Ardhanariswara / Tennis Everyone!

Terra Cotta
19 ˝ H x 10” W x 6˝" D
About the Piece

On the front of the sculpture is the India figure of Ardhanarishwara who was created to bridge the gap between the male and the female:

Shiva gazed upon his beloved and spoke, “No more shall you suffer such agony. From today, you and I shall not be two bodies and one heart, but a single unified body, a single heart that pulses with our love, a single soul glowing in that love.” And Shiva gathered Gauri in his arms and held her so closely to him that the two united and became one. Now Shiva and Gauri were one body, one heart, one soul. A single being. Half male, half female: The Ardhanarishwara.    

In his book Goddesses in Art (1997, p. 43), Lanier Graham writes:

“In many creation myths, the creator is said to be neither male nor female, but both.  Surveys of the Great Goddess that overlook this androgynous aspect neglect one of her most important features.  Much of her greatness is due to being the supreme unity that transcends all opposites; she is the universal synthesis of all particulars….  The sacred image of the Androgyne has been particularly difficult for Modern people to comprehend.  Those who encounter an image of the Androgyne today are somewhat like students of Zen contemplating a koan-- reasoning does not work; comprehension requires intuition.  The most famous androgynous images in Asian art are Hindu….  The concept of the Androgyne continues in the esoteric teachings of the world religions- not only Toaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also esoteric Judaism, Christianity, and Islam…Some writers describing this image use the term hermaphrodite, but that is a physical description of a human being who has the sexual organs of both a male and a female.  The Great Goddess/God cannot be understood in such physical terms.  The Androgyne is a metaphor that has nothing to do with any form of ordinary human sexual activity, be it heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual…. the ultimate goal of the spiritual quest is androgyne, a state of mind in which the finite consciousness of the individual and the realm of the infinite cosmos are realized as one.  From the perspective of comparative world mythology, the consciousness of the Androgyne is identical with that of the Buddha consciousness or Christ consciousness.”

The Androgyne and the Ardhanarishwara relate to the yin-yang and the concept of a dichotomous whole. The two opposites of the yin-yang are able to unite and have compassion for each other. The “war between the sexes” is over and peace reigns: embodied by the Ardhanarishwara. (I have explored some of the same themes of the yin-yang in other pieces of my work including Which Church.)

Again, as in some of my other pieces like Altar Goddess with Fish and Flowers, I have juxtaposed the sacred/secular, and the serious/sarcastic. I am interested in the tension between these different states, the commonality between them, and their separateness. Each of these seeming opposites helps to define the other and to draw out the subtleties of the other by their juxtaposition. To this end, the woman with the tennis racket represents the secular, and the sarcastic and the Ardhanarishwara the sacred and the serious.

Another concept that intersects with this tension between the sacred and the secular is the dialogue best illustrated by the life of Joan of Arc who did not believe that she needed an intercessory priest to give her direct access to the divine. In Ardhanariswara / Tennis Everyone! I have blurred the distinct boundaries between the spiritual and the secular, thereby creating a permeable relationship between these two states. The woman with the tennis racket involved in the secular activity of playing tennis is elevated to the sacred by the halo-like tennis ball behind her and the orbiting tennis balls which reference the moon and its changing phases. In this way the mundane act of tennis is a vehicle for transcendence. This is done in a playful way that mocks our inability to sometimes see the relationship between the sacred and the humorous. We can sometimes take our sacred religion a bit too seriously. And to this end, the tennis player acts out the ubiquitous and healing role of the trickster archetype found in all cultures.

To further highlight this permeable and symbiotic transmission of concepts between these two states, I have positioned the hands of both women in the same universal mudras. These mudras, symbolic positions in which the hands are held in Hindu dancing and rituals, are common in Christian, Indian, and Buddhist art, and I would guess in other religious art traditions. The right hands of both women are in the Abhaya Mudra: the Fear-Not Mudra which shows good intentions, a sign of peace and a way of showing that you mean no harm because you carry no weapon in your hand. In the Buddhist tradition the Buddha made this gesture after attaining enlightenment. The left hands of both women are in the Varada Mudra, or the welcome or Wish-Granting Mudra which signifies compassion, sincerity and the wish to devote oneself to human salvation.

When I was a young girl I knew it was unfair that the boys could discard their tee-shirts on hot summer days and feel the sun and cool breeze on their bodies; they were so free, while I had to keep my immature chest covered because of shame or some odd notion that a young girl should worry about the male gaze. As with many areas of our lives, it is good when we have a choice about matters that directly influence us. The irony is that now that I am missing my breast I could now go topless….who would stop me? Myself, I am a woman who chooses to live within our social norms. I am not advocating that I want to go topless, however, I am giving voice to the different standards that women and young girls are held to and I am voicing the wild spirit in me that longs to be free, and to have a choice about matters. With my own mastectomy, I in part, physically embody this archetype of the Ardhanariswara. If I could have my two breasts, I would; I miss my breast. Yet, I now embody the concept of the Shiva in his androgyne aspect as Ardhanarishwara who holds the promise of wholeness and understanding.

The writing underneath the figure of the tennis player directly tips a hat to the feminist movement and the feminist art movement’s indictment of the male gaze with this snappy little ditty of a manifesto:

Burning Her Bra?
She Was Burning Her Tops!
Goodbye Tan Lines, Hello Sunshine!
Goodbye Male Gaze, Hello Carefree Days!

The tennis player on the back of the piece also speaks to “letter of the law” beliefs. These are laws that are artificially invented by people and only follow logic and reason. “If my breasts are cut off, I can go without my shirt and experience freedom”. Even though the law is flawlessly sound, we know it is not grounded in truth. The tennis player mocks the law of the land by revealing its absurdity.

Conversely, the Ardhanarishwara represents the spirit of the law that defies logic and like many truths cannot be pinned down by logic or laws. It is a truth that we sometimes only see for a fleeting second out of the corner of our eye, or a truth that resides deep in our being. It is not logical that a body can be both male and female. And, it is not logical that we can hold in our being seemingly opposite and sometimes conflicting truths, and yet we do, and with great wisdom. This can happen in the symbolic and mythical form of a God/Goddess like Ardhanarishwara.

The writing underneath the figure of the Ardhanarishwara is a quote from the bible except I have substituted the word Compassion, for Christ:

There is no Jew nor Greek.
There is no Bond nor Free.
There is no Male nor Female.
You are all one in Compassion.

I think this sentiment from the bible is a perfect example of a truth that is transcendent in its wisdom and infuses logic with love. I also wanted to move beyond the concept of Christ into a more universal truth: that of compassion. I purposely capitalized the word Compassion to personify it, give the word consciousness, and the same value as that of Christ. I also use an Indian figure that is married to the Christian text. Therefore, the boundaries between these two religions are broken down and unite together to create a powerful whole in much the same way the tension between male and female are broken down to create wholeness.

It is my intention that the two different women in this piece will open a dialogue within the viewer: Ardhanarishwara on one side, and a woman who has had, through a wretched disease only then been able to have some of the freedoms she would like. She has had to both literally and figuratively cut off her femaleness in order to be accepted as equal by the males. And we know that that will never happen. Even with her breasts removed, she will have to keep her shirt on. So in this way the sculpture also becomes a comment on how women struggle to enter into the sphere of male privilege, no matter if they obey the rules or not. I applaud the saucy and bold tennis player. She is the product of sarcasm, boldness, in-your-face-defiance, and the gut wrenching desire for choice and freedom.

My intention is that this sculpture will be experienced on many levels and be viewed both literally and figuratively, depending on the emotional needs of the viewer, as multiple meanings are intended. This sculpture can be viewed as a symbolic parable of sorts that brings imagistic conflicts to the surface where they can wrestle with each other to bring about a better understanding of the issues they raise. Or, a more literal interpretation may also be applied to include how I continue to make sense of my breast cancer. I didn’t think my breast cancer would work its way into my art. I did not want to make breast cancer art. Every time I fill out a doctor’s form and I have to put down that I have had cancer as part of my medical history, I am stunned. I feel like I have temporally stepped out of my own body into someone else’s life.

Ardhanariswara / Tennis Everyone! is perhaps the first piece I have made besides Toy Box that strays from my subsuming goal of creating utopian art. I have been very careful to try and imagine a utopian, and an ideal, in my art. My goal is to hold before myself the goals I want to attain, and to remind myself of order, balance and beauty that I can rest into in times of strife. I am fully aware that the sarcastic and in-your-face defiance of this piece is a break from my work; I am comfortable with this. I guess my inner Trickster thought it was time!


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