Snakes in the grass, watch your ass!
This catchphrase is the first thing I heard about SISTERSERPENTS, a radical feminist art collective that began in Chicago in 1989. I was at a TRACERS meeting, a feminist book club populated mainly by artists and began by Jennifer Reader in 2013. I had been advocating some form of vigilante tactics- my favorite movie after all is Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames, but before finding out about SISTERSERPENTS and the Women’s Action Coalition I thought these types of actions were purely fictional.
Big sister is watching!
The most potent of the images, slogans and stories about SISTERSERPENTS for me are those that show women together, protecting, backing up, defending, strengthening each other.
1994: A woman tells Mary Ellen Crocteau, one of the front women of the largely anonymous collective, how seeing a SISTERSERPENTS poster in a dark passageway changed her commute and even the way she moved through the city. The stickers and signs invoke a power of sisterhood, drawing upon a latent force we might already have.
2014: My male friend writes, “I am jealous of women when they laugh together.”
What is this laughter indicative of? Together, what do we know that we cannot access alone?
Be sisters in the presence of strangers.
The serpent is a central symbol of goddess worship in matriarchal societies. Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions sought to rewrite the connotations of the serpent to sever women from their history. To come between women and women. To keep us separated, which is to keep us down. The establishment of patriarchy depended on stories of snake-killing, or at the very least cultivating a distrust in the serpent and all of its “devilish” powers.
Watch that crotch, we got fangs!
The word devil itself is derived from the Sanskrit “devi” meaning goddess or the feminine devine. In Genisis 3:15, the expulsion from Eden is an excuse for women’s oppression. The God of our oppressors put enmity between WOMEN and SERPENTS. Between us and our holy powers-- according to the traditions preceding the Hebrew bible. This bond, between Eve and the Serpent, was the beginning of freedom from a patriarch’s paradise that has always been a prison for curious Eve and her snake. SISTERSERPENTS refused to split women from our lineage.
Actually, women are not this stupid.
The sharing of KNOWLEDGE is the most threatening and most empowering radical act.
I believe in the political potential of women COMING TOGETHER. Knowledge of my predecessors, the SISTERSERPENTS, has filled me with the sisterly spirit. Through research I grow scaly. My sisters, are we ready to strike?
Our art is merely and marvelously our weapon.
The Greeks made Medusa a monster. The word comes from the feminine present participle of the verb medein "to protect, gaurdian." So a PROTECTOR OF WOMEN must be feared and beheaded in an attempt to castrate female power and curtail goddess worship.
White men squirming.
Medusa’s portrait presides over the feasters in the SISTERSERPENTS “First Supper.” With remixes of mytho-religious tropes, SISTERSERPENTS created a new Feminist satirical Utopia. They set 1995 as the date for total liberation, thus positioning themselves as harbingers for a revolution about to happen.
We ain’t no ladies, we’re Sisterserpents!
I am tracing serpentine tracks throughout the city. Pasting my first posters onto the peeling paint of a cement underpass, late at night. My text is hopeful, my blueprint small. I step off the bus in the snow. Dig into folders full of slides, photos, notes. Original copies of Madwoman magazine, I am touching the pages they touched. The change is subdermal, a thaw- from stone to woman. It is 1994 or 2014 or 2034 and someone takes my hand and leads me here. The voices multiply. Where am I to put this information?