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Exhibition Review – Feminine power: the divine to the demonic at the British Museum from 19 May to 25 September 2022

The British Museum presents the first major exhibition to explore female spiritual beings in world belief and mythological traditions around the globe.

This exhibition brings together ancient sculpture, sacred artefacts and contemporary art from six continents to explore the diversity of ways in which femininity has been perceived across the globe, from the ancient world to today.

It explores the embodiment of feminine power in deities, goddesses, demons, saints and other spiritual beings, associated with diverse areas of human experience, from wisdom, passion and nature, to war, mercy and justice.

Objects from cultures across the globe are displayed together for the first time including painted scrolls from Tibet, Roman sculpture, intricate personal amulets from Egypt, Japanese prints and Indian relief carvings alongside contemporary sculptures.

The exhibition includes over 70 unique objects, drawn from the British Museum’s world-class collection complimented by rare loans.

For the first time, the British Museum has invited special guest contributors to respond to the themes in the exhibition, sharing their personal and professional viewpoints. The video and audio thought-pieces addressing each section will encourage discussion around the universal themes of the show. The contributions conclude the exhibition alongside an area for visitors to share their responses as part
of the conversation.

The 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 to Passion and Desire; award-winning writer and presenter of the podcast How To Fail, Elizabeth 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 best known for her podcast The Guilty Feminist, will explore the theme of Compassion and Salvation.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a newly acquired icon of the Hindu goddess Kali by Bengali artist, Kaushik Ghosh, the first contemporary 3D representation of Kali in the British Museum collection. Kali is one of the most prominent and widely venerated goddesses in India who is loved and feared for her formidable power as a goddess of destruction and salvation, who transcends time and death.

Since the late first millennium AD, Lilith has been known within Jewish demonology as the first wife of Adam and the consort of Satan. Her origins are thought to lie in Mesopotamia. The exhibition includes a ceramic incantation bowl from 500-800 AD Iraq, featuring a rare early image of Lilith in female form.

On loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the sculpture, Lilith (1994), by American artist Kiki Smith. Smith’s sculpture is cast from the body of a real woman, her eyes of blue glass directly confront the viewer as she crouches on all fours against the wall.

This fascinating exhibition explores how feminine power has played a vital role in world belief and mythology. This role has led to a number of representations that often shape cultural attitudes towards women and gender identity. Modern artists and writers are beginning to use these representations to challenge some of these stereotypes and look at more balanced views of women in many different societies.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information and tickets, visit the British Museum website here

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