The residency is now over what did I learn, discover, create? Did I create an image of universal love or come even close? Have I somewhere else to turn instead of the Buddha? I discovered so much it’s hard to say it all- but here are some of the main discoveries
The ‘wandering, searching’ tribe
Most significantly, the conversations I had revealed there are people out there, just like me, a little lost, searching, believing in something that doesn’t have a shared name, doesn’t have a physical form or a set of rituals associated with it. These people have turned away from religion because they found it oppressive in some way. They come from many different backgrounds, are both men and women and in all age groups. I heard stories of religion letting them down at crucial points. But people still turned to prayer when things got tough, as many of us do. Who is that we prayer to?
Second big find- Patriarchy infiltrated religion as well
Archaeological finds indicate that 30,000 years ago, in the Neolithic period, people believed that the ‘super power’ was feminine. There are small carved statues all over the world, portraying a female figure. These statues weren’t fertility symbols, that’s patriarchy talking, they were symbols of what people believed to be the creator of everything- the Earth Mother, Great mother, Shakti. This wasn’t just in the Africa, Asia, Egypt, it was across Europe and Celtic cultures too. (See work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas)
This was a time when women were revered seen as having
super-powers as they were the sex most closely related to the supreme creator
of everything- which was believed to be a feminine force. Patriarchy began to
erode matriarchal structures from the bronze age and here we are today – with
only a smattering of matriarchal societies left and 52% of the rest of the
population consciously or unconsciously believing men are the stronger, more
able sex, believing that the masculine is superior to the feminine.
My research into Buddhism led me to Tara, a female buddha who got lost along the way. Also, a book called ‘Cave in the Snow’ which is the story of Tenzin Palmo, a Buddhist nun. She shows quite clearly how she was denied access to learn from higher scriptures because they considered her unable to reach enlightenment due to her sex. Tenzin Palmo is challenging this today and has pledged to reincarnate always as a woman until she reaches enlightenment.
Third big find. A strand of Hinduism names the creator of all things ‘Shakti’- a feminine force.
Shakti is not to be a confused with the goddesses- she is at the top of the tree! She takes the form of several goddesses – each of those helps us to cope with life. Kali, when we need to the strength to fight injustice, Goddess Lakshmi for attracting wealth and abundance- we have so many wants and needs there has to be multiple goddesses.
The human race can not survive without men, so of course there are men and some of these are deities too. But Shakti is the ultimate feminine force of everything.
Something about my process
There were times as worked, that called on her to support me, to reveal herself to me, to us. (‘Tuning in’ is something I do when painting- so this isn’t a new thing). There are 3 particular works I could mention here- the clay sculpture of the head, the light sculpture made from sacking, some drawings I made and where stories also came to me to accompany them.….think there is something in those.
I was working in a shop fronted space, where people could come in at any time. The window display was an important vehicle to attract people into the space.
I had at least one visitor per day and our conversations very often influenced the work created. It no longer focused on my need it became something broader as I realised that this resonated with other people too. Were the female forms I was drawing relevant to other people? I considered more contemporary images that may appeal to younger people searching…
The engagement wasn’t always positive so after week 1, I had to redefine my boundaries and change the window display to attract a different kind of visitor- ideallymore women.
The workshop mid-way through, ‘Feminism and Spirituality’ was a significant point in the journey. It was suggested by someone I didn’t know who had resonated with the title of the residency- ‘When Buddha’s not enough’. The depth of conversation and honesty in that setting was something special. The creative element involved creating our own versions of the Neolithic Great Mother or Venus from clay. Everyone created a different form meaningful to them.
Did I come up with an image, a structure that could replace the Buddha?
If I had to replace the Buddha with any of the objects I made- the way I feel now it may be the abstract rock I created designed to be touched. I like the idea of laying my hand on there, sitting quietly and using that to connect.
I am however drawn to the human form, so there is something about the sculpture of the head that I made…
The light sculpture feels special. It feels like it needs an audience- the corner of my lounge is not right for it. It has a grandeur about it that demands a space to itself. It’s beautiful in the darker hours of the day and when photographed the colour of the light shows up differently to the way the naked eye sees it- I like that bit of magic, mystery, accidental camera wizardry.
I want to continue the journey which I think now is about reclaiming the feminine. I’d like to pick up the threads of belief from Neolithic times and start to sew with it ….see where it takes me. There is a picture book in my sketches that wants to happen and I realise I love clay! There is something about community and the wandering tribe…
When I was writing the first draft of this blog yesterday,
this came through at the end – so I want to finish with that
‘I am drawn to write the word ‘Love’ here. She is in all that is ‘love’ there is a purity and simplicity in love- where you feel love you will feel her.’
First day of residency. Feels strange working in such an open public place when someone can drop in at any time. Enjoyed the first couple of hours settling into space by drawing.
Then my first visitor curious about the Buddha in the window.
‘My son’s having a Buddhist wedding next month so I’m curious to see what this
Oh dear have I offended him by the title of the residency? I
found it hard at first to articulate to a stranger what this work was about. I tried
to reassure him that it was not Buddhism I was against but more the prevalence of
male deities in many religions.
We talked and talked…he told me stories about his life. He’d
grown up in the Church but left it behind in adulthood. Whilst not aligned to
any religion now he believes in a ‘divine force’ (his words) that must have
created everything. He talked of ‘divine’ moments where they were more than
just coincidences that led him to people. (Note: This guy is a senior, successful
businessman- not a new- ager)
By the end of our chat I realised that although we are very
different, he too had a need for something to turn to other than church and religion.
He looked carefully at the drawings I had created and read the text that
accompanied one of them.
What would he think?
After some further questions, he said he admired my courage
for doing this. For saying what I wanted to say and not following others. That was quite a moment.
Would my creation work for him too I wondered? Then I drew
I recently started some research for my residency, beginning with the search ‘Female deities in Buddhism’. Here is brief synopsis of what I found:
I discovered Tara who’s earliest text references date from the 5th century and earliest image has been found in Cave 6, Ellora Caves, cut into rock dating back to 7th century. Worship of Tara was well established in India by 8th century.
Tara takes many forms and also colours. Most prominently, there is white Tara and green Tara- both representing different aspects.
Tara also takes the form of Saraswati- in Hinduism she is the daughter of Durga and wife of Lord Brahma. Saraswati, stands for ‘one that flows’- fluidity of all kinds including speech, writing, song, music and thought. She also represents knowledge, arts and wisdom.
Tara appears in forms across China, Japan, Indonesia, India and Bengal. In China she appears as Kwan Yin.
The images, often sculptures, are amazing. She is sometimes in a meditative pose, sometimes standing strong, sometimes graceful holding a sitar.
Also of interest was this quote, from a speech made by the 14th Dalai Lama, speaking about Tara at a conference in 1989.
‘There is a true feminist movement in Buddhism that relates to the goddess Tārā. Following her cultivation of bodhicitta, the bodhisattva’s motivation, she looked upon the situation of those striving towards full awakening and she felt that there were too few people who attained Buddhahood as women. So she vowed, “I have developed bodhicitta as a woman. For all my lifetimes along the path I vow to be born as a woman, and in my final lifetime when I attain Buddhahood, then, too, I will be a woman.”
This initial piece of research is most welcome- a female buddha does exist! Well of course she does. How could she not?! As with many other stories of women, she is just not as prevalent within mainstream culture of today.
I have always wanted to see the temples in Southern India that have the ornate carvings of women/ goddesses- I now know why. They are most likely Tara or Saraswati.
But where does this leave me and my residency now – have I found my answer already?
Before I started this research, back when I submitted the proposal for the residency, I drew an image – as my own alternative to Buddha. It was a sketch over several sheets of paper. At the next studio session I asked myself how I develop this. A painting didn’t feel right for some reason. I happened to have some clay in the studio- and that’s what called me. So I moulded first trying to recreate my 2d drawing, but this didn’t feel right- so I remoulded. After 3-4 hours I arrived at something which I was happy with- although it was a little strange- not the beautiful thing I thought would come out. But I know that you have just have to follow the creative process- and let it create what needs to be created.
This is the work I wanted to develop in the residency- and still do.
Who knows maybe Tara will appear in her 21st century form?
In January 2020 I begin the year with an artist residency with the arts organisation ‘Made in Roath’ at their premises 1a Inverness Place, Cardiff.
The subject matter for the residency is based on a poem I submitted titled ‘When Buddha’s not enough’.
So why this title? There was a point earlier this year that I realised that the images we look to for spirituality and connection are predominantly male. At that particular point in time, let’s just say I was keenly aware of the prevalence of patriarchy in society and how it can covertly eat into everything including the closest relationships…with detrimental effects. (Perhaps I’ll share the specifics at some point- but it’s whole other story that may even have its own body of work.)
As a feminist, however much I admire the teachings of the Buddha, I realised this beautifully carved figurine sitting on my desk, no longer offered me the sanctuary I needed. I now saw him as just another man who had been elevated to this grand position- the face of Buddhism. Where were the women/ the female deities?
I was born into the Sikh religion which has 10 Gurus all of whom are men. Christianity has Jesus. The only female presence I was aware of was Hinduism which has several Goddesses but the main deities are Krishna and Shiva.
This residency is about looking to create something that someone like me, who is spiritual, without identifying with any particular religion, might look to when they need comfort, guidance, spiritual support.
Is it female based? Is it without gender? Can it be drawn? Does it need to be 3D? Does it need to be something more complex? I want to keep the door open and trust that I have the ability to create what comes to me. If I feel it needs to incorporate sound or music I will invite musicians into the process.
I have yet to decide on my approach. I could research world religions and see what has come before, or I could tune in and meditate and see what comes through.
One thing I do want to do is to start a dialogue with other people that this resonates with. Are you tired of what’s on offer- in your quieter moments do you crave for an alternative? Would you be interested in coming on this journey with me?
The #sackslavery exhibition is getting closer- October 18th. Yesterday I did more work on the freedom piece- adding flowers to the wings. Did I tell you about the wings? You’ll see when it’s finished.
Also since my last post I have found some music that will go with the piece. It’s from the talented composer, Simon Rodgers, who has a studio in the same building as me.
When I heard the particular track I’ll be using I cried. I also realised that I want people to cry when they see the work. Modern slavery is such a harrowing issue- mainly affecting women, who are forced into situations often involving physical and or sexual abuse.
Back to the stream about collaboration- being in certain spaces opens doors and new collaborations. This happened not just with Simon the composer but also with a tech wizard, Ashley Croome, in a different building I also inhabit- a tech hub. So I now have a ‘raspberry-pi’ bit of kit that will play the music on a loop, but only when someone approaches, as it has a motion sensor.
I have never really collaborated over my art, it’s usually a solitary activity often around painting, but this work has been about connection and collaboration, a combination of people and talents – this has all happened organically. And its not over yet.
There is still a key bit of construction work that needs to happen for it to stand up- I’ll need some help with that too. With so many wonderful people in the world I’m sure to have another collaborator soon.
’46 million people live as slaves today. Modern slavery affects every nation in the world, including Wales, and has many cruel faces including: Forced labour, criminal exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and organ harvesting.’
An independent coffee house, Manumit Coffee, supports survivors of modern slavery and has invited artists to create works on the theme of ‘Freedom from slavery’ using a coffee sack as a starting point.
At first I was unsure whether to raise my hand for this project, after all how could I create something I haven’t experienced? Wouldn’t it be patronising? After some research and reflection I decided that if I could do something to raise awareness of this hidden issue then that could only be a good thing- so today I picked up my coffee sack and my brief.
As you know I am a painter primarily, but this piece is not going to be a painting- its going to be an installation piece. My concept has two parts- a structure that symbolises captivity and the second element is wire structure of a standing, free woman. I shall start sketching this out later today.
Today I started part one. I don’t want to share the detail as I prefer to reveal the whole piece in October at the show- but creating it was a uncomfortable. I don’t usually take my art into these areas- so it was a stretch- but a stretch worth doing. The piece is now hidden in the corner of my studio, where it will stay for at least a month.
With the first stage underway I can now switch to the standing figure- the free figure. I have no idea how I am going to create it- but I have time- and where there is a will there is a way. I may need help- that’s fine.
I’m now quietly excited about the challenge of creating this piece- it’s new for me and who knows what impact it could have?
The show is on October 18th at The Sustainable Studio Cardiff, to coincide with Anti-slavery day.