The first exhibition of its kind, Feminine power takes a cross-cultural look at the profound influence of female spiritual beings within global religion and faith.

The Citi exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic takes you on a journey through 5,000 years of belief in female spiritual beings.

How do different traditions view femininity? How has female authority been perceived in ancient cultures? For insights, the exhibition looks to divine and demonic figures feared and revered for over 5,000 years. From wisdom, passion and desire, to war, justice and mercy, the diverse expression of female spiritual powers around the world prompts us to reflect on how we perceive femininity and gender identity today.

For the first time, sculptures, paintings and dedicatory objects from ancient and medieval cultures across the globe are brought together with modern and contemporary artworks to shine a light on the diversity of ways in which female authority and femininity have been celebrated, feared and understood, throughout history.

From Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian goddess of annihilation whose amulets were carried for protection and healing, to Guanyin, the Buddhist embodiment of compassion who may appear in the world in either female or male form, these spiritual forces have had a profound influence on people’s lives for millennia.

Present in the exhibition the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena who had “martial attributes that fundamentally conflict with Greek concepts of female gender”.

The exhibition also deploys the myth of Demeter and Persephone that was used to explain the existence of the seasons. Upon hearing that her daughter had been abducted by Hades of the Underworld, Demeter went into mourning, causing the crops she usually protected to fail. Persephone’s consumption of some pomegranate seeds kept her in the darkness for part of the year only. Her return to the upper world cheered her mother and heralded the arrival of spring and its fruits. Similarly, in Hindu texts, the goddess Shri-Lakshmi was described as leaving the Earth after suffering a slight, thereby wreaking devastation in the fields.

Alongside beliefs about creation and the fertility of the earth, the exhibition explores some of the many ways in which passion and erotic desire have been spiritually associated with feminine influence and the naked female body. Ancient objects are displayed alongside contemporary artworks.

Old Babylonian Queen of the Night plaque. South Iraq, 19th–18th centuries BC, source: https://blog.britishmuseum.org/