To the editors:
Medusa (another anonymous female art collective) welcomes the article on SisterSerpents by Bill Stamets [February 22]; a few comments:
Artemisia is not actually the name of an ancient warring queen. The name is Artemis/Diana, the huntress, one of the aspects of the Great Goddess. But Artemisia is the name of one of the only known (and we see how well!) female painters of the 17th century, Artemisia Gentileschi of Italy. The founders no doubt named the gallery after her in the spirit of reclaiming women’s history. Whether or not the present gallery lives up to those past illustrious namesakes is another essay.
As to the emphasis in the SisterSerpent artworks and images on the male member, it seems to Medusa that there are some questions. The male member was worshipped in some times and places during the matriarchate as a fertility symbol (Crete comes to mind). As such, the appearance of the lingam in sculpture and other artworks was understandable. Fertility, in control of the female, was not oppressive, and the stud service of the male was seen as useful and therefore treated with respect. Under the patriarchy, however, the function of the symbol of male sexuality is obscure. Men may use it as their symbol of domination, but since it is not the sexual organ or its abilities (such as they are) which dominate and corrode our time, nor indeed any sexuality outside of male oppression, but the ascendancy of a male power nexus which pervades every aspect of all life, the use of the lingam by feminists can only be seen as a version of Freud’s penis envy, or a whining demand for the organ to be Nice. It is not likely that appeals to men to stop raping or battering will be taken seriously by those so inclined. Women have to prevail in the arena of will and that will take both faith and ruthlessness in equal part.
Medusa notes that the name “SisterSerpents” is a potent one, as the serpent has always been associated with women and women’s power, which is one of the reasons it figures as an augur of evil in Christian myth. According to Merlin Stone (When God Was a Woman), the serpent symbolized the power of woman to prophesize. And we can still see the future.
Bill Stamets replies:
Artemis was a myth woman. Many earth women were named Artemisia after her. The painter you mention lived (and died) many centuries after the battle commander (similarly mortal) I mentioned. Immortals like Artemis presumably exist in the ether, or in the hearts of mortal believers.