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The Malleus Maleficarum (1487) was a famous handbook for exterminating witches. The persecution reached its zenith in north western Europe between 1580 and 1630 when tens of thousands of people, most of them women, were tortured and burned. The Middle Ages was a period of great social unrest, when wars, plagues, famines, violence, poverty, disease and superstition were commonplace. The church and state saw a need to impose social and moral controls on society, and women were feared for their independence and power in the fields of seduction, reproduction and children’s upbringing. (Many midwives were persecuted, and the daughters of witches were especially suspect). Ironically it was the poorest of women who were seen to have the most power. They and the elderly were the most persecuted because they were vulnerable and unprotected. Women were seen to be the concubines of the devil and thus extremely dangerous. Their pets, or familiars – lambs, cats, dogs and birds were also tortured and put to the stake.

‘I have been developing the idea of a group of witches over a number of years. I wanted to add another dimension to the work and to reach out to a larger audience. Kaya Kitani brought movement and her own individual interpretation to the work.

My witches explore ideas about ‘the other’, insiders and outsiders, the familiar and the unfamiliar. They accept their corporeal insults but not as victims – rather as observers and survivors. They are concerned with notions of mortality. They remind us of our violent history, of our inhumanity both to man and animals, and of the nature of difference. But they are not without hope. They are an effort towards understanding’.

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