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Merilee Bennett is a maker, artist, creator.

 

Inanna Descending

Merilee Bennett

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The image above, is of the Little Goddess titled Inanna Descending, completed the night before my show opened at Montsalvat two years ago. She mystified me as I was working on her. Even with the beading completed, her face and her body were blank. Pink, but blank. I painted onto her in small letters - ‘who are you, who are you’, then, ‘I am, I am, I am’, over and over. It was as if she was saying, ‘let me emerge, let me show you who I am without your imposed ideas of who I might be’. Then I painted her face and her skin, which seems scarred, full of heat and steam. Her face holds no angst, no resistance. She is half here in the visible world and half in the invisible. She is not transcendent, but fully embodied. She holds both pain and beauty, suffering and compassion.

The Sumerian story of Inanna’s descent, in essence, is the story of the Queen of Heaven descending to meet with her sister, the Queen of the Underworld, Erishkegal, who is in deep and terrible grief. Rather than greet her sister with welcome, Erishkegal hangs Inanna up on a meat hook to perish, to share her suffering, to be utterly brought down. She hangs there for three days and three nights, and is saved only by two tiny creatures made from the dirt under the fingernails of her god-uncle Enki. These little beings respond to Erishkegal with empathy, with compassion, with kindness, and she rewards them by releasing Inanna.

Much more can be read of this rich tale in the book “Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth” by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, published 1983.

After a bronze Assyrian Mother Goddess, currently in the antiquities collection of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. This is her great great great grand-daughter.

After a bronze Assyrian Mother Goddess, currently in the antiquities collection of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. This is her great great great grand-daughter.

There are nearly thirty new Little Goddesses, stitched and painted and beaded, and I’ve begun the next stage of this project. I’m working on a series of body casts, of women of different ages, sizes, stages of life. I’m taking the plaster cast from the body, then creating a mold so I can duplicate the forms, and make several of each to be painted, collaged, adorned in different ways. My youngest model so far is 14, my oldest is 75. I have pregnant bellies, and women at 20, 40, 60, 65. There are delicate forms and robust voluptuous forms of the body. They’re all beautiful. I’m still looking for an athlete, a trans woman, a very big woman, a woman in her 90s, a woman with mastectomy or other scars. There will be others as time goes by.

Works in Progress

Works in Progress

Now it’s February 2019. Since I last wrote for this blog, I’ve turned 60, gone to Death Valley in California to do a Vision Fast with the School of Lost Borders, done a residency at Montsalvat, travelled to the Coorong in South Australia to do weaving lessons with Aunty Ellen Trevorrow, and I’ve become a grandmother. I was there 3 months ago, in October 2018, to witness and support my daughter giving birth to her darling baby boy. What a rite of passage! What a joy! What an explosion of love!

The Earth is still in danger, and human beings are still behaving like we’re not all interconnected with everything and everyone, as if we’re not all mirrors for each other. Many of us are familiar with despair, which is a kind of hopeless stagnancy. It’s like the grief and heavy heartedness of Erishkegal, howling down there in the underworld, taking hold of our brightness and optimism and hanging it up on a meat hook to whither away, our fertility of mind and heart, our sense of effectiveness, our generosity and grace. There is something unavaoidable in this. We all have our turn at grief. We all descend. We all have the opportunity to learn compassion and humility. For the sake of our earth, and our children and grandchildren, may it be so. May we rise up, over and over, with blossoming hearts, eyes shining soft and fierce with empathy and connection.

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A Thousand Faces of the Feminine, Exhibition at Montsalvat

Merilee Bennett

I am delighted to invite you to view A Thousand Faces of the Feminine, on show at the Residents Gallery at Montsalvat from 18th January till 19th March 2017. Small, hand stitched and painted textile figures, beaded and adorned, inspired by myths and fairytales, paleolithic goddesses, dreams, the natural world and the occasional mystical revelation.

The Residents Gallery is a beautiful intimate space, a little house accessed through the Barn Gallery, or through the Montsalvat restaurant. 

I will be also be running a 2 day Wisdom Dolls workshop, on Saturday 11th March and Sunday 12th march, in the Skipper Studio. This workshop is deigned to explore life naratives and the myths  you are living, or perhaps the energies you want to evoke. You will have the opportunity to create your own textile figure, your own image of the archetype, and engage deeply with your own story through a contemplative and intuitive writing process. 

We live in a highly individualistic culture, and it's easy to feel alone at times of major transition, or of intensity, fear, grief, longing, sadness. Archetypes remind us that our experiences have a universal aspect. With archetypes, we find stories that underpin our experiences and make our lives richer, more meaningful and more connected to others. My art, and the Wisdom Dolls Workshop, are an invitation to explore the sacred feminine through the ritual of art making.

To sign up for the workshop or get more information, please email me merileebennett@hotmail.com

Montsalvat is at 7 Hillcrest Avenue, Eltham, Victoria

 

Exhibition at Popcraft Studio

Merilee Bennett

I'm very excited about the opening at Popcraft Studio on Friday night. Please join us, or drop in over the first two weekends in October. There will be around 30 dolls, and a wishing tree! Popcraft Studio is in one of Melbourne's beautiful hidden spots  overlooking Merri Creek. I'll be there, so come in and say hello.

Workshop report

Merilee Bennett

Recently, I was asked to run a private Wisdom Doll workshop for a small group of women who were in the midst of a particularly intense circumstance. It became a fully customised workshop. From our first emails and text communication I was aware of their astounding and exquisite vulnerability and I felt honoured to work with them. It was an invitation into a sacred place.

I decided to work with the Sumerian story of Inanna, Queen of Heaven and her descent to her grieving sister, Erishkegal, Queen of the Underworld. It's a story big enough to give a road map to the very human experience of deep grief. As with every great archetypal story, every character can be read as an aspect of ourselves: we are the beautiful, powerful, joyous Queen of Heaven, and we are her dark sister whose grief is so painful it consumes her and all she looks upon. We are our own allies, and we know how to sit with ourselves and others in the dark, with sweetness of heart, with compassion and empathy. We are also ordinary men and women who descend and rise up, descend and again rise up, taking our turn in the darkness and our turn in the light.

It was a beautiful workshop. Stories were told, dolls were made, and I had the great pleasure of meeting these wonderfully sensitive and robust women, whose friendship with each other was rich and honest and a delight to be around. The quality of conversation around the table, over the making, as they refined their ideas and we worked out together how they were to create what they envisaged, reminded me of the aeons of women of every culture, working together, sewing or cooking or problem solving or building relationships, building community. I spent a day once with Fijian women as they pressed coconut to extract the oil, scented it with fresh ylang ylang, and bottled it, all done in the most relaxed way possible under an enormous mango tree, with kids running round in the background. There was an element of that feeling as this group stitched and painted and constructed, all the while talking in that free wheeling, looping manner, where technical questions give way to moments of deep emotion and intimacy.

Afterwards, I kept feeling, and saying, that I felt honoured to have done this work. I used the word 'honoured' so often I started to question what I actually meant by it. Why 'honoured'? What does it mean to feel honoured?

So here is my thought - to be invited into that place of vulnerability demands that I bring my best self to the encounter. It's an invitation to be my best: my most empathic, most intelligent, most intuitive and present, my most loving self is called forth. This invitation to be my best, is what I name as 'feeling honoured'.

So yes, I feel honoured to do this work, and can't wait for the next worskshop.

(The photograph I've used for this post, is a thin slice of apple held up to the sunshine. Stars are everywhere!)

 

 

 

 

Poem from Malta

Merilee Bennett

THE THOUSAND LOST WORDS

 

There are words for this but I don’t know them.

I wake full of speech that clutches at me.

I dream I am drowning

And that I keep secrets from myself.

What then do I know?

That I drown, and drowning takes me to the door of mystery.

I am inarticular, mute,

Wishing I knew with the clarity of prophets

And could speak this feeling that fills me to weeping.

 

There is a temple made of fallen rocks that still hold the flame

There is a long armed moon

And a wave that swells from ocean to ocean. There is a language of light.

From the beginning,

It was love that moved through me, that brought me here,

And it was the knowledge that the gift of becoming human

Is the most precious

To take breath in this world of substance

To walk this earth

The balance of gravity and centrifugal force

The momentous stillness inside each loop of breath.

The beauty of it all.

 

There are words carved in water

As water groans under its’ own weight

And heaves itself up and is suddenly breaking and leaping in the air,

Pulled by longing for the moon as she smiles and sings her arias.

She is singing in the forgotten language

The language that has a thousand words for love

And another thousand for different ways

And different qualities of

Connection

Between I and Thee.

 

I know I am daughter of dark and light,

I know I am initiate into the mysteries of the Thousand Loves.

I am priestess of the Song

That is sung by the moon

It was given me this task of holding the secrets

And if necessary hiding them

In sleep, in soft dark places

In silence and stones

For as long as was necessary

Till it was time to bring them forth.

 

I sing with the same blood as Thee, the same arching passion,

There is no separation of time or space.

It is all here.

All right now here in this verymoment.

The confounding beauty that stops small thoughts

That gives every red apple the grace of the first apple

That gives every face the authenticity of earth

And gives even the pain of our losses, a rapture

As grief breaks the membranes between each cell and love washed through us

Into places that have hardened

Places in us that normal breathing cannot penetrate.

Love spreads throughout our bodies so that we come to now,

Again and again,

That Love is our true nature,

That I am Love

As Thou art.

 

What else do I know?

I know longing is a magnet

And the urge behind my birth.

I dwell in the ache of distance, the moon to the ocean.

Silent she rides the night,

And eloquent as the original tongue.

 

She drinks from the cup of our hearts

She laughs to us, crying –

All that you long for

Is already yours!

The illusion of time melts like a vapour

Rising with the day to reveal

The planes of eternity

The circles of being

The Alpha and Omega

The star and the fish

The air and the flower

The holy places everywhere!

 

The Priestess breathes easy at last

And is permitted her husband,

The sacred marriage is celebrated.

The lost one is returned

The holy ones are putting forth beauty in every moment

And everywhere and everything

Is singing the song

Of the thousand lost words for love.

 

Written in Valetta, Malta, 2002