Witches & Wicked Bodies On the Line

By Jo Phillips

Hanging now on the line of sight at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is the art exhibition entitled ‘Witches & Wicked Bodies’. As the UK’s first ever large-scale exhibition of its kind, it features over 80 works by artists – from the old masters, such as Goya and Albrecht Dürer, to contemporary artists, such as Cindy Sherman and Paula Rego – confronting the subject over a span of 500 years.

National Galleries of Scotland
Illustration to ‘Tam O’Shanter’ by Robert Burns. Study for an Engraving
John Faed
Brush, dark brown wash and white heightening on paper 6.40 x 8.50 cm
© National Galleries of Scotland

Spells, witchery and supernatural foul play have long fascinated both artists and writers – most famously Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This exhibition reveals the world of witches through the eyes of artists from the 15th Century onwards. See how the thought of witches send shivers down people’s spines, as these sinister characters are pictured flying at night, gathering in a trilateral clique and cackling over a cauldron above the fire most likely plotting to put lives, possibly children’s, on the line. The extreme representations of witches lead to images of horrendous old crones to dangerously beautiful sirens, the latter as seen in Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys’ Medea (1866-8) and Vivien (1863).

Image courtesy National Galleries of Scotland
L’Appel de la Nuit [The Call of the Night] 1938
Paul Delvaux
Oil on canvas 110.00 x 145.00 cm
© National Galleries of Scotland

Whether it is in Salem or England, witches are often hung on the line for their supposed publicised ‘evildoings’. Therefore, academics and scholars have suggested that the history of witches go hand in hand with the oppression and victimisation of women in society. To illustrate the impact of feminism on the controversial matter, the museum also showcases work by female artists, exploring the realm of interpretation, as Cindy Sherman and Kiki Smith visualise themselves as witches, Paula Rego interprets Blake Morrison’s poems about the Pendle witches of the seventeenth century and Markéta Luskačová photographs a Czech woman in carnival costume.

Tate, London 2012
Kiki Smith
© Tate, London 2012
from Out of the Woods, Untitled (Encryption) 1:5, 2002
Photo-etching on paper: 290 x 190 mm

The ‘Witches & Wicked Body’ exhibition, curated by artist and writer Deanna Petherbridge, is open now till 3 November 2013 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.