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Monica Sjöö in Oxford

Els  Roelandt

Praktische info

Monica Sjöö, ‘The Great Cosmic Mother’, through 25 February 2024, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford,

The exhibition ‘The Great Cosmic Mother’ is the first museum retrospective dedicated to the work of the British-Swedish artist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005). Previously on view at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, this retrospective is now on view at Modern Art Oxford. Sjöö described her life as an interwoven tapestry of experiences and pilgrimages guided by the spiritual path of the Goddess. This pagan religious movement, which revolves around the divine feminine, grew in reaction to Abrahamic religions that use male pronouns to refer to God. Her travels led her from her native Sweden to the British Isles, where Sjöö was ‘transformed’ (as she called it) by the remnants of Neolithic and Celtic culture. Following a pagan calendar of equinoxes and solstices, Sjöö traveled to sacred sites across the world, finding more inspiration for her paintings that mostly depict the Cosmic Mother and primal female power. In addition to being a painter, she was a prolific writer, activist and ecofeminist who left an enduring legacy in which art, politics and spirituality are inseparable. Her lifelong mission was fighting patriarchy. Sjöö’s deep commitment to gender and environmental justice is more relevant today than ever, and her oeuvre has attracted increasing interest from scholars and artists alike. British artist Olivia Plender, whose work and library are discussed elsewhere in these pages, describes how, as a young girl, she had been a member of a South London coven where she first encountered the work and ideas of Sjöö. In the exhibition catalogue of ‘The Great Cosmic Mother’, Plender testifies beautifully about her encounter with Wicca, as the witchcraft tradition is known, and the allure of the witches of South London: ‘I am still trying to understand,’ she writes, ‘why it was so compelling to me as a teenager that instead of attending exhibition openings in fashionable central London with art students my own age, I would travel for an hour on the bus every week to suburbia, for evenings in the company of witches open to different ways of thinking and feeling.’

Monica Sjöö, Meeting the Ancestors at Avebury, 1993, courtesy Monica Sjöö Estate and Alison Jacques, London, © Monica Sjöö Estate, photo Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet