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The Sheela-na-gig: An Inspirational Figure for Contemporary Irish Art


The Sheela-na-gig: An Inspirational Figure for Contemporary Irish Art

Ocampo-Gooding, Sonya I. (2012) The Sheela-na-gig: An Inspirational Figure for Contemporary Irish Art. Masters thesis, Concordia University.



A Sheela-na-gig is an enigmatic, medieval stone carving of a female figure with exposed genitalia. It is exceptional both as a public image of a woman with an exaggerated vulva and because it is often located on a religious building. This thesis explores the connection between the Sheela-na-gig and Irish contemporary art considering theological, feminist and historical themes. The artists Barrie Cooke, Louise Walsh and Eilis O’Connell are reviewed with a focus on their works that were inspired by the Sheela-na-gig. The Killinaboy and Ballyvourney churches are focal points in this thesis because of their connection to the artists and because they have Sheelas that became linked to saints. The theological writings on virtues and vices are present in the early Irish texts of penitentials. These penitentials evolved into devotional rituals based on the Sheela, but were also used as a warning against immoral behaviour in monastic praxis. The thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach to inspiration and the forces that bring together the Sheela, the artists and certain social and theological issues in Ireland. The analysis is supported by interviews and oral histories that were collected as part of the research. In this way, the underlying themes of feminism, sexuality, form, repression, history and nature are revealed as key to understanding how the Sheela has served as an inspirational figure for selected contemporary Irish art.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science
Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Authors:Ocampo-Gooding, Sonya I.
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:M.A.
Program:Special Individualized Program
Date:15 December 2012
Thesis Supervisor(s):Paterson, Elaine C.
ID Code:976800
Deposited On:19 Jun 2013 16:36
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:43
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