Camilla Brown

Spider Woman

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

For centuries humans have projected gendered meaning onto spiders: the world’s early civilisations would sit around the campfire telling tales of Spider Grandmother, Greek mythology saw Goddess Athena transform the young weaver Arachne into a spider as punishment, and in the early-twentieth-century the femme fatale began to stalk the more delicate parts of the male psyche. A turbulent symbolism has promoted womanhood both as a site of creativity and wisdom, and of cruelty – with the female body as a site of entrapment. ‘Spider Woman’ celebrates woman’s perceived spidery traits while unpicking at the misogynistic seam which runs through the stories we tell of women and spiders. Western women currently report disproportionately high rates of arachnophobia, ‘Spider Woman’ addresses this fear and hopes to transform it into kinship. Here the fecund, wicked spider woman is proposed as an alternative reality: one that plays with rigid human-nonhuman boundaries and revels within a great tangle of organisms.

‘Spider Woman’ is a chronology of spider-female representation across art, literature, film and popular culture. It is the result of conversations with artists, biologists, curators of arachnids at zoos and educational institutions in the UK and North America. The introduction is a personal reflection on what spiders might mean to femininity today. This is followed by ‘Gravid’, an exploration of ancient depictions of spider women as creators and weavers. ‘Her Vomit Darkness’ considers demonic representations of spider as hysteric, mother and seductress. The final chapter ‘Daddy Longlegs, are you proud?’ looks to spiders in contemporary art practices to question how spiders and their silk feature in the twenty-first-century collective consciousness – and how we might find other ways of engaging with arachnid worlds.

Read an extract here.

Design by Maria Pestana Teixeira.