Donna Dodson is Making an Army, and Why Not?
Alpha Female, 41"hx14"wx17"d, spalted pear wood,oak, paint 2020 by Donna Dodson
Is there a better time to create an army than while the world battles an invisible enemy? It could start with Donna Dodson’s new sculpture, “Alpha Female”, hewn from oak and pear wood, not quite as tall as her famed quasi-mythical namesakes.
Like the Amazons before her, Alpha Female’s history is a mishmash of people, places and times.
The sculpture’s eagle head pays homage to the female golden eagles that nomadic women of the ancient Eurasian steppes used as hunting companions. She also carries the memory of Dodson’s great aunt Alice, one of the first women to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Corps during World War II. That military contingent wore Athena’s helmet as an emblem on their uniforms.
In turn, Alpha Female sports a tattoo of Athena, somewhat modestly for a race of warrior women said to have been elaborately tattooed. Her breasts, like Athena’s, are iron clad.
At one point in Greek antiquity, Amazons became a supreme meme. A Smithsonian Magazine article exploring the histories and myths of the Amazons notes that, “the first pictorial representation of Greek heroes fighting scantily clad Amazons began to appear around the sixth century B.C.”
Then, it was on. Amazon jewelry. Amazon housewares. Amazon poetry. Amazon pottery.
But, author Amanda Foreman continues, “The one substantial difference in depictions of Amazons in art and poetry was the breasts. Greek artists balked at presenting anything less than physical perfection.”
A good portion of the mythology around the historical Amazons centered on their breasts. Did they cut off the right one to keep it from interfering with their bow shots? Did they lop them both off? Does their very name come from a phrase meaning “without breasts”? For centuries we’ve asked the Amazons, but what about your boobs, though?
And, for over a decade now, people have asked the same of Donna Dodson. Nearly all her figures – be they zodiac animals or chess pieces – have breasts. Some viewers have difficulty seeing much else.
A few years ago, her 8-foot-tall public art sculpture of Cinderella imagined as a seafaring bird was reduced to “Boob Seagull” in media accounts of the controversy it caused.
But Alpha Female’s true anatomical intrigue appears lower down her body. Her feet are slightly parted in a relaxed stance that is atypical of both Dodson’s work and most other depictions of soldiers. It lends the sculpture a figure of self-awareness that seems to invite, or even trivialize, the viewer’s gaze.
At the same time, she wears the spit-shined black shoes of military personnel in formal dress, a nod to the World War II fighters who wore similar shoes with freshly pressed skirts, never pants.
And then there’s Athena, inked there on the Alpha Female’s right calf. She was the goddess of war and patron saint of heroic actions until Enlightenment thinkers softened her into the goddess of the arts. Did she still need her helmet for that role? Does an artist need one now?
That depends, on what type of art she chooses to make. Or maybe the state of the world while the art’s being made.
Dodson would have been gearing up for an opening of one of her Monumental Works created on-site at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in April (as part of the duo The Myth Makers). However, COVID-19 shutdowns are keeping her at home in New England. There she is in her studio: sharpening tools, laying plans, cutting, carving, building a battalion.