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© 2020 by Susan Silas


I was attracted to the Medusa for a number of reasons. I found her curious as a icon of feminism. The construction of her as simultaneously symbolizing female rage, and men's fear of female desire, struck me as inconsistent with her origin story, one in which another woman cursed her, essentially blaming her rather than her rapist for her victimization. She was said to have been beautiful before she was cursed by Athena and she was the sole mortal of the three gorgons.

Primo Levi described the shades in the camps, known to him in Auschwitz as Muselmänner, as having set eyes on the goron, or Medusa. Those men were not turned to stone; they still breathed the air, but they existed in a grey zone between life and death, already beyond the communications of others. So before the feminsits of the 70s adopted her, Medusa stood for the unspeakable horror witnessed by those in the camps, those so deeply affected by the horrors they had witnessed that they would never be able to rejoin the living.

There is also the question of Medusa's ugliness to consider. What does it mean in most societies for a woman to be unquestionably ugly? In what ways does ugliness determine how one is treated and to what extent does aging overlap ugliness, especially in the perception of women? And of course, what does it mean to return the male gaze with a gaze that profers only death?

The image on the right is a digital study for a life size marble sculpture. This work was to have begun in April of this year in Italy but has been indefinitely postponed. A 10" tall 3D model is in production. The scan is of my face and the sculpture is based on the bust of Medusa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The approximate date of his work is 1638-1648. Bernini's Medusa resides in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome.



 Medusa, 2020