The Wonderful Women of Sofia Mitsola

A nostalgic yearning for the past is what drew Sofia Mitsola to London’s British Museum when she attended the Slade School of Fine Art from which she graduated in 2018. Arriving in London from her home city, Thessaloniki, Greece, the artist understood the significance of her home city and its layers of history. Gazing upon the myriad of artefacts within the museum’s walls was a way for Mitsola to process how much she missed ‘the old’ and reconnect with the products of history.

This sense of historical rootedness, tradition, myth and culture are fundamental in Mitsola’s work. Yet, mirroring what she loves about her home city, she imbues this with a distinctly contemporary examination of female sexuality and empowerment. The past and the present come together compositionally - her canvases are a wonderful marriage between classical goddesses, the female nude and a modern flatness and minimalist use of bright block colours.

In Sirens (2019) we see a space flooded with sunshine yellow, interrupted by two overlapping female forms. Their lilac toned flesh contrasts against the black colour of the canvas, making them the stand out element of the composition despite the brightness of the background. As the name of the piece suggests, these women lookout, directly at us, evoking the mysterious yet enthralling lure of the classical siren. Their nudity also suggests the way that these classical figures are connected to sexual deviance. Overtly seductive, the largest figure wears one heeled shoe, the way that she flicks it off of her heel highlights her nudity and emphasises that to appear so is a choice that she has made. These women are designed to be a subject of the gaze and yet they are not crushed beneath the weight of it, instead, they challenge its dominance with a power fuelled, controlled counter-gaze.

Left: Toy Sphynx, 2019. Right: Sphynx, 2018, Sofia Mitsola

The idea of the Egyptian sphinx embodies the aims of Mitsola’s earlier works. An ancient mythical creature that when seen from behind are goddesses of protection and yet when faced head-on become a beast that will devour anyone who dares cross them. This hybrid form of protector and destroyer encapsulates the type of woman that the artist captures in her canvas. Strong, unafraid, but also soft and tender. This specific ancient creature is seen in Toy Sphynx (2019) and Sphynx (2018) where the bizarre form of the creature appears twice - once in a murky mottled brown against a bright blue background and then again against a yellow background. The form in the former is clearly a straight reference to the original sphinx, the earth tones and loose brush strokes implying the ‘primitive’ style associated with the art of the ancient worlds. The female face looks out at us, stable yet passive. The latter work exchanges the browns and ochres for a peach skin tone, a blue dress, shiny dark hair. A modern-day woman ‘kneels’ on the ground imitating the form of the sphinx