As kids our first squiggles delve into self portraiture, little paper versions of our selves with dented circular faces. I remember thinking I’d come up with a genius fool proof method of creating my face.. I would find jam jar lids, bottle caps and make cicular outlines for my grand portraits, taking the pencil round and round in satisfaction. But not everyone had such high regard for my perfection. One day my art teacher looked at me and said, “when you look at the mirror do you see an exact circle?” . A 5 yr old me was stumped and I’m still trying to search for an answer.
It lead me into art and i started looking. From that day the question hovered everywhere and asked me to look at things hard; question everything that looked like something but perhaps wasnt. How do you gauge the reality of anything?
The Neolithics didnt want to take the risk of inauthenticity either. They recreated their ancestors by using skulls filled with plaster to shape the details of the face.
While the seven skulls varied in detail, all had been originally stuffed with soil to support delicate facial bones before wet plaster was applied to create individualized facial features, such as ears, cheeks, and noses. Small marine shells represented eyes, and some skulls bore traces of paint//https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/01/jericho-skull-neolithic-facial-reconstruction-archaeology-british-museum/
There was a deep honesty in wanting to get it right and going back to the bare bones of creation. It’s no surprise that history was backing me up when as a 5 yr old I started my search for finding templates for perfection and truth. The need to hold down the impression exactly was great, the fear being that otherwise your may lose that person altogether. For the neolithics it meant losing that person to death and anonymity. A skull held the minutiae of physical details of a person and plaster locked them on earth forever (or anyway until whenever the plaster cracked). We created then and we create now to restore, to record, to hold mortality at bay.
To the Neolithic people this wasnt really art in the conventional sense; these were most likely part of the ritualistic devotion of the dead. Yet it created a thread of self creation and preservation thats lasted till now.
The idea of skulls as us, with the potential of contributing to an untainted representation of women, a kind of prehistory of art where we could go back to search for origins for feminist art, came to me while looking at these images.
It’s the male artist’ creation of flesh that distorted history, it created their version of the female form, the baggage of which we have to live with even now. A fleshless face cant document male desire. Finding and recreating that skull is creating feminist art history, its taking back the form its refuting conventional ideas of beauty which have come to us from that place where women were not in charge of representing themselves.
(Ive explored these ideas in my art work titled skulls on my mind: this could be me?)