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A Matriarchal Legacy of Women Warriors

ALTADENA, California — Halfway through “What if the Matriarchy Was Here All Along?,” artist Akina Cox’s short story about the Amazons suffering an attack by a tribe of men, a character named Melanippe gathers the group. 

“The tribe to the north of us is friendly,” she tells her people. “They have many men who would be interested in a marriage alliance with those of you of age. They admire our fighting spirit and could give each woman a horse, and we would be welcome into their families.”

In Cox’s telling, this is an unusual offer, as most of the nearby groups hated the idea of women learning to ride horses, learning martial arts, and generally operating fiercely and independently of the nearby patriarchies. Debate ensues.

Horses figure prominently in Cox’s drawings, which grace the walls of the Altadena Library’s exhibition, What if the Matriarchy Was Here All Along?curated by Jacqueline Falcone Bed & Breakfast, an independent curatorial practiceFocused on unusual art spaces, such as bedrooms or libraries. 

One horse is a shaggy one, while the other incubates a human baby. Both are wearing a daisy flower that looks like a daisy, which is a symbol of Ishtar (the Mesopotamian goddess for love and war). According to the exhibition notes, Ishtar is a snake that inspires fear and disgust in the Bible. However, it is often used in pagan spiritualities to symbolize new life. Most famously, the ouroboros is an image of a snake gnawing its tail.

Cox’s ouroboros encircles a daisy, backgrounded by brown earth. Per the exhibition description, the artist grew up in a cult, where all that she was “taught to be afraid of were actually things and people who were good for her.”

Outside the library, Ali Prosch’s oversized “Friendship Bracelets for Trees” hang from the property’s oldest tree (predating the library itself, whose history dates back to 1926). The craft was originally created as a protest symbol, but it has since been extended to be a common activity between friends and loved ones, particularly children. Prosch worked with her daughter, Lucy, to create the two massive bracelets, one of which carries the phrase “Take Care” in giant beads and red and black rope.

Ali Prosch, “Friendship Bracelets for Trees” (2022)

If Prosch presents the tenderness of motherly love, the show’s third piece, Najja Moon’s “Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head” (2022) reveals its tensions. An electronic work installed inside gradient dichromic plexiglass, it provides a single pair of headphones to listen in on actual maternal scoldings from Moon’s community in Miami with their mothers in overlapping English, Spanish, and Creole: “Get your ass up and go.” “Be aware of the power of the penis.” “No empieces” (Don’t start with me). “Callate” (Be quiet).

Originally installed as a public artwork at the Bass Museum of Art in 2021, “Your Momma’s Voice” was vandalized and then destroyedIts remnants are used to make the work in the Altadena Library. “Miami is seen as a place apart from the rest of Florida,” Moon noted in response to the destruction. “Folks believe we don’t have ‘those problems’ here. We can’t get to the better version of what is next, if we try to believe that is true.”

The show’s core idea is that matriarchy has not really died, but rather has changed. “Perhaps the the Amazon women took on a new form of existence,” offers Falcone’s curatorial statement. “Perhaps their legacy lives on both through their genes and folklore, but also whenever anyone has come together, from abolitionists, to suffragists, to women’s social clubs and quilting bees.”

It is perhaps most obvious in the Amazonian name. Today’s wave of unions, including those at the famed technology company, is driven by Black and brown womenThe river from which the company gets its name was named for the fierce indigenous womenThey fought back against Spanish conquistadors. 

This makes me think back to the characters in Cox’s story — what would they think of today’s society? Horses are no longer freedom. They are conquest. Daphne, an Amazonian women considering marrying into another tribe, comes up with a solution. “Do we really need the men?” she asks. “Let’s just steal the rest of their horses!”

Women warriors from the East have been long considered mythical. new scholarship shows just how real they wereScythian women riding horses through the Eurasian steppe, is an example of this. We might eventually realize that the myth isn’t about the Amazons but rather the idea that they couldn’t exist.

Najja Moon, “Your Momma’s Voice in the Back of Your Head” (2022)
Ali Prosch, “Friendship Bracelets for Trees,” detail
Akina Cox, Painting

What if the Matriarchy Was Here All Along?Continues at the Altadena Library, 600 E. Mariposa St. Altadena (Calif.) until December 17. Jacqueline Falcone was the curator of the exhibition.

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