Ecofeminist Monica Sjöö is shown at Moderna

Monica Sjöö

Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) was a Swedish-British artist, activist, writer and eco-feminist.

In her life’s work, art, politics and spirituality are tightly intertwined.

Monica Sjöö was also a central figure in the British women’s movement.

She was reported for blasphemy for perhaps her most famous work, “God giving birth”.

The exhibition “Monica Sjöö. The Great Cosmic Mother” is shown at the Moderna Museet from 13/5 to 15/10.

Perhaps her most famous painting, “God giving birth”, in which a woman – with one white and one black face – gives birth, was accused by Christian groups of blasphemy when it was exhibited in England in the 1970s. However, it only strengthened Monica Sjöö’s opinion that her art was really needed.

Moderna’s exhibition is the first to bring together Monica Sjöö’s work, not only paintings but also political posters and banners, books, articles and letters she wrote to protest everything from environmental destruction and nuclear weapons to women’s unpaid domestic work and special treatment of minorities.

— What made her so unique was that she wanted to create real change with her works. Despite her strong spirituality, she did not look inward, she turned outward to make a difference, says Jo Widoff, curator of international art at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Monica Sjöö left Sweden in the 60s and settled in Bristol in Great Britain, where she eventually became a great role model, especially in feminist circles. Alongside her art, she launched grassroots campaigns, organized discussion groups and fought for minorities.

Women’s rights have a central meaning in Monica Sjöö’s art.

At the same time, she continued to hang out with artist friends Siri Derkert and Kjartan Slettemark.

— Monica Sjöö also had close contact with the Swedish women’s movement and she socialized in anarchist circles, both in Sweden and abroad. Among other things, she was thrown out of Italy after participating in an anarchist demonstration, says Jo Widoff.

Not shown before

Unlike many other contemporary female artists, Monica Sjöö opted out of the abstract in her art. Instead, she chose to depict concrete events: A child is born. Trees being uprooted. A goddess. A holy source.

— Her art is figurative and often depicts women’s reality as it appears. This choice made her an outsider and did not receive the attention she deserved while she was alive, says Jo Widoff.

“Back street abortion – women seeking freedom from oppression” on the right addresses the topic of illegal abortions.

Many of the paintings in “Monica Sjöö. The great cosmic mother” have been stored and not shown before. They have now been restored by the Moderna Museet and will be shown, among other places, at the Tate Gallery later this year.

The exhibition consists of around fifty works, including “Back street abortion – women seeking freedom from oppression” from 1968, where she takes a stand for women’s right to free abortion.

— It was incredibly controversial in its time, but the abortion issue feels just as relevant today. That’s how it is with many of her works, they are still in time, says Jo Widoff.

In the paintings, she often returns to “the great mother” – her cosmic worldview – and to her two sons, whom she lost a few years apart.

“She was convinced that they were with her all the time,” says Jo Widoff.

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