Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic

By John Reeve

British Museum exhibition 19 May – 25 September 2022

Explore the significant role that goddesses, demons, witches, spirits and saints have played – and continue to play – in shaping our understanding of the world

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. From divine to demonic, the representation of feminine power in world belief and mythology has played – and continues to play – an important role in shaping global cultural attitudes towards women and gender identity. This exhibition brings together ancient sculpture, sacred artefacts and contemporary art from five continents to explore the diversity of ways in which femininity has been perceived across the globe, from the ancient world to today. It explores the embodiment of feminine power in deities, goddesses, spirits and other beings, associated with diverse areas of human experience, from wisdom, passion and nature, to war, mercy and justice.

The demon Taraka, dance-mask by Sri Kajal Datta, contemporary
Porcelain figure of Guanyin, goddess of mercy, China, 18th C

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. The diverse expression of female spiritual powers around the world prompts us to reflect on how we perceive femininity and gender identity today. The show is enhanced by engagement with contemporary worshippers, faith communities and insights from high-profile collaborators Leyla Hussein, Mary Beard, Elizabeth Day, Rabia Siddique and Deborah Frances-White.

‘Lilith’, Kiki Smith, 1994. Image (c) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Hyla Skopitz

To coincide with the exhibition, a richly illustrated accompanying catalogue written by Belinda Crerar, will be published by the British Museum Press in May 2022. Paperback, £25

Judy Chicago, the Creation, 1983
Kaushik Ghosh, ‘Kali Murti’, 2022, made especially for the exhibition

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