After the success of the fantastic ‘Feminism, Spirituality and Politics’ workshop cum ritual that took place on Tuesday night at the exhibition, I thought it would be a good idea to upload an article by Ros Beauhill that, for reasons of textual consistency, did not make the catalogue.
This piece of writing reflects on Ros’s friendship with Monica Sjoo, the Bristol-based painter and activist.
Monica As I Knew Her
Monica and I met at the first meeting of a women’s spirituality group in Bristol in 1990, before the group took on a broader definition and the name Ama Mawu. It was only a few years since the deaths of 2 or her 3 sons and she was still grieving profoundly. She was nevertheless out in the world of Goddess spirituality again, painting, writing and meeting people. How did she do it?
It seemed to me that Monica gained her strength in a number of ways, primarily though, through her evangelising faith in the Goddess. This faith was the motivating force behind all her amazing and beautiful painting. At the same time she was a powerful feminist and these two aspects reinforced each other. She introduced me to Goddess spirituality and our friendship was helped along by the fact we were both mothers of a bunch of sons, and we had similar egalitarian anarchist activist politics.
Monica was often very intense and quite bossy, but she could be lighthearted too and loved to sing and dance. She always refused to take responsibility for organising or leading Ama Mawu, saying it was up to all of us what we did and how we did it, which was wonderfully empowering for us. However, the group gained enormously from her extensive knowledge of Goddess matters and old pagan ways.
In the first year of Ama Mawu Monica and I and two other women went on a weeks trip into West Wales, where she took us to many ancient sacred sites explaining her view of their meaning and how steeped that was in nature’s rhythms, the turning of the year and the sacred relationship between us, the Earth and the Moon and Sun. We slept out among the dolmen and had strange dreams and went slightly mad.
Ama Mawu usually came together in each others homes on full moon evenings. Sometimes though we would travel out to the Avebury stones and then sleep out on Silbury Hill. We went to crop circles and to Glastonbury, or to hidden corners on the Downs, Brandon Hill or Leigh Woods. We had much time talking through personal problems and supporting each other in difficult times. Monica was normally sympathetic and very loving with us, although she could be impatient at times. We began our political activity at the time of the Gulf War which horrified all of us. So we joined marches and vigils and made peace rituals.
Monica was a brilliant networker, always copying and sending on out leaflets and information on anything she thought we might support and be interested in. She and I got involved in anarchist events, anti racism events and eco feminist politics, and especially the GM crops issue. Ama Mawu also instigated and organised two national womens “End Patriarchy” weekends of discussions, workshops, events and parties in Bristol.
In 1997 Monica collapsed with an appendicitis. A couple of years later she had a breast cancer. She was also being troubled with a hernia. These illnesses were the led into her final slow decline into bone cancer and her untimely death in 2005. But during those years she still travelled a lot, always on Goddess activity, giving talks and slideshows of her work and of sacred sites, and attending events and camps. She walked a lot, swam regularly and painted – often really large work. In the late 80s and again a few years later she was overjoyed to have become a grandmother. When her son Toivo and his partner Annie moved to Spain and then Portugal she always visited them for a month each year.
Monica was unlike anyone I ever knew. I was privileged to be her friend and be able to share those years with her.
Ros Beauhill, March 2011