"Sheela na Gigs are relief sculptures of a figure exposing her vulva. She came into being as early as the 6th or 7th century (but definitely by the 11th or 12th centuries), so no one can definitively state what she's really about. Everyone can make her what they want her to be ultimately. Some have said she's an older woman because you can see her ribs in some carvings and the deeply etched lines around her eyes suggest aging and that suits me fine. For me, she's from a time when women had agency and power, and the older generations come with the wisdom of experience.
To this end, I've re-thought the University of Rochester logo, a logo that has remained unchanged since the University was founded in 1850 (and did not admit female students), from the eyes of Sheela. My goal is to question the current logo, which to me, speaks of white men with books that are lovely (but becoming a thing of the past), and a lyre that isn't played anymore - although the snake (caduceus) still works! With Sheela na Gig, we go way back in time to update the UR logo to reflect the inclusive values of today. And in doing so, we explicitly invoke the conjunction of women and power, which were not always two separate thoughts.
I'm not saying the Sheela logo is the answer but my motives are to incite a critique and come together to develop a logo that visually makes everyone feel like they could belong at this university."
About the Artist
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Charmaine Wheatley is a performance artist who records by watercolor drawing, typically housing works in pocket-sized tin boxes. Since graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Wheatley has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts; Arts Nova Scotia; and Arts Newfoundland Labrador. In 2012 Charmaine became an artist in residence for life at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where she has had 2 long term exhibitions. Recent related portrait work includes two SU-CASA artist residencies with senior centers in 2016 through the Brooklyn Arts Council. Wheatley is the artist in residence at the University of Rochester in New York since January 2017. Half the time working intimately with the mental health community creating portraits from life and the other half sitting with members of the HIV community in both Rochester and Buffalo.
Sheela na gig
University of Rochester artist-in-residence Charmaine Wheatley created this project with URMC. By sitting with and drawing portraits of people with stigmatized illnesses, Wheatley highlights their humanity and relatable characteristics. There is one overarching goal: to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and HIV.