The Art of Virgins and Sacred Goddesses

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Artwork by Rebecca Dayan, Courtesy of Catherine Ahnell Gallery

On the eve of her inaugural solo exhibit, artist Rebecca Dayan reveals the unexpected inspirations behind her watercolour series

Rebecca Dayan is a woman of many talents. Born and raised in the South of France, the coquettish beauty made her modelling debut at 18, after moving to Paris, and was quickly championed by prolific talents such as Karl Lagerfeld and Peter Lindbergh. Acting came into play after she relocated to New York, and her innate on-screen ability saw her earn roles alongside industry veterans such as Robert DeNiro. Most recently, she has achieved impressive acclaim in her role as an artist; a profession which she explains, is inexorably linked to her acting – in fact, it was while immersed in research for her role as a nun in upcoming film NOVITIATE that she found inspiration for her new exhibition, which explores and recontextualises religious posturing to comment on contemporary stereotypes.

“The director wanted the actors to help build the parts, so she sent me all of these books about religious symbolism and iconography that I became incredibly interested in. There was an excerpt in one book that I loved, where a woman explained the original definition of the word virgin. She wrote that, before Christianity, sex was sacred for the simple reason that it created life: women were sacred goddesses, and everything that was affiliated with womanhood – whether it was vaginal or menstrual or whatever – was elevated. It just wasn’t taboo in the way it is today; in fact, quite the opposite."

"She also explained that the word virgin originally had no sexual connotations; instead, it was to do with a woman’s freedom and independence and knowledge of herself. I thought that my show could be an exploration of that idea; I am surrounded by so many inspiring women and I asked some of them to pose in positions ordinarily associated with the Virgin Mary, in a play on expectation. The show itself is called Assumption and it’s both about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary but also the assumptions that we make regarding virginity. Through the show, I’m re-appropriating the word itself... taking it back to its original meaning.”

Rebecca Dayan: Assumption runs at Catherine Ahnell Gallery from September 9 until October 11, 2015