by Pat VT West
Monica Sjöö - A feminist artist working
to glorify the goddess and the Earth
Pat VT West
Friday September 23, 2005
Most of the canvases of Monica Sjöö, who has died of cancer aged 66, were large, unapologetic and political. Her earlier work depicted figures of African descent, and often carried bold text. And when she exhibited her most iconic work, God Giving Birth, at the St Ives arts council festival 1971, it was removed by the authorities.
That was not the only time that God Giving Birth - later bought by the Anna Nordlander Women's Art Museum, at Skelleftea, in Sweden - caused offence. Monica's output was prodigious, her exhibitions many, and her canvases appeared across Europe and the United States. Her work could be over-primitive and illustrative, but it filled space with colour and imagery.
Monica was also a writer, feminist, formidable networker and activist, eco-witch, anarchist, founder member, in 1969, of Bristol Women's Liberation and inspiration behind Amu Mawu, a Bristol women's spirituality group. In the 1980s, with 100 Greenham women, she walked across prohibited land to celebrate on the sarcen stones at Stonehenge at the full moon's eclipse. Later, she and others, from End Patriarchy Now, interrupted a Bristol Cathedral service to demonstrate against the non-recognition of female spirituality by the Church of England. The dean joined hands with them, to sing to the goddess in front of the altar.
Monica was born in northern Sweden. When she was three, her parents divorced. Her father was the peasant artist Gustav Sjoo, and Monica often spoke of her mother, an artist who died young. At 16, she headed for Paris, with thoughts of becoming a model, after her mother remarried, to a Russian aristocrat.
It was there that Monica met Steven Trickey, a jeweller and future father of two of her sons. Together, in the late 1950s, they moved to Bristol, and married. In 1968, she married Andy Jubb, a gifted pianist. Three years later, she returned from a solo trip to Sweden pregnant with her third son, Laif. She then lived in Wales with Keith Motherson (Paton), a founder of the Alternative Socialist Movement, until the mid 1980s; the tragic deaths, within two years, of her youngest and eldest sons, one in an accident, the other through cancer, overwhelmed her with grief.
Monica sought solace on pilgrimages to sacred sites, searching for evidence of more balanced matriarchal times, in tune with the Earth's rhythms, connecting ancient and Celtic religions. She painted many canvases depicting ancient goddesses. She believed that the environmental threat could be solved by what she saw as the reawakening and arising of the long-suppressed goddess.
She was a determined traveler, to the US, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Malta and the Outer Hebrides. She went to the forests of northern Sweden, and to St Non's Well in Pembrokeshire. She had spiritual experiences, proselytised and, across continents, disseminated information she considered vital to saving the Earth. Not a mistress of precis but a compelling raconteur, Monica had enough slides of her travels and research for seemingly endless shows.
In 1987, with Barbara Mohr, she published The Great Cosmic Mother. Five years later came New Age Armageddon: Towards a Feminist Vision of the Future, reacting to male chauvinism she identified in new-age paganism. In 2000, The Norse Goddess was published. African Origins is awaiting publication.
Even as her health worsened, but under the emergency attention of Bristol Royal Infirmary, Monica rallied for her February 2004 retrospective, at the Hotbath Gallery, Bath. The art press largely ignored it, but the crowds poured in, and both editions of the catalogue sold out. Her paintings had to be portals to lost realms, she said, for a world in need of their redemptive messages. The power of ancient female antecedents must return.
Monica was always sexy, often flirtatious - and she loved Johnny Depp. She also had women lovers. She was a loyal friend, a prodigious letter-writer, powerful, compassionate, intimidating, blunt and dogmatic. But the love and admiration flowing around her drew people towards her.
Her middle son, Toivo, cared for her in her home in the last six months. She was also a devoted nan to her best friend Pam's adopted daughter Nyrere. Toivo, and her two grandchildren, survive her.
- Monica Sjöö, artist and visionary, born December 31 1938; died August 8 2005
Pat, who has been a valued friend and sparring
partner of Monica since the
60's waiting by St. Non's well (one of Monica's most favourite places) for other
friends to arrive for a ceremony to scatter some of Monica's ashes.