Inessential views of art and photography.
II Feminist Graphic Arts symposium @ Feminist Library, London
Almost a month ago, I travelled to London for the II Feminist Graphic Arts event, hosted by the Feminst Library. The organizers Eva and Emma brought practitioners and critical minds together for a day of inspiration, creative exchange and constructive discussions. Accidentally, as I am writing these lines, a numerous group screams “free abortion” on the winterly streets of Belfast. The fight for reproductive rights continues on the island. And in addition to on-site protesters, the cause needs visual artists and communication experts to win the battle. This valuable reflexion was repeatedly voiced during the II Feminist Graphic Arts event. The afternoon started with the opening of the exhibition “A Feminist Space is…” and the launch of the accompanying fanzine.
Three of the thirteen works included were photographs. One of them is Allison Kotzig‘s series “Ouroboros”, which deals with the circle of life and death, that is with creation and infinity. She has photographed pelvic bones along with different objects, a plastic vulva, venus figures, a nest and a prescription bottle of Clomid. They signify two different aspects of fertility: the natural and the mechanical, which are today intrinsically linked. The pelvic bones are photographed as remnants of what once was, of what once could have been. Even as bones, they are still intrinsically feminine. However, to the bare eye, these pelvic structures seem to focus more on the shared than on the difference.
For my contribution to the fanzine I travelled back in time trying to find the first space that felt feminist to me. I realized that it was an underground training room in the Ruhr University Bochum, where two researchers and now friends: Aaren Ahreum Han and Eunsook Sung, carried out a long-term experiment with female test subjects. We all trained for months (or was it even a year!), while they both figured out if “[h]ormonal variations during the menstrual cycle” have an effect on strength training. Through the study, I discovered that the menstrual cycle is divided into a follicular phase and a luteal phase; and that the body temperature follows the rhythm of the menstrual cycle too. Moreover, we all were encouraged to live healthier and I truly learnt that physical training is beneficial for both your body and for your mind and soul. The training room was a safe space. Judgments and expectations were substituted by support, energy and tolerance. Progressively I felt my self-confidence growing, my posture getting better and my attitude to life becoming positive. The photograph was part of a calendar in 2010, edited by Ruhr University Bochum to mark the European Capital of Culture of the Ruhr region.
The work of Kamila Wasilkowska in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo was also featured in the fanzine. She uses photography for social research. As a gender consultant at Mercy Corps, she worked in the Eastern DRC for a year in a participatory project which included both drawing and photography as research tools. The drawing part was designed to enable girls and boys to communicate their experiences when collecting water and accessing latrines. The resulting images, along with the photographs documenting life in Eastern DRC, raise awareness about the threatening situation these children face in their daily lives.
Talks and presentations
Soofiya Chaudry also stressed the importance of graphic work to spread the word and improve the visibility of feminist activism. She was the first presenter of an afternoon of constructive inspiration and debate that followed the launch of the fanzine and exhibition. She talked about her involvement as designer in the campaign Armpits 4 August and about her project “A Book for Two“, which highlights dialogue, collaboration and empathy as strategies and skills to foster innovative and honest work. Vicky Iglikowski briefly presented a collective zine created in a collaborative workshop hosted by the Advice and Records Knowledge department to mark Women’s History Month. This initiative also shows how much potential there is in the combination of participatory approaches, visual work and activism.
Graphic design, photography and video can be powerful tools for activists when employed effectively. Empathy plays an important part when putting these three elements together, as does tolerance, ethics and reflective work. The showcase of work during the II Feminist Graphic Arts event, reflected a change that has been on the air for a while now. Research and activism are coming close again, after a too long objective-and-scientific-full phase. Voices have always been multiple and so are strategies, approaches and understandings. Focusing on processes, rather than on outcomes puts the weight on dialogue and interaction, thereby fostering growth and the sustainability of projects.
The Feminist Library
A long-standing and successful example is the Feminist Library. It opened its doors in 1975. The project is no funded by public money. It is run by volunteers. Almost FORTY years of commitment. Almost FORTY years of resistance, collaboration, participation, dialogue and above all SUPPORT. If you are looking for a feminist space in London, YOU FOUND IT!
Certainly there are more examples, if you happen to know about one, share it in a comment below 🙂