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Politics and mythology – a seminar on the artist Monica Sjöö

Blessed Be- Monica Sjöö

If you know of any other planned events, please do let me know.

Politics and mythology – a seminar on the artist Monica Sjöö

In conjunction with two exhibitions in Stockholm, Konstfeminism (Art-feminism) and Monica Sjöö – Be Blessed, a seminar was held, placing her life and work in a feminist and art-political context. The seminar was the result of a co-operation between Liljevalchs art gallery and ABF, Stockholm.

West Kennet Long Barrow, Abode of the Dark/Light Mother

Date: Saturday August 26, 2006
Place: ABF-house, Sveavägen 44, Stockholm
Language: Swedish and English

As one of the foremost pioneers in feminist art, Monica Sjöö (1938-2005) has had considerable influence on the international scene, while at the same time remaining relatively unknown in Sweden. At the end of the 1960’s, together with several women artists in Bristol where she was then living, she created a women’s group which sought to develop an new visual language capable of expressing their own experiences, thoughts and feelings. In 1968 she painted the famous God Giving Birth, and continued thereafter to research into ancient goddess traditions. Together with the poet Barbara Mor, she published the comprehensive work The Great Cosmic Mother (1987/1991), followed by The Norse Goddess (2000). Monica Sjöö became an international authority in this area and lectured at seminars and workshops in Europe and North America. She abhorred all forms of oppression and fought actively for women’s art and women’s rights, to stop exploitation of nature and better the conditions of all exploited people. Monica Sjöö has contributed texts and pictures to international and Swedish books and is represented in international art literature.


13.30 Niclas Östlind opens the seminar and will introduce the contributors during the day.
13.35 Maja-Lena Johansson presents the art exhibition Monica Sjöö – Blessed Be (shown at
Konstnärshuset, Smålandsgatan, Stockholm, August 25-September 17). [Swedish]
13.45 Barbro Werkmäster: Monica Sjöö and Sweden. [Swedish]
14.15 Marika Tell: Magic Women – memories of a touring exhibition. [Swedish]
14.45 Peter Tucker: Avebury – a blossoming of Goddess culture (multimedia presentation in English).
14.55 Cilla Ericson: Important places and events in Monica Sjöö’s art. [Swedish]
15.15 Break for refreshments.
15.45 Onja Dowling: Ecology, place and spirituality – Monica Sjöö’s art from a human-
ecological perspective. [Swedish/English]
16.15 Griselda Pollock: Remembering and Revising – Feminist studies in the long
perspective. [English]
17.00-17.30 Summary and questions.


Onja Dowling: human-ecologist.
Cilla Ericson: artist and art teacher.
Maja-Lena Johansson: coordinator of exhibitions at the Anna Nordlander Museum.
Griselda Pollock: professor in the social and critical history of art, Univ. of Leeds.
Marika Tell: art teacher and artist.
Peter Tucker: artist and art teacher.
Barbro Werkmäster: art historian and curator.
Niclas Östlind: intendent, Liljevalch’s art gallery

Blessed Be- Monica Sjöö

Exhibition with works by Monica Sjöö from the Anna Nordlander Museum collection.

Opening: August 24 2006
Exhibition period 25th Aug-17th September 2006.

Konstnärshuset, (the Artist´s house) Smålandsgatan 7, Stockholm, Sweden



The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering The Religion Of The Earth

With Barbara Mor. Harper San Francisco, USA 1987/91

New Age and Armageddon: Goddess or the Gurus? – Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future

The Women’s Press, London 1992

Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon?: Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future

Plainview Press, Texas, USA 1999

The Norse Goddess

Dor Dama Publications, Cornwall, UK

Also included in a number of anthologies such as:-

Voices of the Goddess: A Chorus of Sibyls‘ Ed. Caitlin Matthews. UK 1990

Voicing Today’s Visions: Writings by Contemporary Women Artists‘ Ed. Mara Witzling. UK and USA

Visibly Female: Feminism and Art : An Anthology‘ E. Hilary Robinson, 1987







“Nine Morgens” Group 2003 Glastonbury Goddess Conference, UK
“Windows to Otherworlds” Group 2002 St Petersburg State University, Russia
Neolithia Arts Festival Group 2001/2002 Malta, Gozo, Germany
Solo 2001 Create Gallery, Bristol
Solo 2001 Skelleftea Women’s Arts Museum, Sweden
Solo 2001 Kebele Kulture Projekt, Bristol, UK
Travelling show Solo 1999/2000 Austin Texas, Casa de Colores at Brownsville, Texas, University of Texas in Arlington
II Mara II Group 1999 Dragonara Hotel, St Julian’s, Malta
Solo 1998 Gaia Centre Galleri, Stockholm
“Malta and Beyond” Group 1998 Quan Yin Gallery, Oakland, California, USA
“Hjartat sitter till vanster” (Heart is on the Left) radical art in Scandinavia from 1965-1975 Group 1998 Goteborg’s Konstmuseum (Gothenburg Arts Museum), Uppsala Arts Museum, Lulea Arts Museum, etc
“North Current” Group 1998 Varberg Museum, Sweden, Waterman Arts Centre, London and Gedok-Haus, Lubeck, Germany
Sharjah Arts bienniale Group 1997 United Arab Emirates
Touring Exhibition Solo 1994 Skelleftea, Nordan Museum with Anna Nordlander (MAN) Women’s Art Museum, Boden’s Konsthall and Jokmokk, Lappland
“Women’s Rites” Solo 1994 Blackie, Liverpool, UK
“With Your Own Face On” Group 1994/1995 Six venues in England including Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery and Nottingham Castle Art Gallery
“Fantasy”: Exchange exhibition with Arab women artists Group 1994 Several venues UAE
“The Stones and the Goddess” Group 1990 Gaia Book Store Gallery, Berkeley, SF, USA
“Women artists in Wales” Group 1984/1985 Llandudno, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Newport Arts Museum
“Woman Magic, celebrating the Goddess within us” Group 1979/1987 20 venues in England and Europe including Huset in Copenhagen, Denmark and Frauen-museum, Bonn, Germany
“The Worlds as we see it” Group 1977 Swiss Cottage Library, London
“Kvinnfolk” (Womenpeople) Group 1975 Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden and Malmo Arts Hall
“Women’s Lives” Group 1973/1974 Sweden – Lund’s Konstall, Harnosand’s Arts Hall, Amos Anderson’s Arts Museum, Helsinki, Finland and Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo
“Images of Womanpower” – 5 Women Artists Group 1973 Swiss Cottage Library, London
First Feminists Art Show Group 1971 Woodstock Library, London
Solo 1967 Galleri Karlsson, Stockholm, Sweden

Work in Public Collections:

Women’s Art Collection, New Hall College, Cambridge, UK

Women’s Art Museum, Skelleftea, Sweden

Work in Private Collections:

Alice Walker, Sig Lonegren, Genevieve Vaughan, etc (UK and USA)

Teaching/Public Speaking:

Numerous slide talks over the past thirty years in the UK, USA, Canada, Scandinavia, Spain and Germany

Speaking at numerous international gatherings.

Diana/Artemis, Queen of the Amazons

Diana/Artemis, Queen of the Amazons (oil, 1997)

Diana/Artemis, Queen of the Amazons (oil, 1997)

I was visiting the British Museum in London with a friend when we found that there was a special exhibition of marble reliefs from Greece relating to a war between the Amazons and Satyrs, beings who were half man and half horse. There was a whole room lined with these extraordinary, powerful images of strong women in battle, bodies almost ecstatic, reckless, great movements and energies released – some of the most expressive images of women I have ever seen, far from the static, placid Madonnas of Europe. Diana/Artemis had her temple in Ephesus on the coast of Turkey which in legend was built by Amazon women warriors who were said to have founded many great cities. Artemis is a Goddess from as far as the shamanic north of Russia. She was a Goddess and protector of women. She was many-breasted and although a “virgin”, she gave birth to all of creation. She had a black meteorite in her crown and her temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was here in Ephesus during a Church council in the fourth century that Maria was declared the Queen of Heaven and also divine. The Ephesians would have nothing less!

Until recently it was thought (by patriarchal historians) that the Amazon horse women did not exist but now there is more and more evidence as graves are found in Russia of women buried with their weapons. Great shaman women covered in magical tattoos and wearing high headdresses are also being discovered.

The archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball of the American-Eurasian Research Institute and Centre for the study of Eurasian nomads has written an exciting book called “Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines“. She works closely with Russian speaking archaeologists in Kazakstan, Ukraine and Southern Siberia in the Altai mountains where the astounding grave of a tall warrior priestess or ruler of her people covered in fantastic tattoos and wearing a three feet high headdress was discovered when the permafrost melted with the climate change. Many Iron Age Caucasian nomadic tribes such as the Saka, Scythians, Sauromatians and Sarmatians of the Euro-Asian steppes, near the Black and Ural seas and the Don and Volga rivers, were woman-led and the majority of the Kurgans (houses of the dead) or great burial mounds often containing gold treasures, were those of powerful women, some of whom were both horse-riding warrior women as well as shaman-priestesses and were buried with swords and daggers as well as portable altars, bronze mirrors and other magical implements.

The Artist As Reluctant Shamanka

The Artist As Reluctant Shamanka

In struggling to speak for Mother Earth and her spirits, for Gaia’s laws of respect for everything that lives and for witches, I am most certainly outside the patriarchal status quo, which believes that Earth is simply a human resource to be exploited by “mankind”. I believe that we are conscious and alive only because She is. Earth is our great planetary Mother Spirit. As a mainly self-taught artist and writer …. yes, I am. I never desired to be part of the male mainstream, an art world that is geared to the consumer interests of corporate businesses, lacking any kind of ecological or political awareness and now cynically celebrating the death of nature.

Western art was always sponsored by the rich and powerful, by church and state. Renaissance male artists painted idealised and sweetly smiling Madonnas adoring their sons while actually living peasant women – poor, old, lesbian, single mothers, women with healing and psychic powers, knowledgeable in herbal medicine and midwifery – were burned at the stake as witches outside the cathedrals of Europe during the three hundred years of the “burning times”. I speak here as a practising feminist, goddess-centred pagan.

Western bourgeois art then went on to celebrate the patriarchal family with dominant father and subservient women and children. Part of that tradition was the continuous stream of female nudes, the pornography of its day. Women were always to be seen and consumed. I speak from experience. When I was sixteen years old, a runaway and dirt poor, I worked for several years as a nude model in art schools in Sweden and privately for male artists. I was the object in their art and was treated either as an object, like an apple or a chair, or as some kind of prostitute. This came as no surprise to me since my own peasant artist father bragged to me in my childhood about having sex with his women models. I always refused to be painted by him in the nude and it was ironic and mortifying to be working as a semi-professional artists’ model, just like so many women driven by misery and poverty into all kinds of sexual exploitation.

I grew up in Sweden, first in the north where my mother’s family came from then in Stockholm, where I and my artist mother lived as outcasts in great poverty. My parents split up when I was only three years old. My father was from a south Swedish peasant/working class background and had no formal education. He took himself through art school and academy, where he met my mother, keeping himself by doing painting and decorating. Although I did not get on with my father, I did admire his honesty as a painter. He always remained faithful to the poor and austere landscape and peasant cottages of his childhood, and used mainly earth colours at a time when this was most unfashionable, as the art world was dominated by the followers of Matisse. In spite of this and his impoverished background, my father made it and the same art critics who at one time had criticised him now praised his “sensitive use of colour”. My father thought precious little of the art world and its favouritisms and hypocrisy. This knowledge stood me in good stead when I was later criticised for my own art.

My mother, who had no women’s art movement to look back to, lacked my father’s confidence and toughness and she never succeeded in spite of being a talented artist. She remarried a Russian aristocratic emigré who became my step-father for five long years. I loved her dearly. She was a great dreamer and mystic and an early drop-out who, by marrying my father, had married below her class and was excluded because of it. I ran away at the age of sixteen to get away from my cruel and right-wing step-father. This is the background which formed my early life and later radical political views.

Traumatic life experiences “of birth, death and rebirth” have pushed me over the edge – influenced my art and made me “see” the invisible world that exists around us at all times. This is the realm of the Great Mother who is both dark and light, of this and of the Other or Spirit World. She gives us life and She takes it back. It was the natural home birth of my second son Toivo in Bristol in 1961 that first made me aware of the immense powers of woman’s body and sexuality. In amongst the huge contractions and a sense of being physically torn apart, I “saw” in my mind’s eye great masses of velvety luminous blackness alternating with masses of blinding light. Both were benevolent and visually incredibly beautiful. The Goddess revealed herself to me in that open and vulnerable state.

In 1964 I was offered a show in a small local gallery and in it I had just one figurative colourful painting that I called “Birth”. I was attempting to explore in it the combination of physicality with space and spirit, and was horrified that I was attacked for it. The visitors’ book was full of abusive comments about how such a disgusting image should not be allowed in a public space. This set me questioning this culture that declared women’s sacred experiences of menstruation and birth an obscenity. I declared there and then to dedicate my life to exploring our woman experiences, both physical and spiritual, in my art. At that time I saw abstract art as something for the privileged who can afford to play games with the surface of reality. From then on I dedicated a lot of time to finding out about ancient Neolithic Goddess cultures. I wanted to understand their beliefs and values. The information I gathered resulted in the book “The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering The Religion Of The Earth” (with Barbara Mor, pub. Harper S.F. in 1987 and 1991).

I spent two years in Sweden, 1965-67, working with the Vietnam movement, which brought me into working relationships with radical left-wing artists and black awareness artists, one of whom became the father of my young son born in 1970.

In Bristol in 1968 I was a founder of the first women’s liberation group and did the painting God Giving Birth which challenges the Christian notion of “God”. The painting was first shown in St. Ives in Cornwall in 1970, together with others of my paintings with erotic and multi-racial themes. There was a scandal, especially as the paintings had been hung in the local Town Hall and they were banned. Next time I exhibited it was with a group of feminist artists in the “Womanpower – 5 Women Artists” show at Swiss Cottage Library in London, 1973. God Giving Birth was nearly taken to Court for “obscenity and blasphemy”. As a result the painting became very famous and is now seen as an important icon and consciousness raiser. It belongs now in the Women’s Arts Museum in Skelleftea in North Sweden.

In 1978, during a magic mushroom trip, I became aware of Earth mysteries and the Neolithic sacred sites of the Goddess and was initiated into the ancient Mother on Her pregnant womb at Silbury. I experienced how She grieves and I experienced Her pain, as She is daily abused, raped, polluted, exploited, in my own body. I literally saw Earth alive and breathing and since that time I cannot doubt that She is our living and conscious greater Mother. We can know and hear her as She sings and speaks to us in visions and dreams. Until my initiation, my work had been large, figurative paintings of women of mainly cultures and races. I went to live in Wales away from the city and close to Her, and now the land itself came into my paintings for the first time and I did a great number of paintings inspired by the sea, the sacred sites, and the Goddess in the landscape.

My paintings feel ancient and archaic, as if coming from another space and time. I feel that past-present-future coexists with us now and that those ancient Sisterhoods of many races can communicate with us in the present from other realms. Are my paintings some form of psychic gateways for their re-entry into this world?

I was an unwilling Shaman, and I have been thrown in at the deep end again and again my life in order, it seems, to gain understanding of other realities. When my young son, only fifteen years old, was run down and killed by a car in 1985, my life as I had known it stopped and I no longer wanted to live. I had never experienced pain like it. The only reason I am sane and still alive is because I saw with my own eyes that my son in death looked utterly peaceful, as if he had been met by loved ones. I experienced travelling with him, flying on great white wings into a great light and the words that came to me were “the only thing that matters is love”.

I went through a hideous time of fearing everything I had been involved in: my painting, my book on the Great Cosmic Mother, the Goddess, Women’s gatherings, beauty in nature, the sun. I wanted to be in perpetual darkness and winter because my son had died on a beautiful southern summer day.

When I returned to doing some work again after several years’ absence, I sought the otherworld experience and the astral light presence I had had with my son. However, I did not become a “New Ager”. I had very negative experiences of that movement when my older son, Sean, developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, diagnosed soon after my young son’s death in France. We lived together during the two years he had left to live and during that time we explored spiritualism and sought out healing and meditation circles and attended the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. My son got involved with Rebirthers, a New Age therapy with an extreme patriarchal and right-wing ideology. My son died on a full moon in July 1987 and after he died I made a thorough study of the New Age movement and wrote a book, since updated and republished under the title “Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon?: Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future“.

In recent years I had rediscovered my Northern heritage and travelled in 1994 in the North of Sweden with a large exhibition of my work. In 1999 I wrote “The Norse Goddess“, which also discussed the history and beliefs of the Shamanic Saami people of the North, perhaps the most ancient people of Europe. I have been giving talks, sideshows and exhibitions at international Goddess conferences, and for more than ten years have been working with a Bristol Women’s Group. We do rituals at full and dark moon times and the eight festivals of the year, as well as being involved in magical, political action and anti-racist work. This group has given me sustenance, hope and friendships and has been a lifeline in these so difficult times.

I have also taken part in recent years in various large group exchange exhibitions of women’s art and have travelled widely. After I was operated on for breast cancer five years ago I had a sense of urgency to see, do, paint, write and travel as much as I could while still strong enough to do so. I have recently developed secondary cancer and I do not know what the future holds. It is therefore, important and urgent that this exhibition takes place now.

Blessed Be
Monica Sjöö

A few more paintings

A few more paintings …

… click on any to see a larger version or start a slideshow