The first work from my new Woman series to be exhibited was Mama Mortality Corridos 2018, in the Landfall Exhibition held at the Otago Art Society in Dunedin (25 May – 17 June 2018). The OAS joined forces with Otago University Press, to help celebrate the digitization of the first 20 years (1947-68) of issues of Landfall, and to celebrate the connections between the artistic and literary worlds fostered by New Zealand’s pre-eminent literary and art journal. Artists were provided with an issue of the journal (from anywhere in the back catalogue) and invited to find inspiration from within it, creating an artwork in response in a medium of their choice. As with all the submissions, my painting was displayed with a statement discussing the inspiration for the work:
The name of a collection of poems, Mama Mortality Corridos by Lisa Samuels – advertised by The Holloway Press in Landfall 221 (pg.196) - caught my eye. A search on Google found several reviews and excerpts which gave some clue to the contents. However, it was the title of the book that sparked my imagination.
The Corrido is a popular narrative song or poem. Themes often deal with oppression and injustice. Many have an historical setting. Samuel’s inclusion of the words “Mama” and “Mortality” suggested a story of women, their lives and ultimate demise.
I am intrigued by the tiny, but powerful, figurines of women found on prehistoric sites throughout Europe and Eurasia. They are 11,000 to 35,000 years old. The first of these was discovered in 1864 and described as a Venus Impudica ("immodest Venus"). The collective name “Venus figurines” has stuck. Many archaeologists believe they were used in fertility rites. Other Western theories suggest they could be erotic art or sex aids, or even self-portraits by female artists.
Whatever the original intention, most share a common style: roughly lozenge-shaped and tapering at top and bottom. While the breast, abdomen, buttocks and vulva are often (but not always) exaggerated, the head is usually small or non-existent. Hands and feet are often missing.
For thousands of years, the role of woman was narrowly viewed as being centred on her sexual attraction and her fertility. Her abilities were mostly confined to producing children and caring for a household. Her intellect was not valued – or considered to exist. Her ability to travel independently was restricted by her role as a mother and household caretaker. Her creative abilities were largely concentrated on the domestic arts. She lived, she reproduced and she died, unknown and unrecognised. Sadly, for many women today, not much has changed.