Throughout mythology, the moon has represented the visible unknown, a mysterious force whose own phases influence human behavior and identity in subtle-but-powerful ways. In a series titled Luna Tabulatorum, which will be featured at an upcoming exhibition at the Stephen Romano Gallery in Brooklyn, artist Rithika Merchant has painted esoteric scenes that express the enigmatic and transient nature of the moon, conjuring up compounded images of spirituality, occultism, and femininity. Whether it’s a pack of howling wolves, bodies sprouting organic matter, or vulva-like orifices opening to dark, forested scenes, her paintings represent layers of reality that unfold into multiple meanings, with the feminine body as the empowered source of these transformations. Merchant explains her inspiration for the series in the following statement:
“The moon and the sun are the foundations on which many of the world’s ancient religions have been founded. […] The monthly cycle of the moon has also been linked to the menstrual cycle by many cultures. There are links between the words for menstruation and moon in many languages. I see the moon as a meaningful universal object that links humanity by its importance, its presence, and its significance. Being particularly interested in creating links between cultures, the moon has been a very enlightening muse.” (Source)
The moon is also known for its duality—like the werewolf who shifts between states of humanity and bestiality, the moon represents a dichotomous relationship of darkness and light. This dualism is at constant play in Merchant’s works, representing the cycles of life and death; in one image, a skull-headed she-figure is borne skyward in the embrace of raven, in another, prone bodies surrender their hearts to a celestial being. In all of these images, creation and destruction are part of the same process, with the moon as the uniting force. Neutrality is key to Luna Tabulatorum—there is no good and evil, only a series of overlapping metamorphoses and becomings that defy stable notions of morality and identity.
Luna Tabulatorum will be running from September 3rd until October 15th. Visit the Stephen Romano Gallery website to learn more.
All images courtesy of Stephen Romano Gallery, Brooklyn.