Friday, April 29, 2005

art prize

Here in Australia we have an art contest and prize for portraiture (of a well known Australian) called the Archibald Prize. Austalians with a minimal knowledge of the art scene do nevertheless know about this prize. The winning entry was John Olsen's Self portrait Janus faced but, from among the finalists, I preferred Deborah Trusson's Naked, also shown below:

Trusson's Naked

I think I like it because it's confrontational and also very erotic despite the abundance of flesh that contrasts with the current fashion for skinny models and screen stars. It seems to assert femininity without restraint or compromise: I am woman, there's a lot of me, so what?

If the very most ancient sculptures are anything to go by, the first gods to be revered were grossly overweight goddesses. I have a theory or explanatory story about these. It is derived in part from a story told by Charles Darwin in his account of his voyage on the Beagle and concerning the natives of Tierra Del Fuego.

From the concurrent, but quite independent evidence of the boy taken by Mr. Low, and of Jemmy Button, it is certainly true, that when pressed in winter by hunger, they kill and devour their old women before they kill their dogs: the boy, being asked by Mr. Low why they did this, answered, "Doggies catch otters, old women no." This boy described the manner in which they are killed by being held over smoke and thus choked; he imitated their screams as a joke, and described the parts of their bodies which are considered best to eat. Horrid as such a death by the hands of their friends and relatives must be, the fears of the old women, when hunger begins to press, are more painful to think of; we are told that they then often run away into the mountains, but that they are pursued by the men and brought back to the slaughter-house at their own firesides!

Charles Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle
Chapter 10 - Tierra Del Fuego

Now, it's my theory that older women who were no longer of use for childbearing (and were never of much use for hunting) became an important store of food in the event of food shortages from the usual hunting and gathering. It was humanity's first insurance policy against famine. In time, such women came to be revered (possibly as compensation for their gruesome fate) and small tribal groups took pride in these ample folds of flesh that expressed their power over one of life's great potential hardships. In time, of course, these human silos were replaced with agriculture, the herding of animals and planting of specialised crops. It's also highly plausible that it was old women who invented and developed these techniques. They must surely have been highly motivated to do so. In turn, these women cam to be revered as givers of great abundance and the imagery developed into slimmer maids perhaps still with prominent or multiple breasts to signify the bounty of food on offer.

So, I'm guessing that religion started with the recognition of the value of superfluous fat on the bodies of old women. The portrait above is truly the portrait of a Great and Primal Goddess. Quite good enough to eat!

I cannot keep it up, my friend
This is intoxication without end
I'll skip and dance along the road
I shan't be afraid to bow and to bend.



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