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Feminine power: the divine to the demonic

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

The first major exhibition to explore female spiritual beings in world belief and mythological traditions around the globe, The Citi exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic has now opened at the British Museum London.

This exhibition brings together ancient sculpture, sacred artifacts, and contemporary art from six continents to explore the diversity of ways in which femininity has been perceived across the globe, from the ancient world to today. It explores the embodiment of feminine power in deities, goddesses, demons, saints, and other spiritual beings, associated with diverse areas of human experience, from wisdom, passion, and nature, to war, mercy, and justice.

For the first time, the British Museum has invited special guest contributors to respond to the themes in the exhibition, sharing their personal and professional viewpoints. The video and audio thought-pieces addressing each section will encourage discussion around the universal themes of the show. The contributions will conclude the exhibition alongside an area for visitors to share their responses as part of the conversation.

The special guest contributors include: Bonnie Greer, OBE, playwright, author, presenter of the podcast “In Search of Black History” and former Deputy Chair of the British Museum, who will reflect on Forces of Nature; Professor Mary Beard, classicist, author, and broadcaster will speak to Passion and Desire; award-winning writer and presenter of the podcast How To Fail, Elizabeth Day, will explore Magic and Malice; former British Army Major and human rights lawyer, Rabia Siddique, will share her thoughts on Justice and Defence; and Deborah Frances-White, the writer and comedian best known for her podcast The Guilty Feminist, will explore the theme of Compassion and Salvation.

Objects from cultures across the globe are displayed together for the first time including painted scrolls from Tibet, Roman sculpture, intricate personal amulets from Egypt, vibrant Japanese prints and Indian relief carvings alongside contemporary sculptures. The exhibition features over 80 unique and spectacular objects, drawn from the British Museum’s world-class collection complimented by spectacular loans.

A new icon of the Hindu goddess Kali by Bengali artist, Kaushik Ghosh, has been commissioned especially for the exhibition and is the first contemporary 3D representation of Kali in the collection. As one of the most prominent and widely venerated goddesses in India, this devotional image of Kali reflects the living tradition of her worship, important for millions of Hindus around the world today.

Belinda Crerar, Curator, British Museum, said “This exhibition is a tour through history and around the world to see the different ways that female power and authority have been perceived in spiritual belief. The diversity of these goddesses, spirits, enlightened beings, and saints, and their profound influence on people’s lives today and in the past, gives us pause to reflect on how femininity – and indeed masculinity – are defined and valued now and in the future.”

Muriel Gray, Deputy Chair of Trustees of the British Museum, said ‘The Citi exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic is brimming with magic, wisdom, fury, and passion. I am very proud that through the breadth and depth of the British Museum’s collection, alongside special loans, we can tell such powerful and universal stories of faith and femininity from the most ancient cultures to living traditions around the world. I would like to thank Citi, whose ongoing support has allowed the Museum to realise this ground-breaking exhibition.’

“Following the display at the British Museum, the exhibition will be seen internationally, starting at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. It will then travel to on a five-venue tour of Spain in partnership with Fundación Bancaria La Caixa until 2025. Both international partners have long-standing relationships with the Museum, having collaborated on previous exhibition projects.”

The Citi exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic runs from 19 May to 25 September 2022 in The Joseph Hotung Great Courty Gallery at the British Museum. Supported by Citi Open Saturday – Thursday 10.00–17.00, Friday 10.00–20.30. Last entry 80 mins before closing. Tickets £15, under 16s free and concessions and group rates available.

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