Art Enables artists in collaboration with artist Steven Cushner
November 12, 2022 - January 28, 2023
For this exhibition, Art Enables artists worked in collaboration with DC artist Steven Cushner to illustrate their retelling of one of mythology’s most mistreated women – Medusa—and her would-be slayer—Perseus—trading wrath, misogyny, and violence for love, creativity, and inclusivity. We invite visitors to experience the artists' plot unfolding as they walk along an illustrated path hung with visual vignettes of the story. In our retelling, Medusa is not punished for violence committed against her. Our heroine is not interested in societal expectations of feminine beauty. Perseus is not a hulking, war-like hero but is instead a petite, gender-fluid fashion designer inspired by Medusa’s strength and individuality. Come for the lack of beheading and stay for Pegasus, diamond swords, and magical tattoos! In Art Enables’ colorful retelling, love wins, and different is beautiful.
See the exhibition in person on weekdays from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
MEDUSA & PERSEUS: a retelling
In ancient Greece, there was a woman named Medusa. She was one of three Gorgon sisters who all worked together in the Temple of Athena. Her sisters Stheno and Euryale were immortal monsters with serpent bodies, sharp teeth, and snakes for hair. They were said to be so terrifying that anyone who looked into their eyes would turn to stone!
Medusa herself was a regular, mortal woman. Everyone thought she was very beautiful.
Medusa and her sisters loved each other very much. Stheno and Euryale want Medusa to be immortal like them so they could all be together forever. Medusa wanted the same thing. She did not care about conventional beauty. Medusa thought her sisters were beautiful and powerful. She admired them.
One day, the sisters asked Athena if she would grant them a wish in return for being faithful servants. They asked Athena to transform Medusa into an immortal monster like them. Athena agreed, and changed Medusa into an immortal like her sisters, with a serpent body, green skin, and snakes for hair.
Medusa felt happy and strong. She could now be with her sisters forever and help protect them from people who would try to hurt them.
Athena also gave Medusa other gifts: swords with diamond blades, and a pet ferret who also had snake hair.
Medusa found she had the ability to change people not only into stone, but into things like: birds, fish, bears, butterflies, mushrooms, crystals, flowers, ghosts, monsters, brains, gold, water, cockroaches, trees, elephants, angels, rainforests, jello molds, and demons. Medusa’s eyes changed color when she used this power.
People became even more fearful of the Gorgon sisters than they were before. Would-be heroes often attacked and tried to slay them. They were all transformed into stone and countless other objects and creatures under the powerful eyes of Medusa and her sisters.
At the top of a mountain on a far-off island lived Perseus. Perseus was born a man but thought of themselves as neither man nor woman. Perseus felt they were both and neither. We use the words “they” and “them” when talking about Perseus instead of “he” and “him”. Perseus was a demi-god, which means they were half god and half human. Perseus was dark-skinned and short (5’4”) with short, curly hair and glasses. They had magical tattoos which were always changing into different images.
Perseus had a great gift in life: they were a brilliant fashion designer. They always wore beautiful, creative, surprising dresses and other clothing that they made themselves. Perseus was tired of living on a small island where they couldn’t share their designs with more people.
One day, a messenger of the King came to Perseus’ island and told the people there that the King would give a great reward to anyone who could slay the Gorgon sisters. The messenger vividly described the sisters, especially Medusa, who was said to be the most powerful as she could change people into anything she wanted.
Perseus is enamored by the description and begans daydreaming about Medusa. They thought Medusa sounded fascinating, and they felt inspired to design clothes for her. Perseus wanted to meet their new muse and decided to leave the small island for the big city where Medusa lived.
Athena learned that Perseus was trying to meet Medusa and knew it could be dangerous. She told Perseus that if they looked directly into Medusa’s eyes, it would be the end of them.
She and the gods Hades and Hermes offered Perseus gifts that could aid them in their endeavor. Athena offered them a mirrored shield, but Perseus had designed their own golden, reflective suit of armor and said they would not need it. Hades offered them a cap of invisibility but Perseus said it did not match their outfit and politely declined.
Raymond Lewis, Hermes, Hades, and Athena Offering Gifts, 2022
watercolor, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 12 x 18 in., $100
Finally, Hermes offered Perseus winged sandals that gave their wearer the ability to fly. Perseus loved them and gratefully accepted. They used the winged sandals to fly across the sea to Medusa.
installation detail with waves by Steven Cushner
Medusa saw Perseus arrive by air to the shore of her home, shining like a golden star. Perseus kept his distance and carefully avoided looking directly at Medusa. Instead, Perseus faced away from Medusa and looked at her reflection in the arm of his golden armor. They greeted her warmly and asked to speak with her.
Perseus explained that they were a fashion designer and they had heard about Medusa. They told her they thought she was awesome and hoped to design clothing for her. Medusa was charmed and intrigued by Perseus, and she was pleased and surprised that they had not come to harm her or her sisters.
Perseus and Medusa talked until night fell. Medusa finally explained that she and her sisters only used their powers against others when they were being attacked and that it was safe for Perseus to look at her directly. Perseus trusted Medusa and looked into her eyes. Nothing bad happened; Perseus was unharmed.
Medusa asked Perseus to go on a date with her. They went to Medusa’s favorite coffee shop, Spartabucks, and talked for hours. Athena made the stars shine brighter for them that night.
Perseus and Medusa fell in love. They cried tears of happiness for their good fortune. When their tears touched the earth, Pegasus and Khrysaor – their children—were magically born. Pegasus was a winged, flying horse and Khrysaor was a shapeshifter who could change between a flying pig, a giant, or Big Bird. They were a close and happy family.
Inspired by their love for Medusa, Perseus began designing incredible clothing that Medusa wore and modeled. Everyone was surprised and amazed by Perseus and their designs and by Medusa, who they realized was not dangerous as long as she was treated with kindness.
Vanessa Monroe, Medusa on a Beautiful Runway (print), 2022, digital print on paper (1/1), 22 x 30 in., $100
The couple became famous. Everyone wanted to wear Perseus’ designs and have snake hair like Medusa. Even Beyoncé wore synthetic snake hair! The couple lived a happy, creative life together. They traveled the world, spreading their message of kindness and helping people realize that it’s okay to be different and that there are many kinds of beauty.
Artists on their retelling of Medusa & Perseus:
“It’s kind of a reflection of different ideas of how people look and are perceived. What people see when they look at Medusa. It’s sort of a negative vibe they have of her, shocking and negative. Maybe because Medusa is so powerful. It’s kind of self-reflective when you see something negative in someone. But then Perseus comes and sees something beautiful in her. They’re more positive and confident in themselves. Instead of a scary monster, they see a person who is beautiful and intriguing.”
– Jay Bird
“She’s walking down the runway with people looking at her. She got a beautiful dress and the whole outfit she’s in black and blue and purple and her nails are fashionable, and her hairband and snake hair. She looks happy in my picture. She looks cool. She’s the first monster runway model.”
– Vanessa Monroe
“We’ve had enough male heroes in stories. We need more female heroes.”
– Shawn Payne
click to enlarge