Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘art’

“What does a Feminist Society even do?”

Short answer: a lot. 

I got this question loads when I first told people that I was going to run a feminist society. I still get asked and I’ve already presented a third of my planned sessions (we finish next March). You might be wondering too – or, potentially, you want to run your own feminist group and don’t know what to talk about!

A point in my previous article about running a feminist society was that you should start by deciding what type of group you want to be. This is true of all good collectives – you should have an ultimate goal. Our group’s goal is simply to broaden our horizons as much as possible and to discover, together, what feminism means in today’s global society. Sometimes, that means we have to look back at the work of our foremothers, examining how they shaped the feminist movement we know and love, as well as acknowledging their failings and faults. Other times, it means that we must consider what our personal activism has to look like in order to create the future we want and need. We are a group rooted in the past, the present and the future.

But that might not be what you want. The feminist society you envision might not have many debates or discussions (like mine does – we do talk a lot!). It might be an action group, in which you organise protests, demonstrations, fundraisers and awareness events. That’s important and valid too, and you might like to incorporate those things even if yours will be a discussion group. For example, in honour of International Women’s Day next year, we’re planning to raise money for a women’s shelter and organise a showing of a feminist film in our college’s lecture theatre.

Another concern I’ve seen in forums and message boards is this: how do I come up with ideas for my sessions? A challenge indeed! I got started early, as soon as I was given the go-ahead to run the club. Sessions started in September, but I had planned all my allotted sessions by the end of June. This is definitely advisable; it gives you ample time to research (and design any PowerPoint presentations you might want!).

For our debates, I tried to stick to a “theme” for each half-term. The first half-term has been all about the history of the women’s movement and its foundations, as well as exploring intersectionality and diversity. We discussed the “waves” system, separatist and cultural strains of feminism (i.e. womanism, chicanisma), TERFs and early radical feminism. That made sense to me – it meant that everyone was on the same level and had the same grounding in feminist history. Our second set of sessions will focus more on politics and human rights, and how feminism supports and intersects with these.

Pro-tip: Google a ton of human rights awareness days and create your discussions based on these! There’s International Women’s Day (8th March), International Men’s Day (19th November), International Day For The Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th November), Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May), Human Rights Day (10th December) and many, many more! If there’s an existing day of recognition, you’ll usually find it easier to discover resources online. IWD has an official website with downloadable information and activities, as do many of the others in the previous list.

You might also want to shake it up and show documentaries in your sessions (if you have access to a computer, screen and projector). Documentaries can be a fantastic way to engage your group in challenging discussions, especially if they are a little bit quiet to start with! It gives them (and you!) something to respond to, rather than forcing you to come up with an amazing point under pressure! If you want to incorporate this, YouTube is your best friend. I already had a few documentaries that I desperately wanted to show, but it’s quick and easy to type “feminist documentary” into YouTube if you need ideas. I’d recommend watching them first though!!! (There will soon be a “resources” page in the top-right corner of my blog, where I’ll link to documentaries we’ve shown/will show in the group.) You could also play music from feminist artists – we’re going to have a session on the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s. Maybe you could try craft activities, like handmade zines or posters.

Really, the best thing you can do is ask. What issues are your members passionate about? What do they want to talk about? What do they want to learn?

That’s all my advice for today, folks! Best of luck if you’re researching for and planning a feminist group. If not, why not? 😉

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On Feminist Art

Sorry I’ve been so inactive! I’ve been focusing on college work, mostly. However, during the summer holidays, I’ve tried to branch out in terms of the feminist material I’m reading and creating. I’ve followed lots of great feminist artists on Instagram (like Paloma Smith/@octoplum), as well as some zine-makers and writers. I really like the DIY vibe I get from most feminist art, the idea that these are women making incredible things with the most ordinary of tools.

Art has been an integral part of feminism for a long time, starting with the original feminist art movement in the 1960s. For me, it marks how feminism has expanded from the realm of academia. It’s not something contained in statistics and studies and essays; it’s real, tangible and present in the lives and imaginations of women. There’s something inherently radical about the act of expression through creation, the very making of art that has come from your own heart and your own brain.

I’d definitely like to try my hand at producing a zine (there’s a “how-to” from Rookie magazine here), but for now I thought I’d stick to something simple and familiar. I was in a creative writing club at school and since then I haven’t had much chance to do any writing. I thought I’d have a go at something similar to the “found poetry” or the “cut up” techniques. I’m not sure my version strictly fits into either genre, but I enjoyed making them and I’m pleased with the results. It’s very therapeutic and cheap – all you need are scissors, glue and a few unwanted magazines and newspapers – but it can be quite time-consuming, especially as I’m pretty picky and I kept rearranging the lines!

FYI: these are my intellectual property, so please don’t nick them or share them without crediting me!

It’s up to you to interpret these, but the two short ones on the top right were specifically about feminism and how it’s perceived. The top left was inspired by all the writers I love right now who are fighting for social justice with the pen, not the sword. The bottom left was meant to be more evocative of the disconnect between the polished exterior of British society and the colonialism and corruption we like to gloss over. The bottom right is about the area I’m from, the Black Country, which you can learn more about here if you’re not local!

You can read more about feminist zines and self-publishing here.

Writing – Artemisia

The third (very belated) part of my historical women series. You can read Cleopatra and Olympias first, if you like, but they’re not interconnected. This is not 100% historically accurate, but I wasn’t really aiming for that. Artemisia’s life has become part of mine, and I simply enjoyed taking the time to explore how I feel about her work. Trigger warning for non-explicit references to rape and sexual assault, as well as some moderate violence.

For Artemisia, and for the sister she never had.

Rome, 1612

Artemisia approaches the canvas. She hesitates briefly, as though asking permission from a lover, before placing a hand upon its textured surface. She touches every bump, every ridge, every pore, until she knows each one intimately. She feels a strange sort of camaraderie with it, like an old friend.

Her wounded hands are glaringly obvious against the white and her thumbs throb with remembered pain, caught in a tightening vice that has not touched her flesh for months. She remembers how she shrieked until her throat was dry and burning and she could shout no longer – even now, she swallows slowly, at a thankful, reverent pace – and she remembers the metal inside her. How cold, how clinical. They never drew blood, not there, but still she felt dissected, split asunder. For months, she could not quite believe that anything below her waist belonged to her. It had become public property. It had become evidence.

She had become evidence. She had been victim, witness, judge and jury.

Her body may have healed from that indignity, but her soul had not.

 

She wants her next work to be powerful. She wants to give her weeping heart manifest form. Looking up at the canvas, she knows the space would allow for it. Empty as it is, it already physically dominates, but she wants it to be emotionally overwhelming too.

She wants something epic, something towering and forceful.

“Something of Biblical proportions,” her father had said when she told him; she had agreed.

She wants rage and she wants revenge and she wants blood, yet she craves companionship and sisterhood and triumph.

Judith, she thinks, it can only be Judith. I must paint Judith, here and now, for when she slays her Holofernes, I will have slain mine too.

She gathers her materials. Slowly but firmly, she starts to sketch. For now, it is bare bones. One day, it will have a heartbeat of its very own.

 

Over the months following the trial, she gets to know Judith very well. She could have told the tale with ease prior to this, but she could not have attested to the slick darkness of Judith’s hair, like the Tiber on a stormy day. She could not have described the flex of the tendons in Judith’s forearm, nor the grip of her fist in Holofernes’ hair, nor the thrust and the drive of the blade in her hand. Judith is fluidity and Judith is motion, so Artemisia lets herself be taken with the ebb and flow of her tide.

She even acquaints herself with Holofernes. She had no desire to know him before she began. It was Judith who mattered most, and that remains gospel in her heart. That doesn’t stop her from feeling a surge of ragehatepity at the sight of his frightened eyes, his grasping hands, his gaping mouth. Perhaps this is because she is familiar with this expression. It is the same look she has seen in the eyes of dying fish, asphyxiating in fishermen’s nets, and it is the same look she saw on the face of Agostino Tassi that day in court.

She paints Holofernes differently, violently. Judith is born of tender recognition, but Holofernes is born of painful otherness. Holofernes is dissonance, he is an untuned string in the symphony of Artemisia’s… Judith’s life. Sometimes, she has to stop herself for fear that she will stab him, right through the heart and right through the canvas. She has to pause occasionally, for she is breathless, she is spent. She leaves a trail of blood in her wake. It spatters, adorning his throat and chest, a garland of roses, a chain of rubies. She is caught in their crossfire as Judith plunges downwards with her dagger and Holofernes fights upwards and, often, she wonders: when did she stop being an onlooker and become a participant? When did she join the brawl?

Artemisia is not the only one dragged in from the sidelines. Behind them both is Judith’s maidservant, pinning the general down while Judith beheads him. Despite Holofernes’ punishing grasp on the front of her gown, the maid stands firm, determined. She is more a sister than a servant. Artemisia wishes desperately that she had a sister, so she is gentle, coaxing the maid out from the shadows as she paints. Perhaps there is a secret part of her that is jealous, that craves what Judith has.

She remembers how she had screamed for Tuzia all those months ago. It was hard with his hand over her mouth, dragging stale stinging air into her lungs as she inhaled, but still she had screamed and screamed. She had begged. Tuzia never came.

In court, Tuzia had denied all knowledge. I heard nothing, she said, I saw nothing.  I’ve never followed Artemisia into her workshop. I heard nothing.

She kept saying it, over and over, I heard nothing. Artemisia is sure she burst into tears at one point and had to be consoled, for she would have made herself ill with the sobbing. You heard everything, she had wanted to bellow, I yelled and I begged and you heard but you never came, you traitor. But she hadn’t screamed. She only had to look Tuzia in the eye for a second and the woman knew it all. Remember me, she demanded with those precious moments of eye-contact, Don’t you ever forget me, don’t you dare.

Artemisia used to hope – and she hated herself for hoping – that whenever Tuzia broke bread, she’d think of her former friend’s broken body and whenever she sipped wine, she’d think of the dried blood on the bedsheets. She doesn’t wish for that now. She might not have forgiven Tuzia, but she wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. It is not in her nature.

 

Rome, 1613

When she steps away from the canvas, for what she knows is the very last time, Artemisia is not shocked by what she sees.

Not Judith, Holofernes and the maid.

Rather, Artemisia, Agostino, and Tuzia.

Her instinct is to rush to change it, to scrub away its significance. With a darker shadow here, a more pronounced cheekbone there, there would be no sign, no suspicion, that the three of them ever shared a canvas.

But she can’t do it. She won’t do it.

 

For weeks, people come to see the painting.  News travels fast on the streets of Rome, and they soon flock to her father’s exhibitions to see the works of both father and daughter. Some of them marvel. Some of them are aghast. One lady faints at the thought that a woman could paint such a thing as this. How improper to depict a Biblical widow engaging in wilful decapitation.

This is her testament. This is her monument.

It makes her laugh to think that – on a wall, rather than the gallows – Agostino Tassi will hang.

 

Florence, 1614

When Cosimo de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, asks her to recreate the work, she paints with such vigour that it scares her. It takes her six years to complete. The finished work, far more refined and yet far more animal than the original, certainly scares the Dowager Grand Duchess Cristina, but, unsurprisingly, Cosimo loves it. So she paints another, and another, and another.

The scandal dies down, the gossip withers, but she is still an oddity in the Florentine court. An artist’s daughter from Rome, a victim of rape, a sociological phenomenon.

This is fine by her. She is content to be an oddity, on her own terms.

Everything is on her own terms now.

“Darn Feminists” – Standard Issue

“Purple not in fashion? F*ck it. Buy purple fabric, make an 80s-inspired jumpsuit and run through Zara hollering, “Shove this up your arse!” If I want a dress… I’ll make one.”

– Cath Janes, Standard Issue

I stumbled across a great article from Standard Issue magazine about the Great British Sewing Bee and its secret feminist agenda. No, really. You can read the article here. I hadn’t ever thought about it like that, but I suppose it’s true that programmes like GBSB and the Great British Bake Off have brought traditionally feminine fields to the forefront of entertainment, and that’s super cool.

The first episode of GBSB starts tonight (Monday 16th April) at 9pm, on BBC 2. Not sure if/when it’ll air on BBC America, but hopefully relatively soon!

“The Ascent of Woman”

Just a quick recommendation for a fantastic documentary series on BBC2, hosted by Dr Amanda Foreman! You can find it on BBC iPlayer; there are three episodes currently up there (but only for the next month). Check it out here: (x). In it, Dr Foreman investigates and examines the role of women throughout history. Our story has not been a simple progression from bad to good, from dark to light. As empires have risen, fallen and expanded, the status of women has fluctuated. Beginning with the earliest civilisations and progressing to the power struggle of the Middle Ages, she asks us to consider how far we have come – and how far we still need to go.

(I particularly enjoyed the section on Empress Wu in the second episode (“Separation”). I think you’ll like her too.)

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Happy Birthday, Frida!

It’s 6th July and it would have been Frida Kahlo’s 108th birthday today. Frida was an incredible artist – one of my favourites, actually! – and a fascinating human being. I haven’t had much time to prepare this post, but hopefully it’s a decent tribute to her. I think she’d appreciate the spontaneity. 🙂

I’ve written a little about her in my Five Favourite Female Artists article (x). There was a fine line between the real and the surreal in Frida’s art – her painting “Henry Ford Hospital”, depicting the harsh clinical atmosphere of the place after a miscarriage, is visceral and shows her lying on the hospital bed with blood all around her. However, it also has an air of surrealism, with floating images all around the bed. Frida maintained that she painted neither dreams nor nightmares; her art contained “(her) own reality”. Her miscarriages were potentially the result of a traffic accident she suffered as a teenager. She struggled with the subsequent pain from her injuries for much of her life, although she insisted that “tragedy is the most ridiculous thing”.

Henry Ford Hospital by Frida Kahlo

“Henry Ford Hospital”

She had a tempestuous and volatile relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera – the couple divorced in 1939 but remarried in 1940, and both had numerous affairs. Frida was bisexual; apparently Diego “tolerated” her relationships with women but became jealous of her male lovers. She is often celebrated for her depiction of Mexican indigenous culture in her art, although it is her unflinching expression of the female experience that makes her so fascinating to me from a feminist perspective. The artistic development of her self-portraits demonstrates her changing attitudes. For example, her first self-portrait, “Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress”, has the dreamy style of the Italian Renaissance and she is depicted as slim, fair and elegant. Her later art is much more uncompromising and personal; she painted herself exactly as she was.

“La Columna Rota (The Broken Column)”

Frida was remembered only as Diego Rivera’s wife, until a fresh wave of Neomexicanismo art began and her work started to be fully appreciated. She was witty, intelligent and – if the Pinterest boards devoted to her are anything to go by – immensely quotable and insightful. You know that game where you have to decide on famous people, alive or dead, who you would invite to a dinner party? I’d invite Frida to my imaginary BBQ.

Happy birthday, Frida. May you continue to inspire, to teach, to shine for years to come. Your legacy lives on.

My 5 Favourite Female Artists

For this list, I’ve chosen my top five female artists. I have tried to select artists who are relevant to the feminist cause, either through their portrayal of women in their work or through the themes they explore. They aren’t in any particular order; I’d find it really difficult to pick a favourite! I’ve included examples of their artwork too.

Warning for  nudity ahead (all in the interests of artistic expression, of course!). Also, I’d like to offer a trigger warning – Frida’s story contains a description of her traumatic car accident and Artemisia’s story discusses the trial of her rapist Agostino Tossi, so skip these sections if these incidents will upset you.

Frida Kahlo – Frida was born in 1907, in Mexico City. At the age of 18, she was in a serious car crash which left her in a full body cast for three months and caused severe complications for her until her death in 1954. An iron handrail pierced her abdomen during the crash, preventing her from carrying children to full-term and resulting in multiple miscarriages; her emotional response to this infertility is depicted in some of her artwork. Her stylistic attitudes to the female form and to her own experiences as a woman are uncompromising – what I love about Frida was her willingness to portray “ugly” themes in her work, often with deliberate emphasis. Her painting Henry Ford Hospital (below right) is painted onto a sheet of metal, symbolising the harsh clinical atmosphere of the hospital after a miscarriage. She was openly bisexual and had a tempestuous relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera; Frida lived just as unapologetically as she painted.

Frida self-portraitOil on metal - infertility (Frida)

Laura Callaghan – Laura is an Irish illustrator based in South London. Her artwork is composed of bold black outlines and bright colours, hand-drawn with watercolours, Indian ink and isograph pen. She generally draws women – bookish women in vintage print dresses, exploring record shops and eating pizza. What’s not to love? Each piece is full of tiny details, from the spines of books to the posters on the walls (generally proving that the ladies in her art have great taste in literature). My favourite piece by her is The Wall (below right), depicting a girl crouching on her bed beside a boy, the wall behind covered entirely in posters, stickers and medals. From these clues, we can piece together the girl’s identity. Her website is: http://www.lauracallaghanillustration.com/

Three's a crowd (Laura Callaghan)The Wall (Laura Callaghan)

Artemisia Gentileschi – Artemisia was an Italian Baroque painter. Female painters struggled to be accepted by patrons and artistic peers during this period, but today she is recognised as one of the finest and most progressive artists of her generation. Her father allowed her to use his workshop and she demonstrated much more skill than any of her brothers. When she was eighteen, she was raped by Agostino Tassi, who was hired by her father to tutor her. The trial was infamous due to Artemisia’s active involvement in Tassi’s prosecution. Horrifically, she was tortured using thumbscrews and was subjected to gynaecological examinations to verify her testimony. This traumatic experience influenced Artemisia’s later works – she often painted strong women who suffered in mythology and in the Bible. Her best-known work, Judith Slaying Holofernes (below left), depicts the character Judith from the Old Testament beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. Artemisia painted herself as Judith and Tassi as Holofernes, making the painting an outlet for her private anger.

Judith Slaying Holofernes - Artemisia GentileschiArtemisia Gentileschi

Tracey Emin – Tracey is a prominent British artist. Her work takes many different forms, ranging from sculpture to photography to larger installations. In 1995, her installation Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 – 1995 (below right)was exhibited at the South London Gallery. It is a blue tent with names appliqued on the interior, including those of lovers, relatives and two numbered fetuses which she had aborted. Another notoriously intimate piece is My Bed (below centre), which features Tracey’s unmade bed. The bed was presented in the state it was left in after Tracey spent several days lying in it, feeling depressed and suicidal due to relationship difficulties. Initially, it caused media outrage due to the inclusion of condoms, menstrual stains and a pair of Tracey’s knickers! I love how personal and emotional her art is; any work that features text often has spelling mistakes or has fragmented sentences, giving the impression that it is part of her inner monologue.

My Bed (Tracey Emin)Everyone I have ever slept with - Tracey Emin

Kimberly Frisch – Kimberly is a young American artist and animator. I love her children’s illustration and especially the way she draws women. The stills below come from my favourite piece of animation by her – her trailer “Pele and Hi’iaka”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lB-pJRT5n8. It explores the myth of the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele, who is said to live in the Kilauea volcano, and her relationship with her loyal younger sister Hi’iaka. It’s a beautiful short film, showcasing a key part of Hawaiian mythology and portraying Pele in both of her divine roles – as the creator and “mother” of Hawaii but also as a fierce fire goddess. You can find her other projects here: http://cargocollective.com/kimberlyfrisch/.

Hug (Pele and Hi'iaka)Volcano Spouts (Pele and Hi'iaka by Kim Frisch)

Who is your favourite female artist? Let me know in the comments! Please like this or share on Facebook/Twitter if you enjoyed the article. You can follow my blog using the blue button or the sign-up form on the right. Thank you for reading!