An artistic exploration of some archaeological theory.

10 February 2007

Reflexive Representations [5]: Professor Marija Gimbutas

20 - 23 October 2006
Digital Photomosaic (90x121cm)
Detail below.

This photomosaic depicts Professor Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994). Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Gimbutas emigrated to the United States of America in 1949. Before leaving Europe she earned her Ph.D. in archaeology at Tübingen University in Germany. She was appointed to a fellowship at the Peabody Museum at Harvard University in 1955, and from 1963 to 1989 she was professor of archaeology at UCLA.

Gimbutas specialised in studies of the Indo-European Bronze Age as well as on Lithuanian folk-imagery and the prehistory of the Baltic regions. Public notoriety outside of academia was generated by with her last three books: The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974), The Language of the Goddess (1989), which inspired an exhibition in Wiesbaden, Hessen, Germany (1993/94), and The Civilization of the Goddess (1991), which presented an overview of her interpretations about Neolithic societies in Europe, focusing on dwelling patterns, social structure, art/visual culture, figurines, religion and the nature of literacy.

These books advanced what she saw as the differences between the Old European system, which she considered goddess-centered and matriarchal (gynocentric or gylanic), and the Bronze Age Indo-European patriarchal (androcratic) social elements. According to Gimbutas, matriarchal societies were peaceful, they honoured homosexuals, and they espoused economic equality. Whereas the later patriarchal Kurgan people invaded Europe and foisted upon its indigenous people the hierarchical rule of warrior males. This Kurgan invasion hypothesis, combined archaeological study of the distinctive Kurgan burial mounds with linguistics, produced an attempt to unravel some problems in the study of the Proto-Indo-European speaking people. Gimbutas’ interpretations of European prehistory challenged many traditional scholarly assumptions and relentlessly strove to discover meanings and sophisticated religious symbolism in images and figurines of the female form.

In this piece, the image is composed of a collage of 5761 ‘cell-images’ resulting from unfiltered searches for the words ‘Kurgan’, ‘goddess’, ‘gods’, ‘mother’ and ‘figurines’ through the Google ‘Image Search Engine’.

The viewer is invited to explore through these images, amongst other things, the difficulties that interpretations of art and imagery, particularly that of the past, can face in the light of modern notions of male:female sex and gender bi-polarity; femaleness; femininity; associations of the female form with reproduction and fertility; the power of the gaze; objectifications of anatomical sexes with conceptions of genders; and the ability of images to subvert social norms, encouraging people to re-think their relationships with and understandings of both their own bodies and those of others.

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