Culture & Curious Habits / Projects

The Empire of Women, Not A Fairy Tale

I learned about this project from Sarina Tang in 2012. She mentioned this project during dinner with other curators at her house in Beijing and I was lucky to get a copy of this publication.

The project involves a process of research, visit and stay with the Mosuo community who lives by the Lugu Lake close to the Tibetan border. The team, Mathilde ter Heijne, Xing Li, Andrea Cavazutti, Leon Lee, Lin Jing and Sarina herself as the producer spent about 10 days living with the community. The book and illustration came about based on their experience, research and travel – almost like a journal of the artist but also collaged with social facts and drawings.

The Mosuo community frequently described as having a matriarchal culture. They have aspects of a matriarchal culture: women are often the head of the house, inheritance is through the female line, and women make business decisions.

To be honest this description does not really help me getting a good idea on what it is like living in a matriarchal culture. The publication helps to give an introduction and interesting curious culture such as how they particularly build their house pillars that supports the roof from the same tree.

The fascination with Mosuo community attracts many people to study their way of living. I mean how could one not. Below is a photo of a Zumu I found on the internet from a photographer Chad Ingraham. The photo was not produced related with The Empire of Women, Not A Fairytale project, but independently. A great illustration of what Zumu or a communal space of a Mosuo home is best explained in ter Heijne publication:

Before the Mosuo build a house, a hole is dug into the earth in which a pot with grain, fruit, gold and silver is placed. This offering is covered with stones and above it the sacred fireplace is built.

The house is then built around the fireplace, and as soon as it is completed, the first activity is lighting the fireplace. This is how the fireplace goddess comes into the house to bless it. (an excerpt from The Empire of Women Not A Fairy Tale)

Zumu (communal space) of a traditional Mosuo home. Photo by Chad Ingraham.

The project ends with an exhibition “Mosuo Fireplace Goddess” – the artist manages to bring an exact replica of a Mosuo home into a gallery exhibit area. The artist took on a challenge to display the Mosuo’s way of living within an exhibition setting. This project was made possible by the support of Currents Arts and Music

I particularly find this project worth doing and that more people should do it. However, I do have some critique – I wish there were more participation and activities from the Mosuo people themselves.


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