Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Murder of Hypatia/Death of the Anima

Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415 A.D.) is the most significant woman philosopher and mathematician whose life story has come down to us from antiquity. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school in Alexandria, and was a follower of the 3rd century philosopher Plotinus. Hypatia was brutally murdered by a Christian mob, reportedly for taking the side of the governor against the Bishop of Alexandria.  As her works have not survived, she has become something of a mythic figure, who for some has come to symbolize the beautiful yet unabashedly intellectual woman who the ruling male powers are unable to tolerate and who they ultimately seek to destroy. To me, she embodies the question of the meaning of the feminine, both for and within each of the sexes. From a Jungian, perspective, I view her “image” as an anima figure that the male struggles to accept and embrace, but ultimately suppresses.

I have painted the prelude to her assassination in a more contemporary setting to underscore the continuing force of the dogmatic and misogynistic attitudes that led to her death.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hypatia's Mirror

This is the final painting in my triptych, "The Murder of Hypatia." Hypatia holds a magnifying mirror up to those, in this case the artist himself, who need to examine themselves, with regard to their attitudes towards women and the anima, their inner feminine principle. "Why," the artist asks himself, "have I chosen 'The Murder of Hypatia' as my theme?"

Here we see Hypatia after her death at the hands of the (male) Christian mob. No longer in her philosopher's white she is now wearing black, a symbol of mourning for her death, and the darkness of the middle ages that followed her demise. When men demonize a brilliant and wise woman they turn her into a witch, a crafty practitioner of the dark arts. Darkness is also unleashed within the man's own soul when he demonizes and murders the feminine aspect of his own psyche.

For me this image also conjures up the whole "ricochet" between subject and object present in all human interaction and which is highlighted in drawing and painting, particularly portraiture. The artist as subject confronts another human subject, his model, but objectifies her as an image, in this case the image of an imagined historical subject--Hypatia, who is also imagined as an archetypal image of the feminine. As in all portraiture the artist colors the person represented with his own subjectivity, and thus potentially learns something about himself by having that subjectivity reflected back to him in the drawn or painted image. Further, in the process of completing and showing his work the artist becomes open to the critique and thus the objectification of others, and thus is himself made into an object. The viewer, of course, also finds something of his or her own subjectivity in his/her experience and interpretation of the image, and so forth.  This entire sequence echoes the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave and its derivative, the Sartrian dialectic of the "look." In this case the master/slave dialectic is also deepened because it involves a political, misogynist-driven murder and a continued struggle with the feminine and the dead.