clay, Iraq. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum

a figurative statue stands in the center of a gallery on a platform

Exhibition view of the Venus statute

#art history


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