"Images of the Divine Feminine": A one woman show that featured works by artist Pat Fulmer.
21 W. Anapamu Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
April 22 - June 30, 2006
Explaining the premise for her new show, Ms. Fulmer said, “God was a woman for almost 30000 years before the conquering Indo-Europeans around 3000 BCE began to change the gender. Gradually the goddess lost power to the god and by the time the western religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam were established, even her diminished role ceased to exist. Most people don’t realize that the female represented the supreme deity in ancient times. This information, which came from multiple sources, changed the course of my life and art,” she said.
More than 10 years ago Ms. Fulmer discovered a pre-Greek goddess figurine that prompted her to do research in archeology, mythology and the early history of western religions. Her investigations showed that the pre-Greek goddess was not an aberration but actually a mainstream deity.
“I had never questioned the image of God as a male,” she says now, “but this gender bias has likely influenced the status and self-image of many women negatively. Once I saw how pervasive and important the female god was, my own feelings of self-worth grew.”
Ms. Fulmer has put those feelings on canvas in a series of paintings that portray modern women as images of deity — all with roots in ancient mythologies. Filled with symbols from the earliest of goddess religions, her art also includes the old scripts of Greece, the Celts, cuneiform and Hebrew. Most of her paintings are life-size. Ms. Fulmer’s work is designed to place ancient religious prototypes in an aesthetic framework. It is also intended to send a message: to convey the importance of bringing back the feminine in religion. She believes that it’s critical to restore balance to the exclusively masculine perspective that’s reigned for thousands of years. In her painting, “The Shekinah,” she portrays the zenith of the integration of the male and female principle by the union of God with the Shekinah.
“An image message can be powerful,” she says, “because what we see influences how we think.” Dr. Ken Collier, minister of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, in a recent statement seems to support Ms. Fulmer’s own conclusions: “Somewhere within our minds—usually at the subconscious level—is the idea that some of us, being male, are more like God—or ultimate reality, or the rational center of things, than others of us who are female. This notion that God is male leads men to treat women in dismissive ways, to discount the so-called female qualities of compassion, tenderness, and relationship. And in an extreme that tragically is far too common, it also gives men permission to dominate women and even to treat women abusively, cruelly, and violently.”
Ms. Fulmer is not new to the art scene. One of her previous shows -- “Outstanding Women of Atlanta” in Atlanta, Georgia – drew a crowd of about 2,000 people. She won Best in Show in a 1997 juried exhibition at The 20th Century Gallery, an affiliate of the Virginia Art Museum, in Williamsburg, VA. In 2004, her painting, “Demeter and Persephone” was part of an invitational exhibit in Santa Barbara at the Jewish Federation. Originally from Tennessee, Ms. Fulmer relocated to Santa Barbara with her husband, Bob, about seven years ago. She is a founding member of The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC; she currently sits on the Board of the University Art Museum in Santa Barbara (2002-2006); and she is listed in an upcoming edition of Who’s Who of American Women. She has a BA, MA, and MFA and conducted her post graduate study at the National Academy of Art in New York City and at the Arts Students League. Her commissioned work has been exhibited in Atlanta, New York City, Williamsburg and Santa Barbara. She is currently working on a manuscript titled “The Rise and Fall of God as a Woman.”
Speech at Opening of Exhibition
April 22, 2006 I read last Sunday in a book review that the author of the book, "Sweet and Low" describes his grandmother as a woman who takes an afternoon to tell a story, better told in 5 minutes. She then winds it up by saying, "That's it in a nutshell." My story actually takes right at 5 minutes.
When I was planning this show, a friend asked what was the purpose of my showing this work. In thinking about it, I realized that the main reason is that I wanted to communicate what I see as an important message. I’ll tell you how that came about.
We talk sometimes about perceptual shifts, breakthroughs, or epiphanies and I’m not sure which word I would use, but that is what happened to me in a museum in Athens, Greece more than a decade ago when I saw a Cycladic goddess figurine. I discovered then that at one time in our history, God was a woman. I was surprised at the impact that it had on me and at the time didn’t fully understand it. All I knew was that it felt good to have this knowledge and I wanted to study the subject as thoroughly as I could. I spent the next several years reading books on archeology, ancient religious mythologies, and the early history of Western religion. And, I painted modern women as goddesses, drawing from the knowledge from these three areas. I want to make it clear that my work represents an historical perspective of the divine feminine; however, there are significant sociological implications.
Surveys have shown that more than 90% of Americans do have an image of God, even those who don’t believe in God, and that image is overwhelmingly male. This fact is revealed in the language we use in talking about God. It’s God, the Father, King, Lord, and the pronouns are always “he” or “his.” Even to use the female pronoun provokes laughter. Dr. Ken Collier, minister of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, is here today and in a recent sermon, said the following: “Somewhere in our minds—usually at the subconscious level—is the idea that some of us, being male, are more like God—or ultimate reality, or the rational center of things, than others of us who are female. This notion that God is male leads men to treat women in dismissive ways, to discount the so-called female qualities of compassion, tenderness, and relationship. And in an extreme that tragically is far too common, it also gives men permission to dominate women and even to treat women abusively, cruelly, and violently.” End quote.
The images I’ve depicted here are a counterpoint to the typical thinking about God and what we see in religious art. The two women who are most prominent in religious art are Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, both of whom are shown as subordinate figures. The two paintings of the two Mary’s on the wall behind you are unlike this traditional rendering. I show them as powerful figures, important in their own right.
I believe that images can convey a message and hopefully, these do. The focus of the paintings is the divine female, but the most important part of the message is to present the feminine along with the masculine in order to create balance in the area of religion and spirituality. Women have suffered in the neglect of the feminine but men have not been allowed to express their feminine side. The painting of the Shekinah demonstrates the most important myth & the ideal in the union of the male and female. This myth from the Kabbalah is about the feminine side of God becoming a separate entity and flying away in exile with God’s people. But, unity is important, so it’s the sacred duty of Kabbalistic Jews to recite the Unification Prayer (shown in the painting in Hebrew) so that God can reunite with his Shekinah. Obviously, it’s a sexual myth. As the two become one the godhead is restored and peace for Israel and humankind is achieved.
In conclusion: My hope is that I’ve challenged you to consider the concept of the divine in a broader way. It has been over 5000 years since God was a woman, but maybe ancient history will stimulate us to think again.