The Little Mermaid through our eyes

Updated: May 14

'Little Mermaid', 2019, acrylic & oil on canvas, 66cm x 66cm.

Fairy tales and nursery rhymes have always interested me for what they tell us about gender roles. Historically the female protagonist was a passive participant in her own story, yet these traditional fairy tales remain popular with the current generation of young girls. In my newest series I examine old fashioned storytelling, using both text and imagery, to highlight the often complex and contradictory lessons we teach our children.

This particular painting was originally titled "Through her eyes" but it later had a change of heart and decided to be called "The Little Mermaid." Using my very patient god daughter as the model, I painted her image on a previously screen printed piece of canvas reflecting the pattern of a crochet tablecloth. After blocking out the background with silver metallic paint, I screen printed an image of a mermaid and text from the Sea Shell's nursery rhyme. These same images were layered on top of each other and used in a limited edition series, however in this painting they are positioned at opposite sides of the canvas.

The mermaid, as viewed by the girl, references the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and more broadly, the recent elevation of the mermaid as a popular heroine. In folklore, however, mermaids are seductive sirens who employ their beauty and their voice to lure men to their watery deaths.

This is contrasted against the She Sells Sea Shells rhyme which is inspired by the Victoria- era fossil hunter named Mary Anning. As a pioneering palaeontologist, Anning was responsible for the discovery of several categories of animals. However because she was a woman, she received little credit for her achievements and many of her discoveries were attributed to men. The names of women like Mary Anning, who succeeded in the face of adversity, remain largely uncelebrated in popular culture; hence the rhyme sits behind the subject’s head, out of sight. Meanwhile, the hyper-sexualised image of a mermaid remains highly visible to the girl in the painting.

There is so much symbolism and hidden meanings in fairytales and nursery rhymes that I keep on circling back to them. You can check out the rest of the series, titled Happily Ever After, here:

This painting is available to purchase on Bluethumb and Art Lovers Australia.

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Leah Marie Mariani

ABN 60 749 478 239

Surrey Hills, Australia 3127

© all images remain the property of the artist and may not be used without consent