Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A closer look at our temporary exhibition part four

Welcome to the penultimate part of our online tour of our current temporary exhibition.  The exhibition title is Witches and Witchlore: the illustrations of Jos A Smith.  These works have never been displayed before and this is the first exhibition of Jos Smith's work in the UK.  The illustrations originally appeared in the book 'Witches' published in 1981 with text by Erica Jong.

This section of the exhibition is dominated by these amazing animal paintings of a pig, toad, rabbit, cockrel, dog and goat.  They feature in the book in a section on witch's familiars.  We also have a raven on display in another area of the gallery.

Smith says of these images: “They are examples of a series of birds and animals whose images come from things that I visualize using a combination of trance techniques that I have put together from things that I have learned from the Nyingmapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, shamanist trance that I learned from an anthropologist (Michael Harner) who has studied the Siberian shamans, and non-drug induced altered states.”

The next image is a little controversial.  For this reason it is covered by a curtain in the gallery.  Top photograph shows the image covered and below you can see the striking image.

This provocative image has a large text panel next to it which includes a quote from Jong and a brief exploration of the connections between sex and witchcraft.

Erica Jong: “In some sense, the word “witch” is synonymous in our minds with the word “woman”.  Perhaps this is because we associate woman’s creative powers with the manipulation of vast, unseen forces.  Or perhaps we intuitively understand that during the long centuries when women were themselves the semi slaves of society, they were naturally drawn to witchcraft as a cure for their powerlessness, a means of manipulating a world that otherwise manipulated them.  In any case, we always imagine the witch as female – and the Devil as male.”

As part of the exhibition, we have tried to explore how the images in this work have influenced its readers.  Julian Vayne, Friend of the Museum, commented on the significance of this image for him:
“Another favourite is the image of the devil and a bonneted, but otherwise naked, witch. In this scene there is an arresting blend of raw sexual energy, beauty and an intimate tenderness. This artwork stands in the tradition of the woman and satyr fresco painting from Pompeii, and the Pan and she-goat sculpture from Herculaneum. Smith's vision subverts the morbid fantasies of the inquisitors and instead connects us with this ancient and erotically joyful artistic lineage.”

Exhibition runs until November.  Part Five (final part) coming soon.

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