Bed-knobs and Broomsticks

April 4th 2011

Ah, innocence.

Innocence is strolling through the back streets of Chippendale on a lazy afternoon, gazing up at jacaranda trees and the fluffy clouds beyond them. Innocence is smiling as the sun soothes your face on Abercrombie St. Innocence is happening upon MOP Gallery, and sneaking in for a quick peek before heading back to class. Innocence is sidling up to some delicate water-colours to get a closerlook.

The loss of innocence is realising you are surrounded by water-coloured dildos. This show is beautiful, and hilarious. Hilariously beautiful.

Artists Monika Behrens and Rochelle Haley have collaborated on Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which is now in its final week at MOP Gallery. Their sweet paintings explore the history of witch craft and the current state of female sexuality. We asked them to explain themselves.

FBi: My immediate response to the show was to have a good giggle. Was that what you were aiming to get from your audience? 

M&R: Yes – what's not funny about watercolour dildos?We were certainly aiming for humour and spent a lot of the time preparing the work in fits of giggles ourselves. We're glad people have found the paintings fun after approaching what look like pretty serious studies from a distance.

Laughs-out-loud aside, however, the show touches on some fascinating historical ground. Can you tell us about your research in to witchcraft? 

Our interest began when we read about a witches ‘flying ointment’ potion that was administered vaginally using a special dildo hence ‘broomstick’.?? Our research has turned up lots of references to ‘phallic wands’ or staffs used for ritual purposes in witchcraft. Some authors mentions the ‘ride’ witches undertake is a euphemism for sexual congress. The written records of Witch trials in 1460 Arras, France mention anointing a small wooden rod and putting it between their legs to straight away ‘fly’ to their assembly with the devil. We came across colourful witchcraft tales in the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ (The Witch Hammer), the 15th century witch-hunting handbook. It has a passage describing witches stealing men’s ‘virile members’ and hiding them in birds’ nests. ?Our paintings include hemlock, datura, nightshade, belladonna, monks-hood, fly-agaric mushrooms and poppies. Also common kitchen herbs that are hallucinatory in large quantities. Surprisingly, parsley is mentioned a few times as being a strongly hallucinatory ingredient for a witches ‘flying ointment’. We considered it such a boring herb and had no idea of it’s sexy magic genealogy!?

And expand on your thoughts about female sexuality, then and now? 

Well it's interesting that imaging sex toys mainly used by women can be culturally more provocative than graphic sexualised images of bodies. Painting them in watercolour can be equally as subversive. The vilification of women (often independent of traditional female roles) with knowledge and control of the natural world was brutal and effective. Not as effective however as the almost total euphemisation of a history of female sexuality. Disney and others take it so far as to suggest the 'broomstick' should be ridden side saddle! 

The watercolours are so lush and delicate they could belong to a book of children's stories. What inspired that aesthetic? 

The aesthetic of botanical illustration was a


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