Ronald Moody

Midonz

1937

Not on display
Artist
Ronald Moody 1900–1984
Medium
Elm
Dimensions
Object: 690 x 380 x 395 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2010
Reference
T13324

Summary

Midonz, a larger than life-sized representation of a female head with long hair, is carved from a single piece of elm. The sculpture is posed frontally and is symmetrical in its treatment of the facial and other features. It sits on a small square base which is also part of the same block of wood. Midonz is one of a series of three hieratic heads with similar dimensions that Moody made during the latter half of the 1930s, interrupted only by the creation of Johanaan 1936 (Tate T06591), to which they relate. Johanaan is another carving in elm, but depicts a male head and torso. The other two carved heads are Wohin 1935 (private collection) and Tacet 1938 (National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston).

The three heads were among twelve major works which Moody sent to the Harmon Foundation, New York in 1938 for the exhibition Contemporary Negro Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art in 1939. This exhibition was an important landmark in the presentation of work by black artists and Moody, who was born in Jamaica, was one of few non-American artists included. Midonz was not returned after the show and was believed by the artist to have been lost. He never saw the sculpture again. It was subsequently discovered in 1993 at Hampton University Museum, Virginia, where it had been placed by the Harmon Foundation after moves to dissolve the Foundation in 1958. In 1994 it was returned to the artist’s estate.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, into a well-off, professional family, Moody moved to London in 1923 to study dentistry. In London he was inspired by the British Museum’s ethnographic collection and decided to become a sculptor. Early experiments with clay led Moody to teach himself how to carve and he made his first carved figure in oak in the early 1930s. The wood used for Midonz and the other two related spiritual heads is very similar in colour and texture, a fact that has led the artist’s niece Cynthia Moody, who has researched the history of the work extensively, to conclude that they were all carved from the same piece of elm.

Midonz represents a primordial woman – a ‘goddess of transmutation’, according to an earlier version of the work’s title – who is in the process of changing from physical matter into spiritual form. Cynthia Moody has commented that ‘Midonz’s broad face, with its shallow cheekbones, is more overtly Amerindian’ than the other heads in the series. She goes on to state that the sculpture’s stylised features combine elements of pre-Columbian art with Egyptian carving: ‘Midonz epitomises “the tremendous inner force, the irresistible movement in stillness” that transfixed Ronald when he first encountered Egyptian art at the British Museum in 1928’ (Moody 1998, p.18). She has also observed that:

Midonz, together with Wohin (1935) and Tacet (1938), is part of a trinity of heroic sculptures created by Ronald in the 1930s, at the very beginning of his career. They are closely interconnected ... Manifest in each of the works is Ronald’s passionate concern with the exploration of the inner life of man and the possibility of evolution through self-awareness. In each he has captured an extraordinary sense of spiritual unity.
(Moody 1998, p.16.)

Further reading
Cynthia Moody, ‘Midonz’, Transition, no.77, 1998, pp.10–18.
Guy Brett, ‘A Reputation Restored’, Tate blog, March–April 2003, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/reputation-restored-ronald-moody, accessed 18 April 2018.

Tanya Barson
May 2010

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Display caption

We do not know for sure the identity of this monumental head. One writer suggested she is Moody’s ‘vision of woman, primordial and awakening’. Moody himself described her as ‘the goddess of transmutation’. Moody was interested in Gnosticism, a belief in the redemption of the spirit from physical matter through spiritual knowledge. It may be this sort of transmutation that he had in mind.

Midonz was shown in Paris and Baltimore in the 1930s, after which it was lost for almost fifty years.

Gallery label, August 2003

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