Birth of Wisdom

During this Life Drawing class, the assignments have become more open-ended and creative. For this last assignment, we were asked to select a well-known narrative from childhood nursery rhymes, fairy tales, mythical stories (ie: Greco-Roman tradition, Native American mythology, et cetera), the bible, the long history of art and literature, et cetera. My job was to re-invent this narrative for a contemporary audience, representing a specific moment(s) in the story. One figure had to be draped while another had to be nude or close to nude.

Reconstruction of the East pediment on the Parthenon. New Acropolis Museum, Athens.

Upon investigating Greek mythology, I was horrified and inspired by the birth of the goddess Athena. In the story, Zeus forced himself on the Titan goddess Metis and impregnated her. An oracle prophesied that Metis’ child would overthrow Zeus. Zeus got so scared that when he next saw Metis, he deceived her and murdered her by eating her and her unborn child. Shortly after, Zeus developed an unbearable headache, which made him scream out of pain so loudly it could be heard throughout the earth. Out of Zeus’ skull sprang Athena, fully grown. Due to the method of her birth, Athena became the goddess of intelligence and wisdom.

In considering how this myth is relevant to contemporary times, it reminded me of the recent protests by women from around the world. In Iran, thousands of women are being in-prisoned and threatened by execution because of not covering their hair. Indigenous women are 10x more likely to be murdered than women of other ethnicities in the United States. Every year in the Unites Staes, 185,000 rapes in reported to the police, which is suspected to only be 11% of the 1.68 million cases of rape. Over the past two decades, maternal mortality has increased almost 60 percent. Black women face the greatest risk of pregnancy-related death, with a maternal mortality rate three to four times that of white women. One in four homeless women is homeless because of violence committed against her. Every year, at least 12 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18. Women are fighting, protesting, organizing, and advocating for abortion rights as basic human rights and autonomy over our own bodies, and green has become the color to represent the fight for abortion.

Considering the contemporary and historical oppression and violence against women, especially women of color, in my art I connect the fact that women have a deep wisdom and resilience within us that cannot be destroyed or murdered. We are Metis; we are Athena; rising up and erupting from the corrupt, murderous head of our father, Uncle Sam, and claiming the rights to our lives, bodies, and freedom. Below is my artwork in response:

Heiser, Monica. Birth of Wisdom. 11 in x 14 in. Graphite on paper. 2022.

This piece took 6-7 hours to get the local value, texture, proportions and shading right. It was a lot of fun to combine realism, anatomy, and composition to create an artwork that would summon the majesty of the birth of Athena as well as juxtapose the propaganda of Uncle Sam’s poster. Here are some of the reference images I used to create this drawing:

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, read through the linked articles, watch the video, reflect on my artwork, and consider your own response to stop the violent oppression that so many women face. Your artwork and your voice matter. ❤

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