I only had an hour to explore so I grabbed the museum map and scanned it to see what would be of most interest. I decided to head straight for the back wing, where all the sculptures were kept. They have a varied collection of British owned sculptures spanning 1600 - 1900. With my Mighty Women eye on I made a point of noting how many of the pieces were of women. To be honest there were quite a few female busts, if not as many male, but most of the female sculptures were of mythological women.
I scanned the names of the sculptors, hoping for a woman and finding none. I did make note of those pieces that caught my eye and discovered that I have a love of Auguste Rodin and Eric Gill. I was standing amongst several of their sculptures, taking notes with my eyes, when I glanced a new name on the plaque before me.
Winifred Turner (1903 - 1983), a female sculptor. Apparently she is such an obscure artist that she doesn't even warrant a wikipedia page. But her piece Crouching Youth is in the V & A, one of the most famous museums in the UK if not the world.
Feeling quite pleased to have discovered this little known female artist, I wandered away from the main hall towards the Asian Sculptures wing. Of course the feature was Buddha and how sculptures of him have evolved over time. The collection included several prolific Bodhisattvas as well, most notably, the White Tara.
It is often said that Buddhism is sexist because Buddha didn't believe that women had the ability to become enlightened. Of course it is also believe that he said:
Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.
Maybe he said it, maybe he didn't. Maybe he was sexist, maybe he wasn't.
Regardless, the White Tara is there and she has substantial clout. She represents compassion and freedom from fear and she is currently my research project. I want to know so much more about her, where and when she lived, who she taught, how she was able to become a Goddess in a world where women were considered objects or too emotional to become enlightened.
Needless to say, my self-directed women's studies class is full of interesting developments.