This past weekend I made a pilgrimage to New York City to catch the closing exhibition “Herstory,” featuring American artist Judy Chicago at The New Museum.

The show was a retrospective of Judy’s uncompromising feminist art, as well as a special kind of “show-within-a-show” she calls “The City of Ladies” (influenced by medieval French “feminist” writer Christine de Pizan), which included art, media, poetry, and other works of women artists, thinkers, and revolutionaries throughout the centuries who inspired and influenced her own personal and professional trajectories.

I am so glad I made the pilgrimage. Originally, I was motivated to go because of this truly rarified piece coming stateside: the exquisitely illuminated manuscript of Hildegard von Bingen’s Book of Divine Works, given a special place of prominence in “The City of Ladies” exhibition.

Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Divinorum Operum (“Book of Divine Works”), illuminated manuscript ca.1220-30, Biblioteca Statale di Lucca

It was truly amazing. I stood in front of that manuscript and wept.

The rest of “Herstory” was… transformative. And extremely difficult. I’ve never been in the presence of artworks that were so paradoxically beautiful/revolting, uplifting/devastating, healing/hurting.

As an artist conveying an empowered feminist message, Judy’s works amplified a woman’s experience of her body (and its miraculous capacity); the imbalanced nature of social/emotional/psychological power in relationships; and the insanity of unjust treatment of women throughout the historical patristic/patriarchal record.

In my ignorance, I did not expect to confront such challenging art. And there in the galleries, you were asked to look straight into the wound of… women.

It’s easy to disengage, look away, or blockade ourselves against the insanity of humanity’s shadows. It’s difficult to acknowledge and/or witness violence, painful circumstances, and hardships of others. I do it all the time. But it’s impossible to truly empathize with another when you are not prepared (or willing) to enter into that wound (theirs, or yours).

But I dug in. Because there was a bitter medicine in all of this strange, beautiful, (ridiculously) uncomfortable art. There was an intention to share a truth: here is a persistent living reality in which gender is painfully fettered to authority.

And in such a setup, consisting of one who is “superior” and the other who is “inferior,” we all lose. And when, pray tell, are we all going to finally hear this message, do the damn healing, and show up as empowered people who change the narrative of our future, for all our sakes?

For me, wandering amongst these courageous artists (especially Judy), I became aware of just how little we speak our truth. And I became more aware of just why that is: we have, for eons, been scared witless out of our true authority.

I speak of an inner authority, its power seated in the true Self, yoked to the Divine. Its voice calls back a creative power that wields truth like a sword. Its wisdom is to cut through the bullshit of the world, and witness the equal measure of every soul.

And its purpose is to surrender itself to the will of the Divine as an instrument of peace, a limb of love, and a call for justice. Even when the mind would deem this fruitless, pointless, or folly.

Our sacred challenge is to meet it halfway. And then to speak/ teach/ make/ write/ dance/ sing whatever is moving through us as an act of giving life. As an act of rebellion against fear. As an act of love.

It is a charge to offer our thing of beauty. Because yes, it does freaking matter.

99% of the works I saw in “The City of Ladies” would not be labeled a conventional “masterpiece.” But you know what? This exhibition was easily one of the most moving and impactful experiences of art I have ever encountered. Because I got to touch something behind the canvas.

I heard the message at its core: it’s all about knowing, and expressing, and living your truth. Because you have to.

Truth is brave. Truth is real. Truth is everything.

The women represented in that show made art in spite of every threat and hardship one could experience as a woman living in a patriarchal, fear-based society. Because they would not abandon their inner knowing that truth is wiser, and greater, than fear.

If you are reading this, you can, too. So c’mon: there’s work to do.


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