CALAFIA: Manifesting the Terrestrial Paradise
Know then, that due east of the Indies there is an island called California, very near to the locale called the Terrestrial Paradise. It was populated by black women, with no men among them, for they lived in the fashion of the Amazons. They possessed strong and firm bodies of ardent courage and great strength. Their island was the strongest in all the world, with steep cliffs and rocky shores. Their arms were decorated with gold, as were the harnesses of the wild beasts they tamed and rode.
– Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, Las Sergas de Esplandian, Calafia
CALAFIA seeks to explore the spirit of California by using the great mythological black female warrior who is the namesake and ruler of the island of California, as a source of inspiration and artistic departure. In Garci Rodrigues de Montalvo’s fifth book of his sixteenth century opus Las Sergas de Esplandian (The Adventures of Esplandian), the story of the great queen Calafia and her army of Amazons is told with decided wonder that not only establishes her place as a powerful influence on California, a region which spans both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border, but also as a reflection of the ongoing history of the area. The story tells of the rich island of California and its powerful women, mythical beasts and the quest for greatness sets the foundation for the continuing mythos of its people and its land.
The parallels between the myth of Calafia and current day inhabitants of the great state of California don’t stop at its etymology. The phantasmagoric relationship can be seen through the associations of California throughout its historic past and into the present. From the cinematic glamour of Hollywood, to its identity as a fertile paradise, to its association with gold and riches, the story and character of Calafia can be a point of critical interrogation used to explore and critique California’s stories, contradictions and identities.
CALAFIA is proudly presented as part of the MexiCali Biennial’s 2018/19 programming. The MexiCali Biennial is a bi-national arts organization that explores the area of the California/Mexico border as a site for aesthetic production. The biennial showcases nomadic exhibitions that partner with arts institutions to showcase both emerging and established artists working in all media. Originally started as a critique of the proliferation of international and regional biennials, the MexiCali Biennial may occur at any time and on any side of the US, Mexican border.