Seven Hymns to the Goddess Inanna: Artist’s Summary Statement
“Hieratica: Seven Hymns to the Goddess Inanna” is an artistic response to a series of ancient poems dedicated to the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. Inanna is the goddess of fertility, the daughter of the god of wisdom, Enki. She was charged with the important job of giving to her people the laws of their society. She undertakes an arduous trip into the Underworld, and is strong and fearless as she encounters many trials and challenges upon her journey. But she is transformed and resurrected at the end of her journey, and emerges stronger, humbler, and better able to serve her community, a source of inspiration for all. In the many narratives dedicated to her, we get to know the complexities of her character. We see her develop from young wife to mature ruler of her kingdom. We see her gain wisdom on her life’s journey.
When in my own journey reading about mythologies from various cultures, I stumbled upon those of ancient Babylon, I knew I wanted to pause and learn much more about this topic. The myths were earthy and passionate; they told tales of a people who pondered deeply the vicissitudes of life. The well-known Epic of Gilgamesh was my first exposure to these myths. It told of a great friendship between two men and the deep sadness one of them feels at the death of the other. It told of the hero’s quest for immortality. I could hardly believe that I was reading something that might have been written 5,000 or more years ago. The narrative was sophisticated and compelling. I was struck by the deep passion in the stories. As I explored further, I came upon poems having to do with another very important deity in the Sumerian pantheon, the goddess, Inanna. I was struck by the power and responsibilities invested in a female goddess figure, and by the frank and uninhibited portrayal of human sexuality in the poems. There was nothing prurient or shameful in the depictions. Inanna is depicted as lusty, powerful and strong. I realized that I had found an ancient treasure trove and I wanted to respond further by creating some sort of work of artwork based on my experience.
When I chose to illustrate the Seven Hymns to the Goddess Inanna, I had in mind to create seven prayer flags, something in the style of Voodoo prayer flags, which are rich with symbolism and use colorful beading and appliques. I knew that I would use a technique that I developed -- “E-Quilting”. I would create electronic mosaics of some sort, incorporating scans of gems and colorful batiks into electronic collages using Adobe Photoshop software. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure where I would go once I actually rolled up my sleeves and started working. I would trust in the artistic process and the workings of the Muse in the background. As I started to design my project, I soon realized I would need an inscription of some sort for each poem and that the inscriptions would have to be in a script with an ancient appearance. Now I had a problem on my hands; I would have to create a language and would be forced to take a detour from the art project to create my own symbols first. Although I originally only thought of the symbols as a side show for what would be the real work of art, in the end, I discovered that the symbols actually were the art.
I combed through the poems, extracting what I thought were the most important words and images. For each image, I would in turn create a symbol. In total, there are 200 symbols. I classified the images extracted into 5 separate categories: Transcendence, Home, Earth, The Sacred, and Community. The fact that the words could be classified into these categories told me that the poems were religious in nature, revealing what these ancient peoples valued most highly in life. I wanted each category of word to resemble stylistically other words in that category. I had certain rules I would follow in creating the symbols. They would not be pictographic. They had to be simple in form, something that could be easily traced on a clay tablet, for example. Most importantly, I had to like each and every symbol.
I started out outlining a precise pencil drawing of each symbol on graph paper. I knew that I wanted each letter to be a certain thickness and color and to be outlined with a thick black stroke, a trademark style I have used in much of the art work I have produced since the late 70’s. I chose the electronic drawing software called “Sketchbook Pro” to produce the letters because this software worked well with an electronic pen tablet and would allow me to include precise symmetry and smooth lines and curves where needed in the letters. I had to give consideration as to what resolution and size to make each image, so that when I reduced them to their final size, they would be precise but that the files would not be too large.
The detour to create this many symbols took me many years to complete. It was hard work, but I plowed through it systematically. When finally, the language was finished and assembled into seven poems, I was amazed at how beautiful it looked when they came together as complete poems. Each poem seemed to take on a life of its own, soaring away from me as the creator. My last step would be to create a beautiful mosaic frame for each poem. I decided to create the frames based on Islamic mosaic patterns, using a separate color scheme for each poem.
When I came to the point of naming my work, I knew that I would use the beautiful word, “hieratica”. It comes the Greek hieros, meaning "sacred". “Hieratic” is commonly defined as "appropriate to sacred persons or duties; priestly, sacerdotal". Hieratica was originally a cursive writing system used primarily by sacred scribes in ancient Egypt, using ink on papyrus in order to speed up the writing process for the ancient scribes. During early Christianity, the term "hieratica" came to denote priestly writing of religious texts. In short, there wasn't anything in the etymology of this wonderful word that I didn't like or didn’t think was directly applicable to my own project.
The Sumerian myths are told by ancient peoples, on the cusp of the primitive and the mythic, emerging into a world organized by agriculture and the rise of large city-states. Although they are “only myths”, they tell of a still deeper history – the history of the human spirit as it has traveled through time, trying to make sense of its environment and constantly searching for meaning in life. Our souls are fortified and strengthened when they are exposed to such stories, stories that tell us more about the spirits and souls of our distant ancestors. From them, we derive a wisdom fearless and deep. The heart and soul of mankind shines out from the darkness of the past.