Don’t Let the Moment Pass: A warrior woman is a fierce defender of her family and community. She is poised and ready to take action when needed.
My first inspiration for the Warrior Women series, even before I knew it would be a series, was a group of photos taken around 1890 of “Samurai” women. It was the beginning of the pandemic. I felt deeply disheartened by the political climate of the country, outraged at the erosion of democracy and basic human rights, and anxious about the looming climate crisis that threatened our very existence. I needed to connect with the Warrior spirit that has brought us through other difficult times. Historically women have always played the roles of environmental activists, protectors, and peace keepers. In my art I wanted to emphasize the collective power and determination of women globally and historically.
The Samurai Women of Japan, known as the Onna Bugeisha, defended their communities and went to war when needed during the 11th through 19th centuries. Women of the Samurai class were tasked with the protection of their homes when men were away on military campaigns and many became known for their heroics on the battlefield. They were highly skilled in weapons, horseback riding, and martial arts.
The stories of the most well-known Warrior Women were celebrated and portrayed in art and literature. In an epic recounting of these times, “The Tale of the Heike”, the valor and skill of Tomoe Gozen is described in this passage; “Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other of his warriors.”
The 17th century in Japan brought a new era of rule and a time of peace. As a result, there was a shift in the status of for women of the noble class. They were now expected to go from being fearsome warriors to being more focused on domestic duties as wives and mothers. Overtime, the stories of these brave women were told less often. However, with the use of battle scene forensics, we discovered that 30% of fallen samurai were female. We now know that more Onna Bugeisha fought alongside men on the battlefield more than was once known. Their bravery and accomplishments can be recognized and celebrated.
To learn more about these Warrior Women: