The Apology and The Spotted Hyena

The Apology installed at Thames-side Studios Gallery 2018

The Spotted Hyena 2018 wood and steel

The Apology 2018 is a scaled up version of a small pewter sculpture I made in 2016. This was the first time I had consciously made a group of sculptures as a tableau rather than placing them together once made. The original three are a not-very-clever penguin, a shifty hyena prostrate before him, and a monkey who is checking out the authenticity of the apparent apology.

The Apology 2016 pewter 21x21x15cm

When I started working on the large scale version in wood I researched the spotted hyena who represents a trickster character for me. I wanted it to be in keeping to a degree with the archetypal image of the hyena, one people are scared of, a creature you couldn't trust. Throughout history (from Pliny the Elder to The Lion King) and in all countries hyenas have been despised as ugly, cowardly and scavenging. In Mediaeval bestiaries they are described as deviant necrophagious hermaphrodites associated with the devil. In mythology they are linked with withcraft. Why? 
From The 12th century Aberdeen Bestiary

I got a shock. I discovered first of all that the spotted hyenas (Crocuta Crocuta) live in complex matriarchal communities. The dominant leader of the pack is female, and every male is subordinate to any female of whatever age. Then a bigger shock. The females have penises. They are called pseudo-phalluses, and are an extended clitoris, but they also have fake testicles which are made of fat and gristle. The females give birth through these 'penises'. 

Male and female reproductive systems of the spotted hyena, from Schmotzer & Zimmerman, Anatomischer Anzeiger (1922). Abb. 1 (Fig. 1.) Male reproductive anatomy. Abb. 2 (Fig. 2.) Female reproductive anatomy.

But on the other hand they are the only female mammals without an external vaginal opening, hence the only female mammals which cannot be raped. The females tend to be bigger than the males. Their intensely hierarchical society is competitive rather than co-operative, the females do not look after the young of other females. However when it comes to hunting they do work together and in tests are seen to co-operate better than chimpanzees. They even teach inexperienced hyenas how to complete a task (pulling a rope together to get food). Their high intelligence is compared to primates, they seem to plan hunts and leave trail markers, but only when hunting zebras which are particularly hard to kill. They are expert strong and skilful hunters, and their reputation as scavengers needs reappraising, as 60% of what lions eat has been killed by hyenas.Hyneas kill 95% of what they eat.

Cave painting of a spotted hyena circa 32,000 years old from Chauvet, South of France
They are tricksters then, as well as having fake penises (the reasons for these are not known, but all hyenas, male and female, get erections when they meet and sniffing the penis is how they greet each other); they also issue fake warning calls when they want to get some prey to themselves and make their companions disperse. 
Learning all this I wondered why I hadn't heard it before. Everyone I've told has been astonished. It's almost as though it is taboo. Is this because their social behaviour reflects on our views of patriarchy versus matriarchy? For me that this story is hidden raises many questions about the potential power of the female mammal, why this power becomes associatied with witchcraft, and what is considered deviant. And what happens to social hierarchies when females adopt not only the male posturing, but male anatomy? 

The Apology installed at Thames-side Studios Gallery 2018

The Apology was shown in 
Good and Bad Government
Frank Creber, Timothy Hyman, Michael Johnson, Andrea McLean, Victoria Rance
7-22 April 2018 
Thames-Side Studios Gallery
copyright Victoria Rance 2018