Sigrid Holmwood

Sigrid Holmwood,Annely Juda Fine Art

Annely Juda Fine Art presents Sigrid Holmwood ‘A Terrible and True History’.

The focus of this recent series of paintings is the Witch Trials of 1590 in Denmark and North Berwick, Scotland.  In September 1589, storms prevented the voyage of Princess Anne of Denmark from Copenhagen to Scotland to marry King James VI.  Witchcraft was blamed, notably by King James himself, whose interest in witchcraft led him to write Daemonologie in 1597.  Brutal witch trials ensued in Denmark and subsequently in Scotland on the King and Queen’s return.  Confessions were extracted via torture, and women were burnt at the stake.  The site of some of the Danish executions is close to where Holmwood now resides in Malmö (now part of Sweden), and the artist grew up in Edinburgh, close to the North Berwick trials.

Paintings in this exhibition feature imagery such as fanning flames, a floundering ship in stormy seas and excerpts from historical pamphlets on witchcraft.  “I suppose I have been particularly fascinated with the tension between the attraction of the swirling marks used to depict the flames and my own revulsion at the subject matter. Some of the flames depicted were used to burn women, and some were used to burn books – a reference to women’s knowledge.”

Sigrid Holmwood, 2022

The knowledge Holmwood refers to is that of plants and their medicinal properties. For Holmwood and other scholars, the European witch hunts became a counter-revolutionary tool that served to suppress radical movements in the peasant class. “The trope of killing, and even eating, babies were often part of the conspiracy theories expressed in the Witch Hunts, thereby serving to appropriate women’s reproductive capacities by silencing their medicinal knowledge of plants that might be used to control their fertility.”[1] In a time when debates around women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy are resurfacing, this seems relevant.  Holmwood has used madder roots as the red dye in these works, which, as well as being an important historic red dye in Europe, was also used to induce abortions.

Holmwood’s work focuses on the figure of the peasant and how she was used to construct Western modernity.  Paints are hand-made using historical methods, and Holmwood has used her adopted “peasant-painter” persona as a means to highlight the links between the exclusion of European peasant culture and, in these recent works, the suppression, torture and execution of countless women as part of mass hysteria about witchcraft in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The witch hunts that took place in early Modern Europe were confounded by the spreading of information via printed materials.   The invention of the Gutenberg press in the 1450s contributed largely to the proliferation of panic and hysteria; one could liken it to the spread of modern-day misinformation and conspiracy theories on the internet.  News of the North Berwick trials quickly spread via the pamphlet ‘Newes from Scotland’, published in London in 1591, an excerpt of which is printed on the green textile work in this exhibition which is dyed with weld plants gathered near the site of executions in Malmö.  Another notable text is En Forskreckelig Oc sand bescriffuelse om mange Troldfolck, (A Terrible and True Description of Witches) of 1589, from which this exhibition’s title originates.

Artist Performance

6.30pm during the Exhibition Preview on Thursday 26th January.

The artist Sigrid Holmwood will do a short demonstration of how to make pigment from madder roots, used in many of the paintings in her new exhibition ‘A Terrible and True History’, whilst talking about its connection to the Malmö witch trials of 1590

Duration 26 January 2023 - 03 March 2023
Times Monday - Friday 10am - 6pm. Saturdays 11am - 5pm
Cost Free
Venue Annely Juda Fine Art
Address 4th Floor 23 Dering Street, London, W1S 1AW
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