Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art

It’s a fact that women – while far more empowered today than in ancient history – have never been adequately recognized for their worth and contribution in all fields. Feminism may have come a long way but as GD Anderson said “it’s not about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”

Culturally, educationally, economically and in every which way, endeavors are being undertaken to continue and bolster that recognition. One such example was the 1981 institutionalization of Women’s History Month. Organizations came together to “commemorate and encourage the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history” and since then, people around the world have continued this every March.

Thankfully – as we finally see the light at the end of a very long pandemic tunnel – March 2021 saw many in-person events celebrating women throughout history. One of these is Sense and Sensibility, a gallery exhibition (containing artifacts from the tenth century B.C to the fourth century A.D.) hosted by Phoenix Ancient Art.  Hicham Aboutaam, co-founder of Phoenix and President of its exclusive agent Electrum, was delighted to invite people back to the Fifth Avenue gallery to see these artifacts which “inform our understanding of the identities of the female subjects depicted as well as their significance within each of the societies in which they were produced.”  

Aboutaam went on to say: “I’ve been amazed my whole life by the freedom of the women of Sparta compared to the rest of Greece; the fearless Amazon women who flourished in a no-man’s world; the regality of queen Nefertiti and her stunning bust in Berlin; and the rule of female pharaoh Hatshepsut, one of the most prolific builders in the history of Egypt. Our exhibition Sense and Sensibility has brought that amazement to life and I’m in awe of the beauty and glory of the women from antiquity that are displayed at our New York gallery.”

Hicham Aboutaam: Palmyran Limestone Polychrome Relief Bust of a Noblewoman and Child
Palmyran Limestone Polychrome Relief Bust of a Noblewoman and Child

Women today of all ages and walks of life can become empowered by the women who have come before them, especially those who had to fight for any type of acclaim that they rightly deserved. Many depictions of this can be seen at the exhibition. One example is the Palmyran Limestone Polychrome Relief Bust of a Noblewoman and Child (most probably from Circa 2nd century AD). While noblewomen during this time very limited rights and privileges of their own, this female figure – quite idyllic in its detailed structure – appears strong, the family’s matriarch. With a little girl by her side, touching her headdress for comfort, safety, and respect, this symbolizes both education and the fact that she is the keeper. As it says in Proverbs 31:26, “She speaks wisdom…” What better way to celebrate women than through their wisdom and matriarchal prowess? 

Another piece that connects contemporary women with the achievements of matriarchal figures is the Roman Mosaic with Tethys, the Sea Goddess. Tethys was part of a most impressive feminine dynasty. In Greek mythology, her mother Gaia was the ancestral mother of all life. She herself was a sea goddess, the mother of both the Potamoi and the Oceanids — the personifications of rivers and springs. Despite her progeny, no active cults developed around Tethys. Yet the fact that she was regularly portrayed in mosaics gives credence to her power and stature, a wonderful message to women today on their inner power — oft-not seen by the patriarchal society.

Hicham Aboutaam and his brother Ali Aboutaam are the founders of Phoenix Ancient Art. With locations in Geneva and New York, the galleries have been delighting art collectors since 1968. After more than a year of primarily viewing art online, it is a true joy to be able to return to the gallery. 

The Sense and Sensibility exhibition is open in New York until May 14th at Electrum, 725 5th Avenue, 19th floor, New York, NY 10022, Monday to Friday 9.30am-5.30pm, but for those not able to attend in person, many of the pieces can be viewed online at phoenixancientart.com and e-Tiquities.com.