Angela Edwards is a London based writer, sculptor, painter, performance and conceptual artist. She has researched various magickal systems as well as extensively exploring themes of sexuality and creation and destruction in death, through her art.
As a devotee of Pomba Gira, Angela uses female psycho-sexuality and sexual magickal practices, working with transgression through extremes.
Angela Edwards beautifully illustrated books, Tantric Brute Grimoire and The Scarlet Queen are available from Aeon Sophia Press.
Angela, I have always loved your painting but initially found your performance work disturbing and difficult to watch.
On analysis part of this was fear for your safety, part due to my own experiences with blood work in sacred context and knowledge that what you were doing could prove problematic on many levels. I realised that a woman doing this type of ritualised and transgressive art action creates approbation that a man doing similar things, wouldn’t generate.
My paintings explore all elements of the human condition and martyred self through ritual transgressive extremes which are sexualised through violence, distortion, sex/creation and death/destruction. These themes in their raw entirety and constant leave unashamed human fragility exposed. I started to look at these subjects as a practitioner and also in performance art / extreme body art context. I realised the same themes ran through all of my favourite artists work. For example the work of Francis Bacon, Goya, Bosch, William Blake, Caravaggio, Hans Bellmer, Max Ernst and Ron Athey, Gunter Brus, Fakir Musafar, Chris Burden, Gina Pane, Cosey Fanni Tutti or Marina Abramovic though working in different mediums the themes and concepts of human suffering, human sacrifice, loss, beauty and the martyred self in spiritual transgression through the harshest elements, were the same. The same can also be said of the writers who have influenced my practice and philosophy that explore de sadean Gnosticism like De Sade, Rimbaud, Bataille, Freud and Jean Genet. All embrace the ideas of dogmatic practice and theory. Exploring these themes using transgressive performance art action seemed a natural way to progress. I have been using these methods privately, in ritual, for a long time. Thus bloodwork and transgression through sexual extremes with moral abolishment / or abolishment of the ego had been a huge focus of my lhp practice for years, even if I had not exposed it publically before in this way. For me art and religion are the same and all art crosses over to my own esoteric practice. As I work in performance action, for a transgressive experience or real ritual to test my limits or offer some type of transcendence or knowledge I want a ritual to be unsafe or push me into the unknown, whether it be through my body or spiritually, or to learn something. For me art is about full sacrifice of the self and this comes with dangers. I have a purist vision in that I wish no piece of art / especially performance action to be contrived or NOT REAL. So therefore some people I suppose would class my body performance art as extreme / unsafe. I am not interested in empty gestures and to me transgressive art with safety or knowledge of the outcome is an empty gesture. I have researched for example the snake handling traditions that started in 20th century through the Pentecostal Holiness movement in Appalachia, USA. I found these traditions, though probably rooted in a far more ancient ideology, fascinating regarding the philosophy of transgressive spirituality and art in that the vessel submitted totally without fear of death, surrendered through faith to full sacrifice, through these actions. I am not personally Christian now though I was brought up in a strict Christian faith on my mother’s side. My dad’s side being more spiritualist ethos / pagan as a child. I do not advocate Christianity as I find the faith far too hypocritical in certain elements. This type of practice as stated in Acts 28:1-6, tells that Paul was bitten by a venomous viper and suffered no harm, which is interesting when looking at it in context of modern transgressive art, spirituality and philosophy.
As far as being a woman in this field, for myself, usually my gender does not come into it. I am a human body first doing this type of work and sacrifice is universal, not resigned to one gender. I have found though, quite a lot of prejudices regarding my sex from other people / the audience. It seems a woman doing this type of work is viewed as mentally ill / unacceptable. In The Torture Garden when I did a two hour cutting ritual people became disturbed and the security asked it to be stopped due to it being REAL. I got hassle from the security afterwards and locked in a room for my own health etc, asking why I did it? She’s mad etc. I wouldn’t do it again; then I went to Torture Garden a few months later to see my friend Kris Canavan and Nick Kilby performance art. Kris did a show with hooks and stapled genitals and nobody had an issue with it. He then walked around afterwards in bloody pissridden boxers and nobody said anything. At this point I thought if I had been a man this amount of hassle and attitude towards my work WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED.I realised unless I was pretty burlesque artist with tit tassels and full make up on, putting a needles into my arm or cheeks; stripping off and doing the same type of work as Ron or Kris, on my own in its raw harsher form was not even in the so called BDSM open-minded fetish scene, acceptable. As a man doing this type of work is considered acceptable often due to peoples preconceptions of machoism.My work has constantly been viewed in all fields as more macho due to fact it’s more abrasive, harsh and has less what we associate with women as nurturing or softer elements or clichés. There has always been more a strong current of machismo running through my life and work. Don’t cry or show weakness, get up, take the hits like a man; this has informed my work with a more violent endurance based energy running through it. All my writing and art seem more to be from the macho male mind set and sometimes I think I should have been born a man but then again why should this type of work be resigned to one particular attitude or gender; there is no shame in being a strong woman totally set apart from the ideology of nurturing, softness or womanhood.
Angela could you talk me through your blood work, telling me what you do and why?
Blood work to me is a way of engaging with the spirits and our own mortality. I don’t do bloodwork all the time as then it becomes a fetish or can become about my own inclinations or personal taste towards these actions with little connection to spirituality or ritual. I only use extreme blood work ritual such as the action where I cut all of Pomba Gira’s pontos into my naked flesh, as a one off initiation ritual. I never do the same actions / blood rituals twice. That way the action is more sincere and holds more power. Sacrifice comes as a strong element of all my bloodwork and my art in that all bloodwork should be a real offering to the spirits. For example in Quimbanda initiation traditional your flesh is cut once in a ceremony to let in and dedicate your life to the spirits of Pomba Gira and Exu. Though bloodwork is not a mundane everyday thing you use. I use bloodwork sometimes also in my paintings when I have been exploring a current like voodoo or Quimbanda whose main components are sex or death. I have also used blood in sculptures as fetishes or as an expression of sexuality or death. For my films / performance action I only used one cutting ritual sometimes to invoke the Pomba Gira spirits when it was necessary in these offerings or appropriate to that ritual in particular. More extreme cutting rituals / any cutting at all are only used in rituals as an artist or practitioner when it is specifically needed, not regularly as offerings upon the altar. This is wherein lays the power of sacrifice in transgressive art / practice I feel.
Could you tell me what blood means to you?
Blood means life passion, the flesh through sex, desire, animal instinct fuelled, and humanity; ultimately is a reminder of our own mortality. Its energy ignites all acts of pure egolessness and selfless sacrifice to others. I have always had a fetish about the taste of blood on my tongue or the smell of flesh scent. As a child I used to squeeze my wounds until they bled and lick them if I had a cut, or sit for hours my nose against my flesh smelling my skin, obsessed. These things are half reminders of being alive fully in our world.
What differences do you find between working with menstrual blood and venous blood?
As a practitioner and artist I don’t usually work with menstrual blood. I only mainly use venous blood in my work. The reason is I don’t seek to be gender specific in my spiritual or artistic work and using venous blood is the ultimate act of feminism as it can be used by either gender and is not gender specific. I seek to embody the human condition universally. I have no interest in making work only relatable to a female audience or pandering to societies gender clichés; it bores me. In action the cutting or sacrifice through death or extremes of the impact upon the body is a huge element of the philosophy regarding transgressive / endurance based art that cannot be incorporated through menstrual blood ritual where the cutting of the flesh is not warranted. So using menstrual blood does not work as a practice within the blood rituals of my transgressive performance work. In spiritualist context again, the action of cutting the flesh is important to gain possession as in spirituality / mysticism, the spirits enter / live in the flesh of the cuts etc. They do not enter by the womb. The idea of sacrifice through living venous blood that sustains the body becomes important when used in this ritualistic context. Menstrual blood is dead matter; it passes through the female body as waste because it is not needed and cannot sustain life or creation etc. The only element of menstrual blood I think holds power is that the blood is viewed as impure and in my practice, as in filth in impurity, also is spirituality found. It makes no sense to use it in this ritualistic content. Also if you are working with Gede / Petro lwa and Pomba Gira often violent associations with weapons and sex and death warrant a cut or venous bloods sacrifice. Only if for example I wished to make an offering to a spirit like Erzulie Danto who is represented by the scared faced Virgin Mary, female fertility and violence would I feel a cut offering of venous blood as well as menstrual blood could be appropriately used in a ritual. I think also use of menstrual blood is more prevalent in Western magical traditions as regards the lunar cycle or celestial elements attached to a planetary system. In voodoo that is elementally based in the earth. The connection between uses of this type of blood as regards the moon cycle is less warranted than say in Crowley’s goetic planetary based work. As Quimbanda and Voodoo are more based on the blood of animals as a sacrifice to the spirits. These spiritualist traditions believe that as the soul/spirit leaves the animal at point of death it empowers the workings and is a valid offering in worship to these spirits. I cannot practice animal sacrifice; not so much because of any moral issue I have with it as most of us eat meat, I have none, but due to the living in western society were such things are deemed cruel or unacceptable by law. Plus living in the city not a countryside environment makes these types of ritual basically impossible. So I do feel the cutting of my own flesh to allow the spirits entry or possession in a pact is the closest appropriation I can perform of these types of workings.
How have your peers, spiritual and artistic, received the work?
I have had a positive response from the extreme performance art action scene, and non judgemental support from many friends. The venues have been the places I have encountered problems with my work. People like Kris Canavan, Nick Kilby, Russell McEwan, Thomas John Bacon and even Ron Athey via email conversations I have had total selfless support from in what I do. No judgement at all. It’s been totally positive from these peers within this field. I have though on the spiritual and magickal scene. The responses have been mixed. You have to understand for most of the time the occult scene is stuck still in a conservative Victorian type era and it is also very sexist. Though surprisingly my first book has been very well received. I find that people that do practice are usually more open-minded to my work if they are from a LHP / Afro derived tradition background. For example people like the writer Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold who is traditionally initiated in Palo and Quimbanda has always supported my work and wrote the forward for my first book. He understands the work especially from within his own religion in context of cutting initiation rituals and the focus upon sex and death within his own spiritual systems also. So for most of the time my work even on the spiritual scene even though it tackles harder topics has been well received. I don’t expect everybody to like or agree with my work anyway as it’s in an extreme individualist way I work as an artist/practitioner. It’s not for everybody; all I ask is that my experiences are to be considered valid in my own truth, and my practice is up for debate. Plus I would like to stress I do not make my work for an audience or peers or to be popular in any particular scene etc. I have always thought although it’s good to be inspired by other artists / practitioners, it’s also important not to be effected and chose your own path to follow outside of all these factors such as how other people regard your work. I work alone, forging my own voice and nobody else’s. It is about my own experiences creatively as a practitioner/artist.
How have Gods and spirit forms received your work?
I don’t know. I guess the fact that my books, performance actions and paintings have been inspired shows that the spirits must accept my work fully. Also the fact that in my life, work, practice and art, even in unsafe circumstances, the work and I have survived. I think this shows some type of spiritual co operation. I am guessing that Pomba Gira is happy to have the streets spirits of the dead remembered, prostitution action and psychosocially played out within artistic concept and her name.
Has your gender made a difference to the way in which your blood work is received?
Yeah of course as I said before extreme transgressive performance ritual art using blood by a woman is still viewed as a taboo in violence and self mutilation, when expressed by a woman not a man. This isn’t an issue among more enlightened individuals though. For example I had a conversation with Helen Spackman recently as regards this type of work and she told me that she worked outside the concept of the female body /feminism and as a practitioner saw it as solely the work of the human body. I really identified with her views as regards my own work. She also said when I was explaining I was mainly a painter not performance artist told me I was an artist and you don’t need to put restrictions on the work as regards gender /the art medium. I found our conversation inspiring because even if other people preconceived a man or woman doing this type of work as different, I hadn’t, until certain organisers, security or audience members took this into consideration. Or viewed my work as anything other than a reflection of the human condition be it male / female. To me its human experiences which connect us universally, not being male or female.
Though I have found the female body when used as a naked performance tool is more open to interpretation of being sexual than the male; being naked even if not in the sexual sense is open to sexualised interpretation from the onlooker when viewing the female body. When a woman is exposed naked it’s seen as sexually degrading or disempowering. If a man is naked it is not viewed with the same sexualisation, it is viewed as a body only. Women’s naked modesty is seen as something to be protected and any woman who appears naked within her work is seen as a sexualised object whether that is her intent within the work or not. Just as women who use their sexuality / acknowledge their sexuality fully are viewed as intellectually inferior or exploited. People cannot see that a woman can be empowered and act sexually through choice and be intellectual / a talented artist and if she does choose to explore her sexuality everything between both genders has double standards and societal interpretations. She can still be strong and not violated / degraded. I also find few women in this field perform the more extreme type of cutting or transgressive ritual unless working in male dominated groups or alone. When a woman inflicts violent actions upon her body / makes psycho sexual work it is viewed sometimes as the woman is mentally unstable going against her true nature. In that outside the nature of the female demoniacs found in voodoo, Indian tantra, Quimbanda lhp path traditions. In western society and the mainstream world women are brought up to believe their nature is softness, nurture and submission. We are also taught to be concerned with ascetic beauty in western culture and being naked, cutting yourself ,smeared in blood or shit does not fit into the idealised stereotype of a woman’s behaviour or a glamorous polished image of idealised beauty immortal centrefold beauty women for the most part in our society wish to attain or aspire to. So it is therefore even in so called alt communities the exception to the rule, and not widely acknowledged or accepted.
What effect has your art had on yourself, any other participants, and the viewers of your rituals?
To be honest the only thing I actually care about is the effect my art has on myself. I know it’s selfish but my need for purity of expression leads me not to take other views or experiences of my art into consideration. I don’t make my art for audience be it painting, writing, performance or sculpture. I make it when there is no other way left to express myself and art is the only way to do so. Art is like breathing for me, a necessity to being alive. My art has a strong impact upon myself as I don’t ever produce the same type of work twice especially actions. As I seek spiritual knowledge from transgression or new experiences through my work and to continually emotively and psychically challenge myself and my own preconceptions. I think a lot of people find my art hard to handle because I don’t strive to make it pretty or dress up what I am doing. My work is the human soul soiled and exposed in all the disgusting / darker elements people like to deny exist within themselves. Personally if I am invoking or doing a ritual my mental state becomes a trance; I become unaware of the audience / onlooker because I am in my own head space of spirituality, outside my body and profane existence. I have done ritual pieces with a friend but that was a joint experience. He cut my body with sigils written on my flesh and penetrated me blindfolded. This ritual was largely (even though it was an invocation) based on trust and it was the first time I have let another person cut me within my ritual practice. Other than that ritual, most filmed art has be a solo project besides my Acephale 3hr action I performed at Tempting failure 2013. I think this action caused more controversy than even my Torture Garden performance where I did much more serious bodily harm to myself. In the Torture Garden performance I cut myself with Pomba Gira’s pontos with a scalpel for two hours; my body passed out briefly and went into shock as the cutting was too deep in places and impact .It was very dangerous physically for me as the Acephale action nothing happened. It was based upon a extension of Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 and Georges Batailles Acephale Manifesto .Only I would not give the audience consent / moral justification to use the objects placed beside my blindfolded naked tied up body. I had around thirty knifes placed all sizes beside me, dildos and condoms. People had a real issue without the consent or direction being given to the piece. It gave a totally ambiguous element to the work. So the audience, even though nothing happened, were totally freaked out by what may / may not happen and if they could or couldn’t act in this way or that. It left a lot of them shaken up emotionally by nothing happening. I on the other hand found the human interactions regarding this piece interesting though never had any fear. Even if I was totally vulnerable and at the mercy of others.
I know that a background which includes homelessness, addiction and prostitution, has of course influenced the way you work with your creativity now. Is your art aimed at expressing, healing, or worship? If it is any of these things, has it been successful?
To a point obviously my art as prostitution is one project is linked to this ideology. In a way after being pimped and on heroin as a street prostitute. I wanted to go back and explore sacred prostitution from a more empowering angle. Take back my control and use it in a non exploitive way as an experience of transgression. I have been very inspired by Annie Sprinkle and Cosey Fanni Tutti who have both used sex work as a form of spiritual ritual and transgression. I also wanted to take back the icon of Babalon that had been hijacked by men into an idealised version of female sexuality and reclaim it as a woman working this current. For this project I worked as a prostitute and sub for one year. I experienced all extreme sexual practices giving myself over to this role fully. During this time I kept a journal, The Scarlet Queen of Prose, invoking the sacred Pomba Gira, initiation via dream and ritual. I also made ritual films, sculptures and paintings for this project. It was I felt the most authentic way to invoke the sacred prostitute, female sexuality and Pomba Gira .I had written about my experiences as a drug addict, homeless person and a sex worker on the streets before, although my diaries as teenager did not explore the ideology of spirituality, healing or transgression with these things. So when I cleaned up I felt I had to explore these themes fully as a healing / spiritual tool within my practice and art. I feel it has been successful in that I have no shame and I have taken back power in acknowledging all experiences as valid to be incorporated in my spiritual and artistic development etc.These experiences of previous death and loss I feel have also affected my work for the better in giving it a emotional strength and understanding that it otherwise wouldn’t hold.
Thank you so much Angela for this raw and illuminating interview. I think I learned as much about myself as I learned of you!
Judgement and interpretation of art can be more about the viewer or spectator than the art work or performance piece itself, often leading to the initial creation being lost in the furore that may surround it.
Talking to you like this, as well as helping me in my research into contemporary spiritual applications of blood ritual, also anchored your work to YOU rather than let reaction dissipate its truth.