Modern Athena Sculpture

Jyl Bonaguro & Modern Athena in Charleston, SC photo by Maggie Iribarren of Motion Filmworks

Modern Athena Herstory

For over 20 years, I have had this dream – to create a female figure, a Modern Athena, at the scale of Michelangelo’s David. Though I had been exhibiting paintings and my sculpture works in plaster, I was not sure how to begin carving marble. In 2014, a friend called me up and made me a unique offer. As part of an art exchange, he would pay me with a thousand pounds of Italian marble and alabaster. I accepted and began teaching myself how to carve stone. By 2015, I began exhibiting my marble sculptures and after kickstarter and indiegogo campaigns was able to attend residencies in Italy and Greece. Read about Italy in 2016 and Athens in January 2020.

Why Athena

Athena is the only answer. She symbolizes strength, beauty, wisdom and most of all the arts. In researching Athena, I found parallels to my own upbringing and felt I had found the right combination of brains, beauty and athleticism. As a warrior, she refrains from conflict unless necessary and unlike many of the Greek gods is chaste. A woman with wide appeal, but she was not to be a copy of traditional Athena sculptures. She needed to be a Modern Athena. 

Why Fusion

For my modernization of Athena, I chose to depict the snakes of the Gorgon Medusa on her aegis by making her hair appear braided and snakelike. It flows down her neck and is twisted into a crown at the top of her head. At the crown, the marble is thin enough for light to shine through thereby symbolizing the light of reason. The hair lightly frames her face which strays completely from Western beauty standards and is instead meant to be a combination of all cultures. Motivated by the idea of a Greek super-individual but not supernatural – Modern Athena is a fusion figure in celebration of all women.

Why Tattoos

Athena’s traditional symbols are the owl, olive trees and snakes and she is usually depicted wearing a Corinthian helmet and robes while holding a spear. The owl symbolizes wisdom and I see that as one of the most important symbols. It also complimented my series of marble wing sculptures that are inspired by Victory of Samothrace. To represent the owl, I instead chose to paint feathers on her back, hands, and legs in black ink. During my residency in Italy, I had toured a carving studio that had a full size marble copy of Michelangelo’s David covered in colorfully painted tattoos. David suddenly looked very hip. Then during my residency in Greece at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, I watched with fascination all the videos on how the ancient Greeks painted marble sculptures. So my black Chinese ink feathers serve to symbolize wisdom and modernize her figure along with paying tribute to the colorfully painted Greek marble sculptures and my own past as a painter.

Why Monumental

For sculpture, female nudity has been limited, except when they are shown in submission, lust or at a small scale. Monumental nudes of women have never had the chance to be interpreted as heroic symbols, until now. The impact of a woman carving such a large sculpture of a female warrior is meant to be inspirational. The Modern Athena sculpture is about not accepting prior limitations, not just for myself, but for everyone.

Why Marble

Marble is an ancient material long valued for its beauty and durability in architecture and sculpture. Formed over millions of years through intense heat and pressure, marble structures and sculptures crafted from marble have withstood the trials of centuries. Marble is only found in select regions around the world, making it a limited resource. I respect the preciousness of marble and have a zero waste studio. All of my stone carving rubble is recycled into casting material.

What’s Been Done So far

In 2022, I finished carving the 2,000 lb block of marble into a 48 inch version of the Modern Athena and exhibited it for the Dante Alighieri Society. I am a proud recipient of 2021 grants from the Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation $2,000 and the Illinois Arts Council Agency $3,225, support from the Chomicz Family Foundation and the Dante Alighieri Society of Charleston in addition to over $20,000 in private donations. Watch the short documentaries “Lifted” by Motion Filmworks and “Herstory” to learn about the beginnings of Modern Athena. In 2023, I published a book Hammer & Stone that uses original photography and poetry to demonstrate techniques for carving marble by hand that is beautifully illustrated with photos of marble quarries in Italy, my wing sculptures and the chiseling of the small scale Modern Athena. I also keep my audience engaged on social media IG FB & regularly release YouTube videos on sculpture techniques and my process.

My fundraising goal is $400,000 Your tax-deductible contribution will help me obtain the marble for the 17 foot version, execute the carving over a 2/3 year period, afford exhibitions, and develop a documentary film to increase awareness of this important art form.

Let’s Make Herstory Happen Donate Now

Donate now at Fractured Atlas!

Modern Athena Monument is a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a 501(c)(3) charity. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Learn More about your Modern Athena Monument Donation 

This program is partially supported by grants from the following:

Cliff Dwellers Arts Foundation
Illinois Arts Council Agency

Watch the sculpture documentary film LIFTED on my work in Pietrasanta and Carrara Italy by Motion Filmworks

Read about her NewCity Art The Right Time for a Modern Athena: Jyl Bonaguro’s Female “David”

Modern Athena Sculpture Celebrates Women | Sculptor Artist Jyl Bonaguro