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  • Harriet Maher

Mother or Monster?

The new collaboration between Madonna and Beeple that's raising eyebrows

Still from 'Mother of Creation', NFT series by Beeple and Madonna on SuperRare

In my first encounter with Madonna and Beeple’s collaborative NFT ‘Mother of Creation’ on SuperRare, I found myself physically recoiling. And I know I’m not the only one - a Hyperallergic writer called it a “matryoshka doll of nightmares.” But I wonder why we find the naked female body, especially in the context of birth and motherhood, so abhorrent?

Of course, this reaction is not a new one. Ever since feminist writer Julia Kristeva published her treatise on abjection in 1980, there has been an understanding that the female body is subconsciously thought of as monstrous. It bleeds, it produces milk, it (re)produces other bodies. We’re all also familiar with the much, much earlier phenomenon of witch hunts, where women were vilified and demonised for, well, being women. Not to mention the original mother of creation, Eve, whose feminine weakness led her to give into temptation and provoke the fall of man.

In fact, this is the reference that, for me, aligns most closely with Madonna and Beeple’s monstrous feminine. In ‘Mother of Technology’ the third part of their video triptych, the naked female figure we can only assume is modelled after Madonna reclines in a verdant garden, surrounded by flowers, mushrooms, and cyborg caterpillars with screens for heads. There's an obvious allusion to the Garden of Eden here - so is technology our fateful apple?

Still from 'Mother of Creation', NFT series by Beeple and Madonna on SuperRare

Speaking of cyborgs, I’m reminded of another feminist writer from the 80s, Donna Haraway, whose Cyborg Manifesto urged third-wave feminists to move beyond the traditional limitations of gender and identity politics. She imagined a world of cyborgs that are not human, not animal and not machine, but somewhere between all three. She saw this as a way of deconstructing Western and patriarchal dualisms such as man/woman, culture/nature, God/man, which she said "have all been systematic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of color, nature, workers, animals... all [those] constituted as others."

There is a definite cyborg quality to the Mother of Creation character created by Beeple and Madonna. Artnet News writer Ben Davis has criticised her Barbie-like appearance - smooth, plastic looking skin, waist length blonde hair (and a distinct lack of any hair anywhere else), and her nubile figure. This is part of what makes the videos so uncomfortable to watch: it’s unnatural to see something not-quite-human be given human attributes, like the ability to give birth.

Or maybe, reproduction and birthing are just another example of Kristeva’s abject femininity - a completely normal and natural part of life that has been made out to be monstrous because of the othering of women, and of women’s bodies in particular. Following the horrific news from the US Senate last week of the planned renouncement of Roe v Wade, Kristeva's words ring hauntingly true over forty years later.

So perhaps what we should be critiquing when we talk about Beeple and Madonna’s admittedly clickbait collaboration is not our discomfort or even disgust at seeing a digitally animated woman give birth to a tree. It is our culturally engrained conception of women’s bodies as objects to be controlled, sanitised, politicised and censored.

The auction of 'Mother of Creation' ends at midnight on Friday 13th on SuperRare. All proceeds from the sale of the three NFTs will be donated to three nonprofits focused on supporting women and children around the world.

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