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
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
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
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!
For questions or comments about Cydra's art, please email: email@example.com