Saturday, April 29, 2017

UTSA researcher examines feminine symbolism in popular art around the world

UUTSA researcher examines feminine symbolism in popular art around the world

Photo credit: Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba


(December 13, 2016) -- Professor Malgorzata Oleszkiewicz-Peralba of the UTSA Department of Modern Languages and Literatures spent a portion of the fall semester researching feminine symbolism in popular art.

During her Fall 2016 faculty development leave project, Oleszkiewicz-Peralba discovered there are common designs featured in art around the globe.

“My findings prove there is a striking persistence of design patterns centering on female figures and their symbols across all continents including East-Central Europe and the Balkans, the Near East, Africa and the Americas, from the Neolithic era through the contemporary era,” said Oleszkiewicz-Peralba.

She spent five weeks in the Ukraine and Poland visiting museums, cultural centers and interviewing experts. She documented collections of both prehistoric Tripolyan cultural objects and collections of embroidered ritual cloths, woven kilims (tapestry-woven rugs), decorated Easter eggs, ritual beads and folk costumes. During the research process, she found an abundance of designs featuring female figures on those items.

Oleszkiewicz-Peralba said one common design she noticed was a diagram of a square with a dot inside or a square divided into four fields with a dot inside each square.

“This abstract rendition represents the fertile womb and the fertile field. It was placed on female statuettes on the woman’s belly in the Neolithic era, and it is used until today,” said Oleszkiewicz-Peralba.

Another common design she researched, is that of an image of a woman giving birth. She said this could be found on a number of traditional designs such as kilims, embroideries and other objects.

“It started to be camouflaged as a diagram, and in some areas of the world it became converted into a two-tailed mermaid, and later into a one-tailed mermaid. The design is still on the Starbucks logo,” said Oleszkiewicz-Peralba. “These symbols were sacred to our ancestors. They represented goddesses with their great powers.”

Oleszkiewicz-Peralba plans to publish her research in the bilingual The New Ethnography journal. She intends to expand her project into a book that will include the Americas, Asia and Africa.

For years, Oleszkiewicz-Peralba has been studying the connections and parallels between different cultures and published two books on the topic. Recently, she has conducted new fieldwork in Turkey, Poland, the Ukraine and different locations in Mexico. Oleszkiewicz-Peralba has extensive expertise in comparative cultural studies, especially cross-cultural studies including Slavic Europe and Latin America.

“My role as a UTSA researcher is to contribute to cross-cultural studies, to the understanding of common roots among different cultures,” said Oleszkiewicz-Peralba.

UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.

- Kara Mireles

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