19 May – 25 September 2022
The Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery
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The first exhibition of its kind, Feminine power took a cross-cultural look at the profound influence of female spiritual beings within global religion and faith.
Visitors were invited to explore the significant role that goddesses, demons, witches, spirits and saints have played – and continue to play – in shaping our understanding of the world.
How do different traditions view femininity? How has female authority been perceived in ancient cultures? For insights, the exhibition looked to divine and demonic figures feared and revered for over 5,000 years. From wisdom, passion and desire, to war, justice and mercy, the exhibition sought to show how the diverse expression of female spiritual powers around the world prompts us to reflect on how we perceive femininity and gender identity today.
Worship of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, reveals how her destructive capacity is venerated alongside her ability to create. The Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion, who transcends gender and is visualised in male form in Tibet and female in China and Japan, uncovers the importance of gender fluidity in some spiritual traditions. And the terrifying Hindu goddess Kali, depicted in art carrying a severed head and bloodied sword, is honoured as the Great Mother and liberator from fear and ignorance.
Enhanced by engagement with contemporary worshippers, faith communities and insights from high-profile collaborators Bonnie Greer, Mary Beard, Elizabeth Day, Rabia Siddique and Deborah Frances-White, the exhibition considered the influence of female spiritual power and what femininity means today.
Bringing together sculptures, sacred objects and artworks from the ancient world to today, and from six continents, the exhibition highlighted the many faces of feminine power – ferocious, beautiful, creative or hell-bent – and its seismic influence throughout time.