Sunday, 13 September 2009


Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:41 PM
"toyin adepoju"
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"Seventh Wave Music"

Dear Carolyn Hillyer,
Good morning.


I read with a sense of pain your decision to decision to dissociate yourself from my project on the feminine. I am particularly puzzled by your description of your reason as an intention to control the contexts in which your work is presented so as to make sure the work maintains its integrity. This puzzles me because a fundamental fact about placing work in the public domain implies that, to a significant degree, one cannot control the contexts in which that work will appear. One might be able to do that with images, since possibly they are protected by copyright, but can one control whether or not a particular person talks about one, writes about one, places one in a discursive framework with others? I doubt it.

A problem would emerge if one were to be depicted as making a point significantly different from the one one was obviously making, and which misinterpretation distorts one’s message or is deeply offensive to one. The latitude of interpretive possibilities provided by imaginative work like yours, however, would make it difficult to reach such a boundary, objectively assessed by others who do not have stake in the maintenance of the original semantic purity of the work. The very fact of its being susceptible to reinterpretation in a variety of contexts is at the centre of art, as is evident in your creation of a mythological universe of your own.

Art is often understood as transcending the intentions of the artist, and this transcendence represents its character as an imaginative form, which in the words of Susanne Wenger,is given birth to anew within any responsive audience's imagination.

However, your objections to the contexts in which your work is thereby placed by such a project as mine are certainly very significant in relation to your understanding of your work and its relationship to the dignity of women which is central to your vocation. The tensions between your characterization of that work, as an expression of your vocation and the perspectives and contexts through which a critic like myself relates to your achievement, constitute a central site of inquiry which enriches ways of looking at your work as part of the tapestry of discourses and counter discourses that make up human communication, what someone has described, in relation to the texts that shape civilization as the "great conversation".


I understand your profound discomfort with some of the images on my blog.I expect the images that elicited that response are those of Mark Dunn, from,whose art and writings I am also working on. If any others made you uncomfortable, I would be very grateful if you were to let me know. I find it sad, though, that I might not enjoy your cooperation in my effort to bring your magnificent work into dialogue with other conceptions of the feminine and how it may be presented.


Ironically, even though Mark Dunn's work does integrate the pornographic ,he is actually operating at a complex intersection between the projection of the female body as subversive icon, a means of attacking patriarchal discourses which do not acknowledge the feminine, from Judaism to the magic of his central inspirational source, The Key of Solomon the King, and the feminine as an inspirer of desire, desire itself understood as an aspect of the transformations of consciousness that constitute his goal as a magician. I would hold the combination of the pornographic and the magical that his work embodies is best compared with the visual symbolism and techniques of consciousness of Tantra,as described, for example in Maddhu Khanna's Tantra,which,in their transgressing of boundaries, are not always found acceptable by more orthodox Hindu thought. Yet,I wonder if an adequate exploration of the role of the feminine and the masculine-feminine polarity in Hinduism can be completed without a study of the depth of engagement with such issues in Tantra.

The women in Dunn's work are meant to look erotically desirable, a quality that suggests their role as symbols of a technique of consciousness that engages the erotic as a driver for interaction with what he describes as inorganic intelligences who may yet emerge in embodied form. I realise that many women consider pornography disrespectful to women for many reasons, but I would hold that Dunn's work always portrays the magnificent beauty and power of the female form.


I would think that you would want to dissociate your use of an image, similar to what Dunn uses, in your depiction of the old woman you named Toad in your book The Oracle of Nights. I wonder, though, how far one could go with such a dissociation, if I might risk giving offense by making such a point. The depiction of old women in such a context I would understand as one of the oldest and gravest taboos in many of the world's cultures, a taboo in relation to nakedness and female procreative spaces that is often flexible with young women but is hardly, if ever, relaxed with old women. I expect that the reason for such an inflexibility relates to the closer association old women have with motherhood, paradoxically, since with the erotic element in abeyance in the associations of the old woman, the mind focuses on her as the representative of the other half of the life force that makes human existence possible. Along those lines, one could argue that your depiction of Toad is even more transgressive than any of Dunn's images of nubile women. At the same time, however, your use of the old woman in such an unusual visual context, in relation to her role as symbolic and incarnational guide along a passageway of awareness, if I am not misreading your intentions, operates in relation to a culture like the Yoruba, which evokes the image of the procreative spaces of the mother, of the old woman, in order to invoke the tension between taboo and expectation, between conventional associations of an iconic form such as the female body and the undercutting of such conventional thinking through taboo images that are thereby correlated with forms of dark power, of the ambivalence of creative and destructive possibilities the Yoruba associate with the feminine. I am not arguing that your depiction of Toad is identical with the Classical Yoruba integration of the erotic and the feminine. I am suggesting that as transgressive as your depiction of Toad might look, particularly in comparison with the more conventional visual work of Dunn,it can be understood to have a place in the continuum of symbolic representations of the female body, as it has emerged from another culture, which like many, if not others, others, sees the naked female body of the old woman as a taboo subject, not to talk of an image of the woman exposing a particular sensitive procreative organ in a gesture that could be seen as provocative, but which you intend as provocative, not in an erotic or offensive sense, but as an invitation to enter into realms of expanded possibility.

While recognising the differences between the depictions of the feminine evident in your work and Dunn’s, one could venture a correlation of the feminine as it emerges in the contrastive and yet complementary work of Dunn and yourself, nubile in Dunn,old in some aspects of yours, in terms of Susanne Wenger’s characterisation of the Orisa or deity Osun of the African Orisa tradition as described by Ulli Beier in The Return of the Gods: The Sacred Art of Susanne Wenger, “Ambivalently, Oshun [who, like Toad in The Oracle of Nights is identified with water, and like Toad and Mark Dunn’s female spirit ,Asmodaya,Pirate Queen of the Menstrual Blood Ocean , is correlated with the biological energies that enable feminine procreation] is both seen as the young woman, the velvet skinned concubine and as the ancient woman steeped in magic. She is the concubine, desirable and seductive-because her life giving force must be accessible to all” . She is also an embodiment of the primordial chthonic power, expressed in the life giving force of the earth, and the enigmatic potency that quickens the womb.

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