Medusa & her Sisters

9 to 20 October 2019
  • Peggy Jay Gallery

Artist Natalie Sirett on the inspiration for the drawing series Medusa & her Sisters 

The snake-haired Medusa’s face was so ugly it turned men to stone. Even after death, her severed head petrified seaweed, turning it into sharp-toothed coral. In classical mythology, Medusa was born a great beauty and cursed with her serpent curls as punishment for losing her virginity, she was punished even though she had been raped. Earlier myth shows her born ugly, the daughter of sibling sea monsters, Phorcys and Ceto*, living in exile with her sisters ‘on Kisthene’s dreadful plain’**.

I am intrigued by female icons such as the Medusa, the stepsister, the mad wife, the harpy; women who expose the lines we should not cross. We are living in a time when, in spite of new waves of feminism, a curated perfection of the body and its online image is a social expectation. We are encouraged to ‘enhance’ ourselves, but enhancement often means erasure of everything unique. I think that women and girls, in particular, engage in this self-erasure because, centuries since The Fall, they still buy into the notion that they are objects of shame. So, I delve back into the stories of these notorious women, seeking to re-interrogate old judgements and change the narrative. In my small way, I rehabilitate monsters.

As I started to imagine the lives of the Gorgon sisters, scenes emerged that were not as dark as I expected, often showing the women living in contentment and self-sufficiency. It is the figures of petrified men that highlight the isolation of both the sexes in a world where ugliness is exiled. The drawing ‘Medusa’s First Kiss’ shows her fashioning her own mask with a mirror, getting as close to a kiss as she can. While ‘Dressed to Kill’ shows the sisters, magically transported into the community that banished them, all dressed up for a night on the town. The gauzy veil that covers their faces, teasing us with the prospect of what might happen when they let it drop.

The idea to expand this project into a book came through discussions with the poet Natalie Shaw and it is through her hard work that a remarkable group of poets came together to create an anthology of drawings and sonnets. I am enormously proud to share this project with them.

To learn more about the book, go to

To learn more about the artist, go to

Natalie Sirett, 2019

*   In drawings, the lesser known Gorgons, Euryale and Stheno, have inherited their parents’ coral hair, crab claws and a fish tails

** Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound