It’s a beautiful bright afternoon and it’s staying light longer, so I think that I will try to make some progress on a project which I picked up so that I would have something to stitch while watching television over Christmas, my Greek Slave project. This is based on a quilt I saw at the wonderful exhibition of quilts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2010 (www.vam.ac.uk/collections/textiles/quilts-1700-2010/). I will write more about it as we go along, but thought I would include one more of the pages of the goddess sketchbooks before moving on to a major new piece.
These sketches are taken from Gimbutas’s book, The Language of the Goddess. I cannot remember exactly when I encountered the work of Marija Gimbutas, but I certainly came across ideas about a Mother Goddess and attendant theories about matriarchal societies while I was at university and when I was developing my own feminist identity. She was and remains a controversial figure. I encountered her work as the context was selecting her for prominence as it were. Her work on the goddess fitted exactly with second-wave feminism when we were looking for possibilities of societies based on something other than the Law of the Father, which the French feminists such as Kristeva and Irigaray were exposing for us. Gimbutas suggested that there had been matriarchies which had existed very successfully without war or weapons for centuries, before they were displaced by masculine nomadic cultures sweeping from the Steppes.
I don’t know whether or not I believe a word of this version of events. There seems to be little direct evidence for such societies, and we can never know what went through the minds of people in the very distant past. They left no written records. Gimbutas argues that they had a well-worked out visual language which is reflected in the artifacts that they did leave behind. Perhaps. What fascinates me is my desire to engage with this beautiful vision of a world governed by respect for nature and craft and the place of women. It seems to connect with a powerful nostalgia of which I was unaware. This vision is so engaging and so rich and so resonant with Ecofeminism, that it is hard to resist. But, my rational side still requires evidence.
The other element that fascinates me is the cultural constructions going on here. Gimbutas published her work at exactly the right point to be taken up by a generation of women and some men who wanted to recover a gentler and more sustainable way of organising. But with feminism came the backlash and she was definitely on the receiving end of that. There is a photograph of Gimbutas in her native Lithuanian peasant dress on a site dedicated to bad archaeology (www.badarchaeology.net). She has long been subject to ridicule, but I think that I share some of her fascination for these figures. And, I went out yesterday and bought some more DAS clay to make some more of my own…
The serious scholar vs the eccentric peasant grandmother. I have long been fascinated by how forces of conservatism effectively disempower threats to the status quo by making fun of them, and thus trivialising them. Gimbutas in her funny headdress is a quiet example of this.