Taking its title from Sylvia Plath’s 1959 poem Witch Burning, Petrina Hicks’ 2021 exhibition at Michael Reid Sydney explored the female position in contemporary society. Fly through the candle’s mouth like a singeless moth followed the artists landmark international exhibition Gothique Blanc, a mid career survey which took place at the Australian Embassy in Paris.
Historically women with knowledge, power or talent were swiftly labelled witches; a dangerous sentence which justified their murder. Most renowned are the stories of Joan of Arc and Anne Boleyn who suffered such destinies. Fast forward to today and we see women in power cast much the same: Hilary Clinton, and closer to home, Tony Abbot’s 2011 campaign against Julia Gillard, ‘Ditch the Witch’. In Fly through the candle’s mouth like a singeless moth, Hicks explores the female position in contemporary society.
Sylvia Plath’s 1959 poem Witch Burning reveals for Plath being ‘burnt at the stake’ is a metaphor for self-transformation. Plath’s poem considers that just like a knife can both harm and heal, being considered a witch was both the ultimate freedom yet her perilous demise.
By contrasting semiotics of the witch hunt, the whistleblower and the Joan of Arc figure, Hicks reveals the absurdity of our perceptions and how much we have changed throughout history or perhaps how we haven’t…