IMELDA ALMQVIST ART: JOURNEYS TO OTHER WORLDS, INNER WORLDS AND AROUND THE WORLD IN PAINTINGS!
Bird World, Garuda, Lilith: Storm Goddess & 'She Of The Night', Papageno, The Magic Flute, Die Zauberflote, Isi: Egyptian Mother Goddess, Nekhbet: Vulture Goddess of Upper Egypt, Wadjet: Egyptian Cobra Goddess, Inanna or Ishtarte: Mesopotamian Mother Goddess, Utu & Inanna, Inanna's Uhullu Tree, Gilgamesh, Owl Symbolism and Eagle Symbolism, Rock Art, Rapanui: Easter Island, Makemake: Birdman and Creator God, Moai, Rongorongo, The Cosmic Egg, Islamic Mythology: Borak, Rhiannon, Mesomamerican Mythology: Kabawil, Volsung Saga, Valkyries, Sigurd & Brynhild, Shapeshifting, St Francis of Assisi, Tanumshede, Shamanism, Soul Flights, Day of Feathers, Bird Men, Bird Gods, Bird figures, Birds in World Mythology
Bird People & Bird Gods
CHESS PLAYERS Not For Sale
Shortly after we moved into the house in Telegraph Hill where we live today, in 1996, half-human half-bird characters first made an appearance in my paintings. (I was still using oil paint at that time). I have done a lot of reading about mythology and stories from all over the world since, but at the time these figures 'just walked into my paintings'. Even today I am still not quite sure what they represent, though I have theories about this!
In some of the paintings they are like gods, see 'Chess Players'. The Bird Figures are playing chess on a chessboard populated with small human beings. They live in a landscape not quite like planet Earth. There are mountains and a sun or moon in the sky, but it's not clear where they are or what is going on. Even I, the painter, don't know!
What I do know is that birds have one amazing skill that we humans don't share: they have wings, they can fly! (And don't need an airoplane to do so!) As a child I had a lot of dreams where I was able to fly if I moved my arms a certain way. Waking up was a disappointment every time! So the image of a human beings with wings is a powerful one (think of angels too). The notion of a human being with a bird's beak is rather scary. The notion of half-bird characters larger in size than human is plain terrifying.
Postscript in 2009: I did a meditation recently where a man wearing a bird-mask appeared. He said: 'I am your Sacred Twin' and for today I am wearing a bird mask!' To read more about the concept of Sacred Twins please visit the TWINS page. I have a feeling I will meet this bird-man again and more will be revealed over time. One day I might get to the bottom what it is going on in these bird paintings...
ADAM'S APPLE Not For Sale
At the first Open Studio Event I ever participated in, some opera singers visited. They suggested I look into Papagano and Papageno (from the Magic Flute). This gave me the idea to research half-human half-bird characters in tales and mythology from all over the world. There turned out to be plenty!
It is a remarkable fact that all these mythologies have creation myths, heroes and themes that show great similarity to stories far removed in distance or time. Many, if not all of them, have 'winged creatures that are no birds' in possession of special powers.
THE EGG Not For Sale
In Europe early Bronze Age artefacts show a Death Goddess who takes the shape of a mysterious owl. Being nocturnal creatures, all over the world owls are symbols for death or the forces of darkness.
In the Neolithic period we find female figures with bird or fish characteristics. Burial sites from the Cycladic culture (third milennium B.C.E) show nude female figurines with bird-like heads.
THE COSMIC EGG (oval canvas) £125
On Rapanui (Easter Island) people believed in a variety of god or 'atua' Most prominent among the 'atua' was the Creator God, Makemake, who was a 'birdman'.
Makemake was born from a floating skull that was washed from a temple into the sea. He created the first humans. Together with his companion, the goddess Haua, he brought flocks of migratory seabirds to the island.
Artists on Rapanui carved hundreds of birdman petroglyphs: human figures with the heads and tails of birds, into the rocks. Makemake also had birdmen as representatives on earth.
Easter Island is best known for its mysterious stone figures, or moai:
The concept of a 'Cosmic Egg' appears in myths and stories from all over the world.
VISHNU & GARUDA (mixed media on paper) £135 unframed
An important character in Hindu mythology is Garuda, half human and half eagle. He is the chosen mount of the god Vishnu. He and his consort, Lakhsmi, ride Garuda seated on a lotus flower as a saddle. In Buddhism 'garudas' are divine bird-like creatures.
Nekhbet was the Vulture Goddess of Upper Egypt. She was often depicted with her wings outspread, holding the symbols of eternity in her claws. She was widely regarded as a mother goddess who looked after the ruling pharaoh along with Wadjet, the Cobra Goddess of Lower Egypt.
Isis, the Egyptian Mother Goddess, is usually depicted with huge sheltering wings which are outspread, protecting Egypt and its people. (Painting in progress)
UNDER MY WING Not For Sale
This is a painting from the Motherhood Series. Having two children under the age of two made me feel fiercely proud and ferociously protective. I truly felt like 'keeping an eagle's eye over them' and 'wrapping my wings around them'
According to Hebrew legend, Lilith was the first woman to be created. She was portrayed as part snake, part woman and wearing wings. Yahweh blamed her for having tempted Eve to reveal the mysteries of the Garden of Eden to Adam. In the Old Testament she is the demon who disturbs the night. Her name means 'Storm Goddess' or 'She of the Night'. The owl was her sacred creature. (Owl symbolism once again!)
INANNA'S UHULLU TREE SOLD
In early Sumerian mythology we find the twins Utu (God of the Sun and Justice) and Inanna (Goddess of Love and War). Inanna was the sister ofGilgamesh. A woman planted a tree in Inanna's garden. A bird called Imdagud built a nest in its branches. Lilith made a house in its trunk. A serpent made its home in its roots. These unwelcome guests and the fact that they wouldn't leave, drove Inanna to despair. In the end she asks Gilgamesh for help. Gilgamesh tears down the tree and makes it into a throne and bed for Inanna! (To quote a Russian proverb: Guests and fish stink after three days!) I am probably not the most hospitable person in the world, I love this story!
DAY OF FEATHERS (80 x 100 cm) £525
The Inuit (Eskimo's) on the Tikigak Peninsula in Alaska celebrate an event called the 'Day of Feathers'. They wear feathered headdresses and spend the day singing while their guests call out in the voice of their animal alter ego. (For the Inuit singing is a religious act). That day too a wooden top decorated with feathers would be spun as a portent of the future.
And here is another tale from the Far North:
LOON AND RAVEN PAINTING EACH OTHER
(80 x 100 cm) £575
This story about how Raven came to be black appears in many variations all over the Arctic Region. This version is from Southeast Greenland:
Once upon a time, all birds were white and they could talk just as people do today. Then Raven and Loon got talking about their colouring. Loon complained that its dazzling white plumage made hunting quite hard. Raven suggested that they could paint each others' feathers. Raven worked hard to paint Loon black, but he left some patches and speckles of the original colour. Loon was so pleased with the pattern that he copied it on Raven. However, Raven thought it was ugly! Loon got so angry that covered Raven all over in glossy black paint. Raven flew off in anger. Until today Loon and Raven aren't friends and Raven has kept its black coat.
The Kabawil is a creature that appears in Mayan textiles. The word Kaba means 'two' and wil means 'head'. It is a two-headed bird that can see day and night, far and near. It is a symbol of present and future, of short- and longterm plans. It represents an alliance between humans and nature, between men and women.
Borak was a famous beast of Islamic mythology. It had the body of a winged horse and a peacock's tail. The prophet Mohammed was said to have ridden on its back on the night of his ascension to heaven. The creature's name means 'Lightning'.
OTHERWORLD WOMAN RHIANNON SOLD
In Medieval Welsh tales, the Mabinogi, the birds of Otherworld Woman Rhiannon sing to weary heroes to lull them to sleep. (See Celtic Series)
In Norse Mythology the Valkyries were originally demons of death, who soared over the battlefields like birds of prey, meting out fate in the name of Odin. Chosen heroes were gathered up and borne away to Valhalla, the 'Hall of the Slain'. In later Norse myth, the Valkyries were romanticised as Odin's 'Swan Maidens'. (This more flattering protrayal was further developed in the Volsung Saga where the Valkyrie Brynhild falls in love with Sigurd. (Swan maidens had the option of 'shape-shifting': i.e. they could chose to appear as an ordinary-looking female if they wished. This was risky however, as they could easily be trapped on earth if they lost their plumage...)
Similarly in myths from Greek and Rome Harpies were Storm Goddesses who carried away the dead and wounded from battle-fields and stole children without warning. Originally they were portrayed as winged goddesses with beautiful hair. Later on they appear as awful monsters and spirits of mischief, half birds and half maids.
WINGED SOULS (80 x 100 cm) £650
This painting was inspired by a 15th century illustration from Dante, The Divine Comedy, titled 'Souls Transformed Into Birds'.
St Francis of Assisi was a soldier until visions of Christ called him to poverty. He took absolutely literally the notion that Christ's apostles should possess virtually nothing. He called poverty 'his lady' and illness was to him 'a sister'. His body he called 'brother donkey' and Death was 'another sister'! He famously preached to humans and animals alike. In 1979 he was declared the Patron Saint of Ecologists!
ST FRANCIS PREACHING TO THE BIRDS
(80 x 100 cm) £595
And to get back to where it all started: the opera singers! Papageno is a birdcatcher. He appears in the tale of The Magic Flute. Princess Pamina is held captive by Sarastro. Her mother, the Queen of the Night, sends prince Tamino to her rescue. He takes Papageno, the birdcatcher, with him. Papageno rescues Pamina. Tamino and Papageno then undergo trials of initiation into Sarastro's brotherhood. Assisted by magic bells and a magic flute. They have Three Boys for guides. Papageno is less succesful than Tamino, but he finds Papagena. Tamino completes the final trials (of fire and water) with Pamina at his side. The Queen of the Night attacks the Temple but is repulsed by Sarastri. Sarastro's spiritual power and virtue is renewed by the virtue of Tamino and Pamina. (As you can see this tale has many of the classic elements of a myth: the Hero's Journey, Trial by Ordeal, Finding one's Soul Mate, the Powers of Light triumphing over the Powers of Darkness. Reversal of fortune to Sarastro starts off as the Bad Guy and ends up as the Good Guy while the opposite goes for the Queen of the Night - and so forth!)
TANUMSHEDE LABYRINTH PERSON SOLD
Most recently (summer 2007) I have explored rock art. I developed an interest in this after visiting and walking a labyrinth (Trelleborg's Slott) on the west coast of Sweden last year. This labyrinth was situated in a region of Sweden famous for its rock art (or in Swedish 'hallristningar'). After this did some research into rock art from other parts of the world.
In the American Southwest an abundance of prehistoric rock art can be found. The images are so ancient that a lot of their symbolism and meaning eludes us. However, this petroglyphs show a preoccupation with fertility and appeasing the supernatural. As explained in the Inuit (Eskimo) and Siberian write ups: these people's lives depended on the abundance of the animals they hunted. One of their ways to communicate with 'the gods' or 'the other world' was for shamans to undertake 'soul flights'. Bird symbolism is important here: a shaman might wear wings to 'help him fly', he might also have birds as spirit helpers guiding him.For this reason birds are common elements in rock art.