Monday, November 24, 2008

Redefining the Goddess

Salt Lake Community College Redefining the goddess Dominique Snow Issue date: 11/24/08 Section: Campus On Wednesday evening, Dr. Margaret Toscano, Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Utah, spoke at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts about images of the female body. Utah artist Shauna Cook Clinger introduced Toscano while promoting her own exhibition. Clinger's exhibit is currently showing at the UMFA. Her exhibition is called "An Innermost Journey." It explores the female body. "I know for certain that the paintings and drawings would love to meet you," Clinger said to her audience. Clinger and Toscano met in 1989 at a symposium. Clinger said that the power of Toscano's ideas and intellect soaked into the deepest part of her being. Toscano has taught since 1996, and has received two teaching awards at the U of U. Gender, mythology and religion are her focuses for study. She has written an article titled "The eyes have it," which explores the sexual desires of ancient Greek women. She ignores assumptions that are made of women. She thinks that Clinger's work rejects prisoners of biological destiny. "We live in a material world where we perceive ourselves as our bodies," Toscano said. The great power in visual and spoken images became realistic for us. They reflect a world where the universe is seen as organic and alive. In the Paleolithic period depictions of the human body have an emphasis on fertility. Scholars believe that these deities are goddesses. Inanna was the first goddess representing fertility, dignity, and strength. She was the queen of seven temples in ancient Sumar. Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis were goddesses that controlled the vital aspects of life. Females depicting goddesses were prevalent in religion until the Judeo-Christian times. The Western world speaks of God in male terms. Some see the return of the goddess in the Virgin Mary. She has a divine status - incorporating nurturing and compassionate qualities. Toscano said that Mormons also believe in a heavenly mother. Many people search for the female face of God. The Native American religion has Buffalo Woman, Spider Woman and the Corn Mothers. Pictures are able to change the way we see the world, so we no longer see women as objects. We have to be able to view everything from multiple points of view. There are both essentialist and constructivist views that define our definition of reality. Bodies and shapes change to fit the ideal in culture. Toscano sees this as society writing codes on our bodies. Throughout time, art depicting the female body has shown females differently. In 30,000 BCE, women held Venus of Willendorf during childbirth. The deity emphasized breasts and genitalia. Titian's Venus of Urbino showed the goddess humanized, exhibiting appropriate female behaviors. Manet's Olympia sexualized the female showing an even greater decline in the female deity. Olympia was seen as a prostitute and encompassed with shame. Toscano takes offense to the exclusive male control of female sexuality. Clinger uses her own body to convey her own truth. She reworks dark and light as important aspects of reality. According to Toscano, women cannot be defined by generalizations. Contradicting this, portraits will have a universal appeal. Stereotypes control and dismiss, while archetypes liberate and understand. There are many metaphors that deal with female power. "We experience life through our bodies, we see our bodies as conduit to a beautiful physical world we're a part of," Toscano said. Traditionally women have been given limited choices. Women are now being resexualized, breaking the simplistic pattern. Toscano has seen Eve be redeemed as a powerful symbol of feminism, instead of the depiction of a shameful temptress. Toscano finds one of the most powerful female images to be the birth of the goddess. She lifts her arms as the forgotten yet significant women of the past lift her out of the water. Mother earth and father sky need to unite to complete the myth of sacred marriage. This unites rationalism and intuitiveness. Toscano believes that mutual healing and blessings will be bestowed to those women who accept the masculine and men who accept the feminine.

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