Hon – en katedral (in English: She – a Cathedral) is one of the monumental sculptures created by French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It was a temporary indoor sculpture installation for the Moderna Museet of Stockholm created in collaboration with Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt in 1966.
The structure was 25m (82feet) long and 9.1m (30 feet) wide, weighing around 6 tonnes. It was needed a team of eight people working during 40 days to build the sculpture-installation: building a frame with metal rebar, covering it with chicken wire, sheathing it with fabric attached with smelly animal glue and painting it. The inside was painted in black and the outside was multicoloured.
The sculpture has a form of a gigantic pregnant woman, laying on her back with knees raised and heels planted. The spectators could enter the figure through a door-sized vaginal opening between her legs. Once there, they found themselves in a warm, “dark” female body that functionated as an amusement park with a love-seat sofa, a planetarium, a gallery with “fake” artworks, a 12-seat cinema, an aquarium, a milk-bar inside a breast, a fish pond, a coin telephone, a sandwich vending machine, a brain with mechanical parts (by Jean Tinguely), an art installation by Ultvedt, a playground slide for the children and an early Greta Garbo film playing elsewhere.
Hon evolved from the artist’s earlier figures gaily painted and exaggerated called Nanas, they were at once child-like and monstrous, archetypal and toy-like, constructed on chicken wire frames covered with fabric and yarn to create intricately textured surfaces. The Nanas were aggressive but wildly funny; refusing the mythic and romantic fantasies projected by men onto images of women.
With this artwork, Saint Phalle reclaimed woman’s body as a site of tactile pleasure rather than an object of voyeuristic viewing. Hon was both, a colourful and playful homage to woman as nurturer and a potent demythologizer of male romantic of the female body, as an “unknow continent” and unknowable reality.
Niki de Saint Phalle often presented images of women that ran counter to formalist aesthetics of the Pop art era, when all we had were slick nudes and pin-ups.