GODDESSES AND SHAMANS IN ANCIENT BELIEFS ANTHROPO-ZOOMORPHIC REPRESENTATIONS – FROM ART TO IDENTITY

After the restoration of the Filipescu-Cesianu House of Calea Victoriei, one of the main goals of the museum has been to transform most of the building rooms into modern and interesting exhibition spaces for the public.

The theme of the exhibition “Goddesses and shamans in ancient beliefs. Anthropo-zoomorphic representations – from art to identity” was influenced by the structure of the Bucharest Municipality Museum’s Archaeology Collection, which contains an impressive variety of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, most of them from the Neolithic period, as well as a series of pieces from the Bronze Age and the second half of the Iron Age (La Téne). The items come from the early 20th century archaeological sites at locations around Bucharest, in settlements such as Boian-Gumelnița in Vidra, Măgura Jilava, Chitila Fermă, Cernica, as well as the later ones in Cățelu-Nou or Popești.

The exhibition will explore different concepts regarding the functionality and significance of these items, both for the people who created them as well as for ourselves. The project aims to touch on several dimensions, such as the religious, the ludic, the artistic, the sexual, and the sphere of anatomical identity.

The religious dimension will delve into the idea of the existence of ancestral idyllic societies that guided their lives exclusively in accordance to spiritual fundaments, making use of magical-religious practices to overcome issues regarding various climatic threats, or problems with fertility, and so on. Not often the figurines are interpreted as representations of shamans, priests/priestesses, witchdoctors, demigods or even gods and goddesses, and the names they have been exhibited under in the entire world contribute and strengthen this vision: the Goddess of Vidra, the Bordușani Shaman or the Venus of Willendorf, to cite but a few.

Oftentimes these kinds of artefacts were considered toys. Either they were made by parents and given to their children, or, in some cases, it is assumed the children made them themselves. The so-called “rattles”, hollow clay items containing little balls of clay that make a sound similar to modern baby toys, could also be included in this category.

It seems that these items do not have a direct, practical function and can be interpreted as a need for artistic expression felt by the communities that produced them. Although diverse, these pieces respect a series of canons specific to the civilisation that created them, similar to the way artistic movements are differentiated nowadays.

Identifying the gender of the pieces is a question of interpretation, based on the sum of identifiable anatomical attributes on each piece: pubic triangle, breasts, buttocks, abdomen etc. At first glance, female representations dominate, which has led on several occasions to the valuing of women’s role in ancestral societies and the impression of an existing matriarchy. However, recent studies nuance this approach, demonstrating that most of the figurines were in fact asexual.

The dimension concerning anatomical identity refers to the concept according to which any representation is a form of interpreting reality, and that the figurines are an expression of identity, real characters for the community that created them, generally accepted ideals of beauty and so on.

Finally, it must be underlined that the five dimensions are very difficult to dissociate, as every piece encapsulates, depending on the interpretation of the viewer, one or more dimensions. The strict framing in one paradigm or another is an act subjectively influenced by age, state of mind, education, life experience, professional experience and so forth.

Thusly, the exhibition is more than a journey in the mysterious past of long-gone civilisation – it is an invitation to reflection.

Curator: Theodor Ignat

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