Men may have ruled ancient Greece, making all the important decisions about money, religion and war. But when those toga-swathed boys needed crucial advice, they turned to a woman. Three thousand years ago, Greek leaders made pilgrimages to the Oracle of Delphi, a priestess who was revered as the spokesperson of the gods. History forgets that at one of the centers of Western civilization, it was a woman pulling the strings.
That’s the main idea behind artist Anastasia Pelias’s enigmatic sculpture located in a small park at the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Crete Street.
The 8-foot-tall, three-legged, fiberglass shape is Pelias’ interpretation of the tripod chair that the oracle sat upon as she delivered her poetic pronouncements. Pelias’s tribute to the paranormal priestess looks a little like the Greek pi sign, one of the fundaments of geometry. It looks a little like a horse and a little like an arrangement of bones, too.
What it does not look like are the ostensibly heroic, abundantly masculine bronze and marble artworks that one often encounters in public parks. Pelias’s sculpture is meant to be an antidote to conventional monuments, like New Orleans’ recently removed Confederate statues, that keep alive parts of history that are better buried. To make the distinction clear, Pelias refers to her public sculpture as an “anti-monument.”
Pelias pointed out that since the Oracle of Delphi was said to have been seated at the center of the universe, she placed her anti-monument in the middle of a circular, concrete pathway. The disk of earth around the sculpture will be stained a lush magenta tone, to lend an otherworldly effect, and strewn with laurel leaves, a symbol of Apollo, the god of prophesy associated with the oracle. Since the priestess was inspired by sacred vapors arising from the earth, Pelias said she plans to scent the site of the sculpture with custom-composed perfume. And custom-composed music will issue from hidden speakers.
The Oracle of Delphi wasn’t a lone priestess. Generations of women filled the role over the centuries. Speaking of the role of women, the title of Pelias’s sculpture, “It was my pleasure,” is meant to be a bit wry. According to ancient lore, the Oracle of Delphi was sometimes brought to the point of mental and physical exhaustion by her channeling of the gods’ views for the benefit of male supplicants. But, Pelias said, chances are the oracle remained poised and ingratiating, as has always been expected of women.
Pelias said she likes the fact that the sculpture is located in the mini park’s pastoral landscape, but she’s also happy with the signs of the city that surround it, even the passing trash trucks and school buses.
“I love the SpeeDee as much as the oak trees,” she said, referring to an oil change shop visible from the site.
Pelias pointed out that the artwork, which was inspired by ancient Greek beliefs, is situated in what was a 19th- and early 20th-century Greek neighborhood. New Orleans’ first Greek Orthodox church was located just a few blocks away on North Dorgenois Street.
“I went to Greek school, Sunday school, church and my whole childhood there,” Pelias said.
Gazing around the picturesque neighborhood, Pelias said she hopes her new sculpture does not feel too incongruous. “I want it to look like it grew here,” she said. “I don’t want to inflict this on the neighborhood.”
Happily, based on the reaction of passersby so far, Pelias said, the current neighbors seem to be welcoming the new addition to the streetscape. “The bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers have all smiled,” she said.
Pelias’s sculptural installation is part of Prospect.5, New Orleans’ international art festival that has taken place periodically since 2008. The array of 50 free exhibits, performances and outdoor displays opens to the public over the next three weekends and continues until Jan. 23 at scattered locations. For more information visit the Prospect website.