Monica Sjöö

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Monica Sjöö
Monica-Sjoo-portrait.gif
Born (1938-12-31)December 31, 1938
Härnösand, Västernorrland, Sweden
Died August 8, 2005(2005-08-08) (aged 66)
Bristol, England
Cause of death Cancer
Residence Bristol, England
Occupation Painter, writer, radical anarcho/eco-feminist
Notable work God Giving Birth (1968, oil), The Great Cosmic Mother with Barbara Mor (1987)
Movement Anarchism
Ecofeminism
Feminist art movement
Goddess movement
Women's liberation movement
Spouse(s) Stevan Trickey
Andrew Jubb
Children Sean, Toivo, Leify

Monica Sjöö, (December 31, 1938 – August 8, 2005), was a Swedish painter, writer and a radical anarcho/eco-feminist who was an early exponent of the Goddess movement.[1]

Her most famous painting is the controversial God Giving Birth (1968), which depicts a non-white woman giving birth; it was censored multiple times[2][3] and at one art show, Sjöö was reported to the police for blasphemy.[4]

Sjöö was the main author of 'Towards a Revolutionary Feminist Art' (1971) one of the first, and most militant, feminist art manifestos. It was discussed widely in the feminist press, and The Guardian published an article in response.[5] Ann Pettitt, one of the founders of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, subsequently contributed to a later iteration.

In 1976 Sjöö was the subject of a film documentary shown at the ICA and NFT.[6]

Monica Sjöö wrote the original pamphlet[7] that, with Barbara Mor's re-write and expansion,[8] would become the book The Great Cosmic Mother (1987). It covers women's ancient history and the origin of religion, and is one of the first books to propose that humanity’s earliest religious and cultural belief systems were created and first practised by women. It is currently in print and has been, and still is, a part of many women's studies, mythology and religious studies syllabi.[9] Her research and writing helped uncover the hidden history of the Goddess. Sjöö's successful use of interdisciplinarity in her research has led to its acclaim within the Goddess movement.[10]

Her art and writing became well known outside of the UK, and throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s she had extensive correspondence with influential American writers, artists and pagans such as Jean & Ruth Mountaingrove, Starhawk, Zsusanna Budapest, Lucy Lippard, Alice Walker, and Judy Chicago.

Early life[edit]

Her parents were the Swedish painters Gustaf Arvid Sjöö (1902-1949) and Anna Harriet Rosander-Sjöö (1912-1965), who divorced when Sjöö was three years of age.[11] She left school and ran away from home when she was 16.[11][12] Sjöö traveled Europe and worked many jobs: she worked in vineyards and as a nude model[13] at art schools in Paris and Rome. She first came to Britain in the late 1950s, and eventually settled in Bristol where - except for a period in Wales in the early 1980's - she lived for the rest of her life.[14]

Career[edit]

Cover of The Great Cosmic Mother
The cover of The Great Cosmic Mother (1987). It features Sjöö's painting Diana The Moon (1976).[15]

Early exhibitions[edit]

Sjöö's first exhibition was at the Gallery Karlsson in Stockholm, Sweden in 1967.[16] Having been a founder member of the Bristol Women's Liberation group, in March 1971, she participated in the first "Women's Liberation Art Group" exhibition held at the Woodstock Gallery in London.[17][18]

Later exhibitions[edit]

Starhawk described Sjöö's work as paintings that "transformed ancient images and symbols into contemporary icons of female power."[19]

Sjöö used imagery in her paintings which often references birth, the female body, and nature. All of these images were central to her beliefs regarding her "Cosmic Mother". She described herself as among the pioneers in this movement of reclaiming female divinity - along with many other writers, artists, poets, and thinkers. In her art, she attempted to "holistically express" her growing religious belief in the Great Mother as the cosmic spirit and generative force in the universe. This was a critical component of her artwork. She claimed to enter a "state" of being or of mind where knowledge was available from past, present, and future. Yet, these abstract beliefs were grounded with a firm foundation of action and activism. She was involved with the anarchist and anti-Vietnam War movements in Sweden in the 1960s and was active in the women's movement in Britain. Her political activism always grew out of her spiritual understanding of the earth as our living mother, similar to the beliefs of some Native American peoples.

God Giving Birth (1968, oil)
God Giving Birth (1968, oil)

Sjöö's most famous painting, God Giving Birth, (1968) depicts a woman giving birth, and has the title text painted in red capitalized letters.[2] It is an expression of Sjöö's spiritual journey at that time and represents her perception of the Great Mother as the universal creator of cosmic life. The painting and its concept created much controversy and God Giving Birth was censored on several occasions;[2] at a group show in London the painting led to Sjöö being reported to the police for blasphemy.[4]

Margaret Harrison (1977) states that [on one occasion in 1970 several of Sjöö's paintings were banned from being shown in St. Ives during the St. Ives festival]. (...) ″Monica then wrote in Socialist Woman (Nottingham) proposing forming a group or alliance of women artists. This led to the formation of the Bristol Women’s Art Group (...)″.[20]

Beliefs[edit]

Sjöö's work and beliefs centered on her respect and care of the Goddess, or Mother Earth. The Goddess was "the beauty of the green earth, the life-giving waters, the consuming fires, the radiant moon, and the fiery sun". Sjöö's respect for nature and the environment was not mere belief but, for her, a spiritual truth. The Goddess / Earth is to be respected as the life giver. This respect is to be found not only in her imagery, but in two texts which chronicle her journey through the written word.[21][22]

Personal life[edit]

Sjöö believed heterosexuality was an unnatural state imposed by patriarchy, and later in her life she enjoyed a number of intimate romantic relationships with women. However after separating from her second husband Andy Jubb, a composer, in the mid 1970s, Sjöö had an intense heterosexual relationship with Keith Paton who was a founder of the Alternative Socialism movement and, like Sjöö herself, a regular contributor to the alternative press, especially 'Peace News'. Under Sjöö's influence, Paton changed his name to Motherson (or Mothersson).[23]

Two of her three sons, tragically, died young. In 1985 her youngest, Leify, was killed in front of her by an oncoming car at age 15. Her eldest son, Sean, died of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1987, aged 28.[24] She claimed that his death was exacerbated by his experiences of rebirthing.[25] Sjöö's experience of her loss made it into her work, in the shape of the painting My Sons in the Spirit World (1989). This was after the death not only of her eldest son, but also following a period of Sjöö not painting at all in grievance after losing her youngest son.[24]

Sjöö was highly critical of many of the ideas and personages of the New Age movement, including Alice Bailey, J. Z. Knight and "Ramtha", and Gene Roddenberry for some of the ideas behind Star Trek.[26]

Sjöö died of cancer in 2005, aged 66.[1]

Artwork[edit]

Exhibitions[edit]

Group exhibitions
Name Year Venue
Nine Morgens 2003 Glastonbury Goddess Conference
Windows to Otherworlds 2002 St Petersburgh State University, Russia
Neolithia Arts Festival 2001-2002 Gozo, Malta and Germany
II Mara II 1999 Dragonara Hotel, St. Julian's, Malta
Malta and Beyond 1998 Quan Yin Gallery, Oakland, California, USA
"Hjartat sitter till vanster" (Heart is on the Left) radical art in Scandinavia from 1965-1975 1998 Various in Scandinavia
North Current 1998 Varberg Museum, Sweden; Watermans Arts Centre, London, England; Gedok-Haus, Lubeck, Germany
Sharjah Biennial 1997 United Arab Emirates
With Your Own Face On 1994-1995 Various in England
Fantasy: Exchange exhibition with Arab women artists 1994 Various is UAE
The Stones and the Goddess 1990 Gaia Book Store Gallery, Berkeley, California
Women Artists in Wales 1984-1985 Llandudno, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Newport Arts Museum, Wales
Woman Magic: Celebrating the Goddess Within Us 1979-1980 Various in Europe
The Worlds as We See It 1977 Swiss Cottage Library, London
Kvinnfolk (Womenpeople) 1975 Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden and Malmo Arts Hall
Women's Lives 1974-1974 Various in Scandinavia
Images of Womanpower 1973 Swiss Cottage Library, London
Women's Liberation Art Group 1971 Woodstock Gallery, London
Solo exhibitions
Name Year Location
2001 Create Gallery, Bristol, England
2001 Skellefta Women's Arts Museum, Sweden
2001 Kebele Kulture Projekt, Bristol, England
Traveling Show 1999-2000 Casa de Colores at Brownsville, Texas, USA; Austin, Texas; University of Texas in Arlington
1998 Gaia Centre Galleri, Stockholm, Sweden
Touring Exhibition 1994 Various in Scandinavia
Women's Rites 1994 Liverpool, England
1967 Galleri Karlsson (sv), Stockholm

Locations[edit]

Her art can be found in the Women’s Art Collection at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge and at the Museum Anna Nordlander (sv) in Skellefteå, Sweden. Some of her works are currently held in private collections of individuals: Sig Lonegren, Alice Walker, and Genevieve Vaughan[16] hold a few, while Maggie Parks holds most of her art.[27] The Temple of Goddess Spirituality dedicated to Sekhmet holds Solar Lionheaded Sekhment of Primordial Fire (1992, oil on hardboard) where it is displayed in the living room of their guest house.[28][29]

Written works[edit]

The Great Cosmic Mother[edit]

Original pamphlet[edit]

  • Sjöö, Monica (1975). The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All. Bristol, England: Monica Sjöö. 

Books[edit]

  • Sjöö, Monica (1977). Den Store Kosmiske Mor og Hennes Urgamle Religion (in Norwegian). Trondheim: Regnbuetrykk. ISBN 9788272230011. 
  • ——; Mor, Barbara (1981). The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All. Trondheim: Rainbow Press. ISBN 82-7223-012-7. 
  • ——; Mor, Barbara (1987). The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. ISBN 9780062507914. 
  • ——; Mor, Barbara (1991). The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (2nd ed.). New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. p. 501. ISBN 0062507915. 
    • Excerpted in: Sjöö, Monica; Mor, Barbara (2016). "The First Sex: In The Beginning We Were All Female". In Barrett, Ruth. Female Erasure. Tidal Time. ISBN 978-0997146707. 

Books[edit]

  • Sjöö, Monica; Mothersson, Keith (1979). Women are the Real Left/Wider We: Towards Anarchist Politics. Matri/anarchy Press. ISBN 978-0950655109. 
  • —— (1 February 1992). New Age and Armageddon: The Goddess or the Gurus?. London: Women's Press. ISBN 9780704342637. 
  • —— (1999). Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon: Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future. Austin, TX: Plain View Press. ISBN 9781891386077. 
  • —— (1 May 2000). The Norse Goddess. Meyn Mamvro Publications. ISBN 978-0-9518859-6-3. 
  • —— (2003). Kvinnligt konstnärligt skapande är mänskligt skapande: några kommentarer till Monica von Stedingk, "Kvinnokonstmuseum som ide" [Female Artistic Creation is Human Creation: Some Comments by Monica von Stedingk, "Women's Art Museum as an Idea"] (in Swedish). Museum Anna Nordlander. ISBN 9789186072315. 

Chapters[edit]

  • Sjöö, Monica (1972). "A Woman's Rights Over Her Body". In Wandor, Michelene. The Body Politic: Writings from the Women's Liberation Movement in Britain, 1969-1972. London: Stage 1. pp. 180–188. ISBN 9780850350142. 
  • —— (1983). "Aspects of the Great Mother" and "Creation". In Garcia, Jo; Maitland, Sara. Walking On The Water: Women Talk About Spirituality. London: Virago. ISBN 9780860683810
  • ——; Smythe, Roslyn (1987). "Some Thoughts About Our Exhibition of 'Womanpower: Women's Art' at the Swiss Cottage Library". In Parker, Rozsika; Pollock, Griselda. Framing Feminism: Art and the Women's Movement, 1970-85. London: Pandora Press. ISBN 9780863581793. 
  • ——; Vincentelli, Moira (1988). "Monica Sjöö". In Robinson, Hilary. Visibly Female: Feminism and Art Today - An Anthology. New York: Universe Books. ISBN 9780876635407. 
  • —— (1990). "Tested by the Dark/Light Mother of the Other-world". In Matthews, Caitlin. Voices of the Goddess: A Chorus of Sibyls. Aquarian Press. ISBN 9780850309652. 
  • ——; Straffon, Cheryl (1993). "Introduction". Pagan Cornwall: Land of the Goddess. Penzance, Cornwall: Meyn Mamvro. ISBN 9780951885925. 
  • —— (1995). "Monica Sjöö". In Witzling, Mara R. Voicing Today's Visions: Writings by Contemporary Women Artists. London: Women's Press. ISBN 0704344335. 
  • —— (1996). "Well Worship: The Cult of Sacred Waters". In Castle, Leila. Earthwalking Skydancers: Women's Pilgrimages to Sacred Places. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1883319335. 

Articles[edit]

Poems[edit]

Pamphlets[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b West, Pat (23 September 2005). "Monica Sjoo". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c Sjöö, Monica (2005). "God Giving Birth (oil, 1968)". Through Space and Time The Ancient Sisterhoods Spoke To Me : An Online Retrospective. Archived from the original on 7 August 2007. 
  3. ^ "Monica Sjoo: God Giving Birth". artcornwall.org. 
  4. ^ a b Slöör, Susanna (2006-08-29). "Blessed Be: Monica Sjöö, Konstnärshuset, Stora Galleriet, 24/8 - 17/9 2006". Omkonst (in Swedish). Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  5. ^ Stott, Mary. "Women have always defined themselves in relation to men". artcornwall.org. 
  6. ^ Jackson, Jane (1976). "Portrait (Monica Sjoo)". artcornwall.org. 
  7. ^ Sjoo, Monica. "The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All". Monica Sjoo. Archived from the original on 16 June 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2017. 
  8. ^ Monica Sjöö with Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1987. ISBN 0-06-250791-5.
  9. ^ See:
  10. ^ Herndobler, Robin (September 1987). "In The Spirit of the Goddess". The Women's Review of Books. 4 (12): 17. JSTOR 4020153. Filled with Sjoo's artwork, drawings of the Mother from every angle (literally), the book combines historical data from diverse sources, some long buried or suppressed, with penetrating analysis. 
  11. ^ a b Sjöö, Monica. "My Life Story". Monica Sjöö. Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  12. ^ Sjöö, Monica (1988). "Monica Sjöö". In Robinson, Hilary. "Visibly Female: Feminism and Art Today - An Anthology" (Interview). Interviewed by Moira Vincentelli. New York: Universe Books. ISBN 9780876635407. 
  13. ^ Sjöö, Monica. "Monica Sjöö". "Personal Histories of the Second Wave of Feminism" (PDF) (Interview). Interviewed by Viv Honeybourne. Feminist Archives South. pp. 34–39. Retrieved 9 February 2018. 
  14. ^ Smith, Jill (2005). "A personal remembrance of Monica Sjöö". Monica Sjoo. Archived from the original on 23 October 2007. Retrieved 4 January 2018. 
  15. ^ Sjöö, Monica. "048 - Diana The Moon 1976". Archived from the original on 25 October 2007. Retrieved 8 December 2017. 
  16. ^ a b "Exhibitions". Monica Sjöö: An Online Retrospective. Archived from the original on 7 August 2007. Retrieved 28 January 2018. 
  17. ^ Parker, Rozsika; Pollock, Griselda, eds. (1987). Framing Feminism: Art and the Women's Movement 1970 - 1985. Pandora Press. pp. 2–4, 27–28, 181, 187–188, 191. ISBN 978-0863581793. 
  18. ^ Walker, John A. (2002). Left Shift: Radical Art in 1970s Britain (PDF). I.B.Tauris Publishers. p. 45. ISBN 9781860647659. In March, the Women’s Liberation Art Group held their first show at the Woodstock Gallery, London. 
  19. ^ Starhawk (2006). "In Memory of Monica Sjöö". Femspec. 7 (1): 152. 
  20. ^ Harrison, Margaret (1977). "Notes on Feminist Art in Britain 1970-77". Studio International. 193 (987): 212–220. 
  21. ^ Monica Sjöö with Barbara Mor, The Ancient Religion of The Great Cosmic Mother of All. Trondheim, Norway: Rainbow Press, 1981. ISBN 82-7223-012-7.
  22. ^ Monica Sjöö, New Age and Armageddon: The Goddess or the Gurus? Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future. London: Women's Press Ltd., 1994. ISBN 0-7043-4263-4. Reprinted as Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon? Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future. Texas: Plain View Press. ISBN 1-891386-07-7.
  23. ^ Archer, Colin. "Keith Mothersson Obituary". The Guardian. 
  24. ^ a b Sjöö, Monica. "My Sons in the Spirit World (oil, 1989)". Monica Sjöö: An Online Retrospective. Archived from the original on 8 August 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2017. 
  25. ^ Sjoo, Monica (1999). Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon? - Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future. Plain View Press. pp. 161–173. ISBN 1891386077. 
  26. ^ Sjöö, Monica. "New Age Channelings: Who or What Is Being Channeled?". Archived from the original on 8 August 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2017.  Originally appeared in From the Flames: Radical Feminism with Spirit magazine, issue 2, winter 1998/99.
  27. ^ "Monica Sjöö Memorial Trust". Monica Sjöö. Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 28 January 2018. 
  28. ^ Sjöö, Monica. "Solar Lionheaded Sekhmet of Primordial Fire - 1992 (Oil on Hardboard)". Monica Sjöö. Archived from the original on 27 October 2007. Retrieved 28 January 2018. 
  29. ^ "Living Room". Temple Of Goddess Spirituality. 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2018. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • The Great Cosmic Mother - Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, co-authored with Barbara Mor, Harper & Row (1987)
  • The Norse Goddess, Dor Dama Press, Meyn Mamvro Publications (2000)
  • Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon? - Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future, Plain View Press (1999)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]