evil garden

Brutal Myths is about women's misogynous mythology. Because traditionally, women were the lay healers in herbal medicinal practice, herbs are used in metaphoric interaction to describe the physical and/or mental mutilations that developed from these hateful myths. The evolvement as an artwork created especially for the web will be presented at ISEA96, the International Symposium of Electronic Art, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Its contents are inspired by the Malleus Maleficarum: The Hammer of Witches, a handbook for witch-hunting commissioned in 1484 by Pope Innocent VIII in order to stamp out witchcraft. Written by two Dominican monks, members of the infamous Inquisition, it rapidly became a "best-seller" throughout Europe where it served to bring to trial, torture and execute witches. Myths stemming from the Malleus have developed to control and oppress women. The castrating witch myth, Freud's Vagina Dentata, is perpetuated in Muslim Africa by genital mutilation. During the 19th century in this country, doctors "cured" women of "troublesomeness" by ovariotomies and clitorectomies i.e. female castration and mutilation. Lobotomies were the answer to the evilness in women's thinking, as well as the psychiatric diagnoses of female insanity and hysteria. Rape and sexual violence are manifestations of the need to punish woman for her supposed sexual insatiability, "inclining men to inordinate passion" (Malleus Maleficarum).

In the artwork, Brutal Myths, women are accused of planting seven herbs (with appropriate names such as Cleavers and Henbane) which supposedly inflict injuries on men as described by the Malleus. Among these injuries are "removing members accomodated to that act" and "changing men into beasts". The affects of these injuries generate the myth that the "vagina eats up the penis" and the myth of women's "masochism and vanity". Each of seven myths is the focus of a page that scrolls down images and text describing the mutilations and women's affected function. Visuals range from ancient goddess figures, paintings by Artemisia, and ancient and contemporary torture devices. Topical news items (current afflictions) such as ruptured breast implants and the "anti-abortion" killer, John Salvi III, are timely features. To destroy the prejudicial myths about women, men's fears of women are addressed and placated. Related to the specific fear, anti-dotal (blissful) herbs are planted to bind with the evil herbs that are responsible for propagating the misogyny. A recipe for ritual is prescribed for the web user who wishes to print and cut out the anti-dotal herb and engage in the healing process.

Mari-Jose Sat is co-creator with Sonya Rapoport