Sunday, August 18, 2013

Oh, my goddess

"I knew that I looked at the reflection of Medusa,
the Gorgon,
fairest and foulest of living things,
the unclean creature, half woman, half eagle,
slain by the hero Perseus,
and one glimpse of whose tortured face
turned the luckless beholder into stone with the horror of it."

-- Gertrude Bacon, "The Gorgon's Head"

Self portrait in Medusa mask 8-18-13

Medusa mask 8-18-1

"It was a human head, severed at the neck, but fresh and unfaded as if but newly dead. It bore the features of a woman -- of a woman of more perfect loveliness than was ever told of in tale, or sculpted in marble, or painted on canvas. Every feature, every line was of the truest beauty, cast in the noblest mould -- the face of a goddess. But upon that perfect countenance was the mark of eternal pain, of deathless agony and suffering past words. The forehead was lined and knit, the death-white lips were tightly pressed in speechless torment; in the wide eyes seemed yet to lurk the flame of an unquenchable fire; while around the fair brows, in place of hair, curled and coiled the stark bodies of venomous serpents, stiff in death, but their loathsome forms still erect, their evil heads yet thrust forward 
as if to strike."

-- Gertrude Bacon, "The Gorgon's Head"
The Gentlewomen of Evil: An Anthology 
of Rare Supernatural Stories 
from the Pens of Victorian Ladies

This Medusa mask has been an ongoing project since early last year when I made a plaster cast of my face. The white, hardened, gauzy mask has been laying around my workspace for months, waiting for its purpose to come along. I've photographed it a couple of times, and even used it July 23 on this blog, as a makeshift Medusa with wooden snakes for hair.

I finally decided to make it permanent and glued the snakes in place, and painted the mask to look (I hope) like weathered bronze, like a statue covered in verdigris (small inset photo above). I tweaked the color, for dramatic effect, in today's self portrait.

Medusa fascinates me. 
Her story, her mythology, her significance, is all centered around her face.
She was a ravishing beauty, the only mortal daughter of two marine deities, who was "caught" being raped by Poseidon, god of the sea, in Athena's temple.
Athena was so enraged that she punished Medusa.
You read that right. 
She punished Medusa. 
For being raped.
As if being raped wasn't punishment enough, Athena poured salt in the wound by transforming Medusa's beautiful hair in to serpents, and making her face so grisly and terrible to behold that the mere sight of it would instantly turn onlookers to stone.

And not only that, to add more insult to injury, Medusa died (while pregnant by Poseidon) when she was beheaded by Perseus, at the request of King Polydectes. Perseus then used Medusa's severed head against the king, turning him to stone so that he couldn't marry Perseus' mother.

Medusa's face is one of the most famous faces in history.
It's been written about, it's been the subject of art for ages, eons, centuries.
The polarity of who and what she represents makes her a heroine and a monster.
She embodies female beauty and ugliness.
She represents strength and victimization.
Because others couldn't handle her beauty, they took advantage of it, they abused it, and they ultimately destroyed it.

Some things never change.