Monica Sjöö

Born 1938, Härnösand, Sweden

Died 2005 Bristol, England

Biography 

Monica Sjöö was a Swedish artist, writer and activist whose bold paintings expressed her beliefs in eco-feminism and Goddess spirituality. Born in Sweden to two painters, Sjöö moved to the UK in her twenties and settled in Bristol in 1959, where she spent most of her adult life. She was an early proponent of the neo-pagan Goddess movement in the 1970s and was involved in feminist organising as part of the Women’s Liberation Movement. She was co-author of the manifesto Towards a Revolutionary Feminist Art (1971). In the early 1970s she exhibited her painting God Giving Birth (1968) in St Ives and was threatened with prosecution for blasphemy and obscenity. Her book The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (1987) explained her theory of a female generative force in the universe. It was inspired by the birth of her second son, an event which she said “changed my life and set me questioning the patriarchal culture we live in and its religions that deny the life-creating powers of the mothers and the Great Mother.” 

 

Artwork Information

In her paintings Sjöö often uses images of the female body and the natural world, intertwined with and onto one another. She donated both paintings in the WAC in 2003 after discussions with the feminist artist Judy Chicago, whose work is also represented in the Collection. 

Earth is Our Mother (1984)

Earth is Our Mother is populated by pagan and Neolithic figures set within an ancient landscape of caves and natural forms. Sjöö imagines a pre-patriarchal site where ancient rituals take place in an environment resplendent with flowing waters and verdant grass. The names of goddesses from Semitic, Celtic, Turkish, Hindu and Irish cultures encircle the painting and connect with the vulvic forms that blend with the natural landscape. Like many of Sjöö’s works, this painting transforms ancient images and symbols into contemporary icons of women’s power. 

Dancing Women, Dancing Stones (1993)

In Dancing Women, Dancing Stones, three women dance in a moonlit landscape. The stones were based on the Bronze-Age King’s Stone at Rollright Stones – a group of megalithic monuments which lie on the border between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. According to a Medieval legend, a witch turned the king into the King Stone to protect the pastureland from becoming a battlefield. In Sjöö’s composition the poses of the women mimic the irregular shapes of the stones. The sing-song title creates a parity between the women and stones so that the natural environment holds the same importance as the human figures. The painting also includes symbolic imagery, such as a ram’s head and spiral form.