The etymology reveals the divergences between contemporary moral parameters and those of the classical period. Pascal Quignard, in Sex and Terror, provides good examples of how the word “castites” had more to do with “integrity of caste” than with any kind of virginal purity. Likewise, virtus referred to manly vigor, to the power of the free man or “vir” against the servus.
The Romans were obsessed with virile power, hence the phallus (Fascinus) was the most reproduced icon, as an amulet or priapic divinity. The Greek Priapus was assimilated in Rome to Mutuno Tutuno, a phallic god on whom the newly betrothed got on in the vestal temple.
During Roman fertility festivals the procession of a giant fascinus was customary while reciting obscene verses, the so-called fescennini chants. The language that emerges as a stream with no time to lie, rude and profane, violent and lascivious, takes away the evil eye. The sarcastic laughter conjured up the sexual potency, the fecundity of the lands, the victory of war.
Initially the fescennine verses were sexual insults that boys and girls said to each other. The disguise and inversion of roles were characteristic of this type of farce: in the saturae the men disguised themselves as a goat and were tied an olisbos (dildo) at the waist, or dressed as wolves and flogged themselves; in the matronale the matrons became servants.
Quignard discovers a parallelism between these Roman ludibrium and the Passion of Christ: the public exhibition, the sarcastic obscenity of the thorns crown and his humiliating nakedness… This historian explain that when the Jesuits tried to evangelize the Chinese of the seventeenth century these laughed at such comical scene.
But for the Christian devotees the Crucifixion is not really funny, and it was precisely to dispel the delirious terror of the via crucis that the priests incited among their parishioners another kind of laughter, the risus paschalis. To this ritual practice the anthropologist Maria Caterina Jacobelli dedicated her study destined to find a theological foundation to the sexual pleasure.
Jacobelli followed the trail of a secular practice (which extended to the Modern Age) practiced mostly in Germanic geography: at the Easter Masses of the Resurrection, in order to counteract the penance of Lent, the priest made the faithfuls laugh telling dirty jokes, staging rude and erotic pantomimes, and even showing his genitals.
Capitals and corbels of romantic churches, such as the Cantabria collegiate of San Pedro de Cervatos, reminds us more permissives times, in which faith didn’t condemn the body to the averno but invoked its graceful voluptuousness to celebrate the resurrection, the rites of fecundity and, ultimately, the transit without interruption between worldly pleasure and heavenly joy.
We thus entered the field of erotic and sacred laughter, at the meeting point of the Biblical Sara and Baubo, of the nonagenarian Isaac’s mother (“the one who makes laugh”) and the priestess to whom Greek mythology gave a pubic face to amuse Demeter.
The Bible is not exempt of humor, and often female characters are the most rebellious, as the incredulous Sara when she receives the news of her conception: “I will know the pleasure now that I’m worn-out and my husband is so old? “. He mocks the bizarre idea of that “Magician” (so she calls God) that doesn’t even dare speak to her except through Abraham’s mediation.
The physical aspect of Baubo (his creator could almost be considered the first surrealist of History), grotesque and funny, monstrous and ridiculous, made possible to restart the seasonal cycles.
Legend has it that this plump old woman wore a peplos when she met Demeter, who was sad because her daughter Persephone was abduced by Hades. Baubo lift her peplos before the goddess of agriculture, and she could not but laugh at the spectacle of her dancing vulva-face.
This vulva deity was the female equivalent of Priapus, but the misogynous modesty of the centuries to come was relegated to oblivion.
The illustrator Laia Arqueros has rescued Baubo repeatedly, making her captain of her vessel of adventurous female (Landing on the Rive Gauche), riding her “black pig” (personal ceramic version of the boar on which usually the goddess rode) , or mimicking with her in the gesture of lifting the skirt; since the desire and the feminine sexuality, its indomitable nature, is a core aspect of its reflections.
Associated with the purifying character of erotic laughter, the old woman whose uninhibited attitude unloads the female libido and renews the joy of living, fertility and the pleasures of flesh, was commemorated in the Eleusinian rites (in honor of Demeter) through the recital of obscenities and the sacrifice of pigs.
Baubo was also evoked in the Thesmophorias, another Demeter cult to which only women could attend, and in which the act of showing vulvas was part of the ritual. Arqueros has also recalled these feminine meetings, full of sensuality and mystery.
Remains of Mediterranean legends and tales from Granada that incited her imagination as a child inspire each other to produce short stories in which biography and myth are mixed.
Her plastic language, with a stylized form, simplified line and discreet chromatic range, is related to that of the Etruscan frescoes and the Greek vessels, returning us to an origin from which everything can be reinvented.
It’s curious that Shinto tells a similar story to that of Baubo: when the sun goddess Amaterasu confined herself in a cave because her brother had devastated the fields with storms and floods, the only one that managed to bring her out from the hole and return light to the world was Ame-no-Uzume thanks to the laughter that bursted out everyone present with her erotic dance, when with the frenetic swaying her tunic slipped showing her nakedness.
Buabo and Uzume embody the power of persuasion of the erotic dance and the obscene joy that transgresses the sacred solemnity.
About ritual transgressions the pre-Colombians also knew a lot, in whose codices Rurru Mipanochia inspires in order to elaborate on a polymorphous sexuality between chimerical beings, where fierce females equipped with sexual harnesses and masks transform the phallic and sacrificial cults of yesteryear into pleasure limbs devoid of taboos .
Rurru, in each new saga, is expanding her pantheon, inviting to her pangeneic orgies to Aztec and Nahua deities in which the feminine, masculine and zoomorphic coexist, confuse and alternate in luxuriant feasts.
The mythical substrate acquires in Stefan Rinck‘s work a more sinister and pessimistic tone, but he exorcizes through humor the contemporary split between life and death, in whose cyclical continuity our ancestors placed the sense of existence.
Little is left of sacred talisman to his post-mortem sandstone Priap, which reduces the ithyphallicus amulets of ancient civilizations to ridiculous skeletons with erect phallus, whose regenerating and victorious symbolism is nullified by its own emaciated condition.
Going back to the etymological exercise with which we started the text, it seems that the ancient Greeks coined the word “obscenity” to refer to what happens “ob skena” in the theatrical performance, which can not be shown but neither can be obviated (basically, scenes of violence and sex), what in the cinema would be called “out of frame”.
The art has been focused in showing what happens behind the scenes, in sneaking into the interstices of morality, unveiling the taboo, laughing at the false modesty … The photographer Erwin Olaf said that portraying mature women self-parodying as pin-up girls was for him liberating and funny. By combining eroticism and old age in an uninhibited way Olaf showed what is usually “off scene”. The degree of social illness can be measured by the inner blush we feel before these natural, healthy and, if you want, obscene images.
Solo exhibition of Rurru Mipanochia
Xochiquetzal: erotismo y procreación
in Art Space Mexico (Mexico City), until 31th March