A museum that is, to be not unkind, rather full of pale white men carved out of marble, is currently exploding with colour, and women. This is their exploration of how women have been depicted by religions across the globe, with a choice selection of objects from their own collection as well as loans from other museums.

As an exhibition, what it really excels at is showing the huge variety of forms that female deities take from across the world. As a generic westerner, we’re not that used to seeing women in religion as anything other than ugly witches or virginal beauties.

So this is a refreshing vision, albeit one that can challenge the notion of beauty or femininity for that matter.

Although a lot of the exhibition is about long since dead religions and cultures, there’s space in here for the living Gods, with Christianity sitting along with Wicca and Buddhism, to name a few. There’s also a fair collection of modern secular objects by artists today who have been inspired by the images of the past.

One of the more famous statues on show is that of Venus, a statue of what Romans thought was the ideal woman, and so erotic to Roman eyes that it’s said some men tried to use it as a rather unyielding sex-doll.

The Hindu goddess Kali, often shown in rather bloody gore in Western depictions (hello Dr Jones), is more often seen natively as a powerful role model. Contrasting with the Virgin Mary, looking chaste and virginal as later Church leaders demanded of women in general.

A copy of the Malleus Maleficarum, the infamous 15th-century witch-hunting book reminds us of how, in Western cultures, women who were different were to be persecuted.

There are a lot of objects to look at and read captions telling you what they are and which culture they’re from.

Where I struggled with the exhibition is that while it’s fascinating to visit and there are a lot of remarkable objects to look at, there seemed to be something missing in the guts. As I left I felt I had seen a lot, but not really learned anything about the wider narrative of femininity in religion as a concept. Maybe it’s too large a question of address, but I am often fascinated by how so many religions and societies venerated female deities, whereas Western culture has thrived on a religion that actively did the opposite.

This exhibition shows off the variety of cultures around the world but fails to tell their stories, which for a religion is pretty important.

The exhibition, Feminine power the divine to the demonic is at the British Museum until late September.

Adult: £17 | Student/Concessions: £15 | Children/Members: Free

You can book tickets in advance from here.

Exhibition Rating


British Museum
Great Russell Street, London


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