Monica Sjöö, The Goddess at Avebury and Silbury, 1978 Museum Anna Nordlander © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

Monica Sjöö

The great cosmic mother

13.5 2023 – 15.10 2023


Throughout her practice, the artist, activist, writer and eco-feminist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) fought an uncompromising battle for freedom from all forms of oppression. The exhibition “Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother” is the first retrospective of Sjöö’s extensive corpus, where art, politics and spirituality are inseparable.

Audio guide

Listen to the audio guide for “Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother”.

Hear about Monica Sjöö’s life and discover works such as “God Giving Birth” and “The Goddess at Avebury and Silbury”.

Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother – Audio Guide 

Fridays for Future

Fridays For Future is a youth-led global climate justice movement. In connection with “Monica Sjöö: The Great Cosmic Mother”, Fridays For Future Stockholm has organized open sessions in Moderna Museet’s workshop to create banners, together with visitors, to use in the movement’s climate strikes.

Several of the banners were displayed on the wall outside the exhibition, along with banners used by Fridays For Future since the first global strikes “School strike for the climate” and “People Not Profit” − iconic banners that helped create the international youth climate movement.

Installationsbild. Fridays For Future
Monica Sjöö, Installation view. Fridays For Future , 2023 Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet

Monica Sjöö was controversial throughout her life. In raw and bold imagery, she was an early advocate of women’s right to sexual empowerment and free abortion. She became politically aware in her youth, through demonstrations against the Vietnam war, the anarchist movement and the independent art scene in Stockholm. These experiences laid the foundation for Sjöö’s vivid existence as an artist and activist in the UK, where she spent most of her life, and where she became a key figure in the British women’s liberation movement.

“The Great Cosmic Mother” is the first retrospective museum exhibition of Monica Sjöö’s oeuvre. Featuring some fifty works from Sjöö’s entire practice, it spans from monumental paintings, over political posters and banners, to drawings and material from the artist’s large archives.

 Painting. A figure is kneeling and scrubbing the floor behind a grate. Behind the grille is also a large female head and a reclining female figure.
Monica Sjöö, House-Wives, 1973 © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet
 Poster by Monica Sjö with Emma Goldman's text: Women Need Not Always Keep Their Mouths Shut & Their Wombs Open
Monica Sjöö, Women Need Not Always Keep Their Mouths Shut & Their Wombs Open, 1968 © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/ Moderna Museet

God Giving Birth – a feminist icon

Today a feminist icon, Monica Sjöö’s painting “God Giving Birth” (1968) was considered both blasphemous and obscene at the time, and was constantly being removed from the exhibitions where it was shown. The 1970s may be perceived as the decade of women’s liberation, but this painting almost got Sjöö prosecuted when it was exhibited in the UK in 1973.

Censorship merely strengthened Sjöö in her resolve to portray women’s experiences in her art. Rejecting abstract art as a Western male privilege, she asked herself:

“How does one communicate women’s strength, struggle, rising up from oppression, blood, childbirth, sexuality – in stripes and triangles?”

Målning av monica Sjöö
Monica Sjöö, God Giving Birth, 1968 Museum Anna Nordlander © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Krister Hägglund / Skellefteå museum
Painting. A figure in the middle. On her right: Chopped trees. On the left: White and black birds.
Monica Sjöö, Mother Earth in Pain, Her Trees Cut Down, Her Seas Polluted, 1996 © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

Spirituality and political change

Monica Sjöö linked many of her ideas to The Great Mother, a figure that is found in many cultures throughout history. For Sjöö, the essence of The Great Mother was present in all phases of life, as an experience that imbues both nature and being.

She saw the oppression inflicted on women and minorities, and the exploitation of green areas and the ravaging of nature, as violence against The Great Mother. In this way, her commitment to the women’s movement and environmentalism and her spiritual convictions were related.

“I have not been trying to understand and communicate (through painting and writing) the ancient religion of the Mother as some form of escape from having to face up to the very real and acute economic and sexual oppression of us women in present capitalist societies”, she writes in the article “The Witches are Returning” in Peace News, 19 November 1976:

On the contrary, the knowledge of the existence in the ancient past of cultures shaped around and by creative women who were mothers as well as producers – seers, shamans and communicators with the living spirit and energies of the cosmos and Earth – gave me strength and hope to struggle during many years before the rebirth of the Women’s movement.
 Painting. Female figures against a dark background.
Monica Sjöö, Aspects of the Great Mother, 1971 Museum Anna Nordlander © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet
Female figures
Monica Sjöö, Our Bodies Ourselves, 1974 © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

Outlining an alternative future

Monica Sjöö’s profound commitment to the peace movement was fuelled by the military escalation in the 1980s. She organised several political campaigns, and participated with women’s groups such as “Women for Life on Earth” in peace marches and anti-nuclear weapons camps at RAF Brawdy and Greenham Common. Women chained themselves to military facilities to protest against what they perceived as an overhanging threat to all life on earth and to promote disarmament.

The women’s community around the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp combined anarchism, eco-feminism, environmental activism and spirituality in dedicated protests, dance and singing.

Sjöö’s lifelong research into ancient matriarchal cultures influenced her philosophy and artistic practice. She used her knowledge to outline an alternative possible future, where spirituality and political change were united. Sjöö looked back in history to find voices and contexts that could resound mightily in the contemporary world and pave the way for a total revolution.

Women For Life on Earth Peace March from Cardiff to Brawdy |, 1982 Photography from Monica Sjöö's private archive © The Estate of Monica Sjöö
Poster with "God giving birth" motif and the text: The Beginning of the End of Patriarchy
Monica Sjöö, The Beginning of the End of Patriarchy, 1993 © The Estate of Monica Sjöö. Photo: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet


Photo of the painting "Woman Beautiful Love/Tigress". The painting shows three figures, one of which holds a child, one holds green plants in both hands, and one is seen in profile. Two bodies holding hands are seen behind two radiant circles. At the top center of the painting is a yellow sun with an upside down triangle on top of it.
Monica Sjöö, Woman Beautiful Love/Tigress, 1972 Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet © Museum Anna Nordlander, Skellefteå (deposition from The Estate of Monica Sjöö)
Painting of a face in black and white, with a red background. Over the left eye of the face, a square with another black and white face with glasses is depicted.
Monica Sjöö, Emma Goldman, 1967 Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet © The Estate of Monica Sjöö
Photo of the painting "Amazon Warrior Women", being displayed in the exhibition.  The painting consists of different figures in movement, and a horse, painted in red, green, yellow, beige and blue.
Monica Sjöö, Amazon Warrior Women, 1999 Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet © The Estate of Monica Sjöö
Photo of a painting displayed in the exhibition, the painting consists of colorblocks in red, dark blue and beige. To the right, there is a close-up of a person's screaming face. To the left, a male body from the waist down wearing a shirt and nothing more.
Monica Sjöö, Untitled, 1968 Photo: Mattias Lindbäck/Moderna Museet © The Estate of Monica Sjöö

More about this exhibition