Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother - Modern Art Oxford
[Discloure: I received free entry to this exhibition.]
Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother is a collaboration between Modern Art Oxford and Moderna Museet in Stockholm. This is both Sjöö's inaugural catalogue exhibition, and her first retrospective exhibition. And it is absolutely fascinating.
Although Sjöö (1938-2005) is not well known in the wider art world, during her lifetime she was a force of nature – a prolific artist, writer, and a prominent activist campaigning for social justice and environmental protection. Sjöö was also an extraordinary creative conduit for ideas (both political, and creative) between the UK, and thinkers and creatives across Europe and the US.
Left: The Goddess and the Gree Man/Tree of Life, 1999. Right: Rebirth from the Motherpot, 1986.
Born in Sweden, she moved to the UK at an early age and settled in Bristol. Influenced in Sweden by the early feminist movement, as well as the protests against the Vietnam war, Sjöö brought this sensibility to Bristol and became a prominent activist campaigning for social justice.
Left: Sisterhood is Powerful, 1972. Right: Back Street Abortion - Women Seeking Freedom from Oppression, 1968.
This remarkable exhibition boldly traces Sjöö’s artistic, political and spiritual journal through the displays of her art, writing, and activism. As Swedish curator Jo Widoff mentioned in the curator’s talk before the exhibition opening, art institutions have tended to shy away from an open discussion about an artist’s spiritual beliefs. So this exhibition is somewhat unique; clearly demonstrating the link between Sjöö’s belief in the Goddess or The Great Mother and her artistic output, her politics, and her activism.
Forest Beings, 1997.
In many ways ahead of her time, Sjöö campaigned for nuclear disarmament, environmental protection, female bodily autonomy, and recognition, and payment for women’s domestic work. She also campaigned against institutions whose concept of justice was distorted by patriarchy – particularly in relation to the church and the structures of government. In light of current global events, Sjöö’s work resonates with prescient relevance.
Left to right, Glastonbury Zodiac 1994, Wayland Smithy and the Crone 1990, Ancient Mothers Weaving the World 2003.
The exhibition clearly shows that Sjöö did not just paint or write merely to express her desire for change, but that her artistic output was intended to stimulate change. Sjöö considered her works as tools to create change – and many of her works were made for use as protest banners and posters. During a recent protest in Sweden, curator Jo Widoff noted that young activists spontaneously chose to feature Sjöö’s artwork on their banners. This highlights not only the enduring power of the pieces, but also their contemporary relevance.
God Giving Birth, 1968. Courtesy: Museum Anna Nordlander © Monica Sjöö Estate. When this was exhibited in St Ives, soon after its completion, police came to remove it as blasphemous.
Walking through the exhibition, it is clear that Sjöö was a polymath – displaying a curiosity and expertise in a wide array of disciplines.
Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother exemplifies the profound and captivating impact of showcasing exceptional artists, regardless of gender, and underscores the importance of the movement to redress the gender balance in art institutions’ collections. This exhibition is a must see for anyone interested in art, British history, conservation and environmentalism, philosophy, spirituality, social justice, or activism.
Feature image: Monica Sjöö, Meeting the Ancestors at Avebury, 1993. Courtesy Monica Sjöö Estate and Alison Jacques, London. © Monica Sjöö Estate. Photo by Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet.
If you enjoyed reading this review, you might enjoy reading my other reviews of exhibitions at Modern Art Oxford, which you can find here. I always try to take great photos and write so that you can have an immersive experience, even if you don't go to the exhibition.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos taken by me at the exhibition opening. © Catherine Flutsch.