Profiles on Practice: Tazeen Qayyum

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Portrait of Tazeen Qayyum, courtesy of the artist.

By Nadia Kurd

Trained as a miniature painter from the National College of Art (NCA) in Lahore, Pakistan, artist Tazeen Qayyum points to her mother’s encouragement as the source of her success. “She constantly encouraged me, drove across town every evening after her tiring job to take me to after-school art lessons” reflects Qayyum.[1] Such foundational encouragement prompted Qayyum to have confidence in her own voice and to pursue her art in Pakistan.

This encouragement soon paid off and Qayyum’s time at NCA during the 1990s solidified her practice. Much of her work critically draws on the long illustrative tradition of Central Asia, South Asia, and Iran. The practice of miniature painting — the brilliantly coloured miniaturized folio images—emerged in the Islamic lands during the 8th century with the introduction of paper from China. Commonly referred to as karkhana or ‘the painting workshop’, numerous medical manuscripts, legal treaties as well as the histories of rulers and most importantly, the holy Quran, were part of the elevated art practices amongst Ottoman, Persian and Mughal empires.[2]

The practice of miniature painting is an arduous one. Students training in the karkhana will sit on the floor for hours, focused on mark-making on handmade paper. The paper is often mounted on a takhti or ‘tablet’, which the student keeps propped up on their lap. The brush and paints are also skillfully handmade during the student training. The technique consists of “minute, repetitive brushstrokes render delicate figures in a painstaking technique called pardakht, a kind of linear pointillisme.”[3] While this finite yet vibrant practice serves the basis of Qayyum’s past and present work, she has continuously pushed the genre both conceptually and formally.

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Tazeen Qayyum. Thee Only Do I Love. Flexible acrylics, canvas, and plastic, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

For example, in the work “Thee Only Do I Love” (2010) the floral designs commonly found in traditional miniature works are transformed by the ice bags canvases upon which they are painted on. Moreover, the phallic nature of “Thee Only Do I Love” pushes the boundaries of accepted norms regarding sexuality and modesty within Muslim and South Asian cultures. The flowers depicted on the ice bags also represent fidelity and loyalty in Western culture.

Since 2002, one of the most enduring themes in Qayyum’s work has been the cockroach motif. The symbolism of the cockroach – a hardy insect that has long adapted to human life – is one that Qayyum uses because it elicits fear and has often been used as a metaphor for immigrants and those considered as outsiders.[4] In her 2011 work “Incubate” depicts a series of small paintings of cockroaches encased in Lucite (acrylic). In the 2013 work “A Holding Pattern”, installed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, the cockroach pattern features prominently throughout the backdrop and furniture of the work and is made of painted pieces of acrylic. These pieces are meticulously arranged in a grid pattern that mimics the wood lattice room dividers commonly found in Islamic architecture. The installation references the airport transit terminology for continuous routing loops when planes are unable to land, which serves as an apt metaphor for the various socio-political (often life or death) conundrums faced by refugees today.[5]

 

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Tazeen Qayyum. A Holding Pattern. Site-specific, mixed media installation
at the Toronto Pearson Airport, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

This repetitive patterning common in her cockroach themed work has evolved and informed her performance work. For example, in her recent performances such as “We Do not Know Who We Are Where We Go” (2012 and 2014-15), Qayyum centers herself on the drawing surface and begins to write in her native Urdu language using Perso-Arabic script in concentric circles. The repetitive, trance-like process of creating these works can span several hours. For Qayyum, the process to create these works allows the audiences of the performance to see how her body fully becomes the instrument, melded with the paintbrush, to create the cursive lines of script.[6]

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Tazeen Qayyum. We Do not Know Who We Are Where We Go-II, drawing performance, MIXER. 2014-15. Photo by Yuula Benivolski. Courtesy of the artist.

“I am confident to say that I have always prioritized my home and being a mother over my professional life,” reflects Qayyum. This has often meant passing on opportunities that may have propelled her into the limelight, however, this has not lessened the potency of Qayyum’s artistic output. Instead, her work continues to be driven by “what my narrative is, what is it that I want to investigate or say, what has moved me enough that I need to express my feelings, and then comes the ‘how.’”[7]

Qayyum’s work continues to push the limits of modern miniature painting. Her latest project, a series of multidisciplinary works called “Cover The Same Ground” (2020), has been “created as worksheets of learning to draw a dead cockroach, breaking it down as fictional letters and language.”[8] Here, Qayyum continues to evaluate and piece together visual imagery to challenge the conceptions long shaped by colonialism and white supremacy in the imagining of the ‘Other’. Indeed, the ability to address the misuse of knowledge and its translation “into acts of bigotry and brutality through misrepresentations of socio-political and religious ideologies” features prominently in Qayyum’s art.”[9] In her work, Tazeen Qayyum brings these issues to the forefront using and expanding the established vocabulary of traditional miniature painting.  “Fear is no longer a mute condition” Qayyum points out, “I believe we are infinitely connected through thoughts, words, and actions, and I want my work to convey that as well.”[10]

To see more of Tazeen Qayyum’s artwork and future projects, visit www.tazeenqayyum.com or her Instagram @tazeenqayyum.

Nadia Kurd (she/her) is an art historian and curator based in Amiskwacîwâskahikan  (Edmonton, Alberta). Her work can be found on http://www.nadiakurd.com

 

[1] Tazeen Qayyum, interview by author, Edmonton, AB, May 16, 2020.

[2] Jonathan Bloom and Shelia Blair, Islamic Arts (New York: Phaidon Press Inc. 2006), 220.

[3] Louis Werner, “Reinventing the Miniature Painting”, (accessed May 20,2020).

https://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/200904/reinventing.the.miniature.painting.htm

[4] Leah Sandals, “Into the Deep”, Canadian Art, https://canadianart.ca/features/into-the-deep/ (accessed May 20,2020).

[5] Ibid.

[6] CBC Arts, “Why Tazeen Qayyum is Willing to Suffer Joint Pain for Her Art” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPUeQ4XSBMU, (accessed May 20,2020).

[7] Artist interview with Author.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Complicated Signs: Marianne Nicolson in Transits and Returns

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Installation view of Marianne Nicolson, Oh, How I Long for Home, 2016, neon, SFU Art Collection, Gift of the Artist, 2017, in Transits and Returns, exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2019–20, Photo: Maegan Hill-Carroll, Vancouver Art Gallery.

Transits and Returns

Vancouver Art Gallery

September 26, 2019-February 23, 2020

By Ada Dragomir

As I sit down to write these words, I feel a kind of sadness that is hard to articulate. I miss my grandmother’s steady teasing, her unending superstitious habits, her proverbs and expressions which—when translated into this jagged, dagger-for-smiles language—shrivel on my tongue, making sense to no-one. I missed the instructions for how to be a Romani woman, forfeited ancestral knowledge on right relationship, my embodied cultural teachings traded in for a citizenship card. As I ride the Vancouver Art Gallery escalator up to ​Transits And Returns,​ I can’t help but bring the other places I have been with me: the port blockades in support of Wet’suwet’en sovereignty, the overnight at Broadway and Cambie, the Grandview rail barricade, and the Bucharest University square where they shot into the crowd while I jingled keys on my father’s shoulders; a four-year-old in pigtails in the middle of the Christmas revolution. Sometimes, all of these places are really the same place, and my settlerness—my dislocation—is bound up within the greater Gordian knot of global capitalism and the colonial state, connected to the dislocation of the Wet’suwet’en, the ​Kwakw​a​k​a​’wakw​, and the Kanyen’kehà:ka. As I come into the whiteness of the gallery, I am tired, oscillating between brazen hope and exhausted collapse, but, under it all, ​Oh, How I Long for Home​.

Transits and Returns presents the polyphonic work of 21 Indigenous artists thematically contextualized by movement, territory, kinship, and representation. Curated by 5 distinct voices—Tarah Hogue, Sarah Biscarra Dilley, Freja Carmichael, Léuli Eshraghi, and Lana Lopesi—the exhibition deftly bridges distinct Indigenous contexts with global experiences. If Transits and Returns aims to represent the complexity and multiplicity of Indigenous experience within the framework of rootedness and mobility, then Marianne Nicolson’s neon work, ​Oh, How I Long For Home,​ functions as a visceral and cerebral reminder that language, land, and home are the quiet and persistent spaces of resistance. The work speaks to generative refusal and the intricate negotiations—and frequent collapses—between past and present, here and not here, self and not-self. If ​Transits and Returns​ is about the discursive formation of Indigeneity in the ‘entre’ space of the Pacific, then Nicolson’s sculptural and linguistic sign is a hand that points in many directions simultaneously, making it easier and more difficult for us to find our way home.

For, if we truly desire justice beyond decolonial optics and performative solidarity, we must accept that the street signs and google maps, compasses and sextants, atlases, and star charts—though seemingly solid and incontrovertible—only function to set us further adrift.

For, if we truly desire justice beyond decolonial optics and performative solidarity, we must accept that the street signs and google maps, compasses and sextants, atlases, and star charts—though seemingly solid and incontrovertible—only function to set us further adrift. Nicolson’s neon reminds me of a conversation between UBC History Professor Coll Thrush, and Metis-Cree community planner and filmmaker Kamala Todd, in which they discuss our responsibility to place. Place has its own ancient laws, protocols, and cosmologies. They invite us—the uninvited guests—to sit in our disorientedness and to accept being off-balance and unsure. They talk about making space for paradox in order that we may find our way home.

Under the hot glow of a red neon sign, tucked away inside a grey offset room, I can feel the uncomfortable swelling in my chest that tells me I may cry. I breathe deeply, stare at the glowing words that are both familiar and unrecognizable, and ground myself again. Marianne Nicolson’s work makes me hot under the collar, forces my face towards the sun, and makes me think—confronted by my own lack of understanding. It brings to mind the teeming connections between the many frontlines at stake in the struggle for Indigenous sovereignty, territory, and representation both within and beyond the walls of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Working formally with text, electrons, and light, and in the long history of neon works from Kosuth, to Flavin, to Nauman and Emin, Nicolson’s ​Oh, How I Long for Home​ immediately invokes the complex experiences of urban Indigenous people. Neon, once ubiquitous in the urban post-war consumerist boom—think Fred Herzog’s 1959 ​Granville/Robson​—now has a double meaning, standing in symbolically for the “seedy underbelly” of the metropolitan core, the inner-city slums, the Downtown Eastside, a dead man in a shopping cart. A week and a half ago, I saw the last remnants of that neon explosion near Main and Hastings, walking with hundreds of people for the 29th annual Memorial March for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Girls, Women and 2-Spirit folks. ​Oh, How I Long for Home​ makes unsettling formal connections between the urban realities that displacement causes, and like the Memorial March itself, speaks to the forced movements to and from territory, towards and away from kinship ties, in the complex web of people endeavouring to survive colonial legacies, greeting the ordinary daily sunrise as best they can.

Nicolson’s work participates in what Indigenous scholar Audra Simpson and writer, scholar, and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson have termed generative refusal—refusal of the terms and conditions imposed on Indigenous subjects by the settler state, refusal of the neoliberal and colonial politic of recognition, refusal of the voyeuristic, fetishistic ethnographic gaze, and in many cases, refusal to centre settlerness at all[1]

According to the exhibition essay, the neon work “presents a phrase in ​Kwak’wala​, ‘​Wa’lasan xwalsa kan ne’kakwe,​’ which translates to the work’s English title,” while also sharing linguistic roots with ​Kwak’wala​ notions of returning home, and the dawn, or sunrise.

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Installation view of Marianne Nicolson, Oh, How I Long for Home, 2016, neon, SFU Art Collection, Gift of the Artist, 2017, in Transits and Returns, exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, 2019–20, Photo: Maegan Hill-Carroll, Vancouver Art Gallery.

Despite the act of translation, ​Oh, How I Long for Home​ intervenes as the sign of generative refusal for many gallery-goers as it denies us anything but an approximation of meaning, a jagged translation which misses entire worlds of embodied understanding, a symbol for an uncertain kind of belonging. Language—which contains entire universes of interrelationship, mental schemas, and cultural concepts, is an active site of resistance—another front-line for Indigenous resurgence. Alongside the linguistic implications of Nicolson’s work exist deeply political ones. The ​Kwak’wala​ language on the walls of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which until 1983 was the Vancouver Law Court, is a deeply meaningful act of ​Kwakw​a​k​a​’wakw​ visual sovereignty. But as I become more engaged in direct action and more politicized about Indigenous laws and titles, I would contend that visual sovereignty is not enough. Reserves are not enough, status is not enough, representation is not enough, reconciliation is not enough.

Neon words are only the beginning.

Home is invoked by Marianne Nicolson’s work in conceptual and embodied ways. From the fierce false heat of neon light, viewers must walk back and forth across the expanse of the grey room in order to access the work’s translated meaning. Placed opposite Bracken Hanuse Corlett’s Qvùtix, an animated creation myth displayed on a button blanket, ​Oh, How I Long for Home​ makes aggregate, non-stationary claims about what home actually is, and what it means to return home as an Indigenous person. Within the confines of the gallery space, home is an ideological and conceptual invocation, but to anyone who doesn’t currently live under a rock, Indigenous homeland in BC is a highly contested and deeply physical space, subject to colonial encroachment, capitalist greed, settler laws, and convenient “justice.” Returning home to live in one’s territories is a site of intricate personal, familial, and political negotiation for many Indigenous peoples living on the largely unceded lands of this province. It is no coincidence then, as Nicolson pines after home in ​Oh, How I Long for Home​, Indigenous youth across unceded British Columbia are demanding nation-to-nation dialogue, and above all, Indigenous reoccupation of traditional territories, that is, land back.

As I stare up into the face of this neon sun, I am reminded of another nuance; “​Transits​” can be read as movement—the journey of people, goods, ideas, and cultures—but also implies the passage of celestial bodies across each other’s planetary faces; the shadow of Europa traversing the face of Saturn, the glow of our overcast sunrise crossing Sydney’s round face as we pack up the last of the cold coffee, watched closely by VPD officers. ​Oh, How I Long for Home​ addresses the complexity of Indigenous pasts, presents, and futures in subtle and visceral ways, simultaneously invoking the contested spaces of land, language, and home but managing to dislodge us and disorient us from our familiar and flawed understandings.

Oh, How I Long for Home ​is a complicated sign, pointing simultaneously to our head, our heart, and our gut, asking us to sit in the strangeness of each other’s glow just a little while longer.

[1] Audra Simpson, Mohawk Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, 2014, Duke University Press

Leanne Betasamosake-Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, 2017, University of Minnesota Press.

 

Gio Swaby: She Used to be Scared of Hair Comb

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She Used to Be Scared of Hair Comb 1. 51cm x 71cm each. Fabric and Thread on Canvas. 2017.

By Gio Swaby

At the core of my practice is the desire to reimagine; taking something that once was and giving it new life. This is true for both physical objects and concepts. My work revolves around an exploration of identity, more specifically, the intersections of Blackness and womanhood. I am interested in the ways in which this physical identity can serve as a positive force of connection and closeness, while also examining its imposed relationship to otherness. Generally, my work begins with the development of a concept and from this point, I choose media most suitable to represent my ideas. In this way, I’ve constructed a practice that is interdisciplinary by nature. 

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Going Out Clothes 1. 79cm x 109cm each. Fabric and Thread on Canvas, Lace. 2018

While studying at the College of The Bahamas, I established a strong background in traditional forms of art-making. In my time at Emily Carr University, I explored forms of digital media primarily by way of video installations, performance, and filmmaking. Since my time after my BFA, I have intensely developed my textile practice, focusing primarily on portraiture as an exploration of the intersections of Blackness and womanhood and how they relate to identity.  I have experimented across several disciplines to form a current practice that encompasses fibre art, performance, and mixed media installation. 

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She Used to Be Scared of Hair Comb 3. 51cm x 71cm. Fabric and Thread on Canvas. 2017.

She Used to Be Scared of Hair Comb (1-3 of 10) is an example of my fibre-based practice and explores my primary themes of interest. This series demonstrates a process of detaching long-standing stigmas associated with Black hair and hosting a celebration of beauty in its place. This series is a nod of appreciation to Black women everywhere that have resisted the consistently reinforced narrative that Blackness has no relationship to beauty. As a whole, my fibre-based works recontextualize textiles outside of the negative connotations often connected to domesticity and instead bow in admiration of the awesomeness of womanhood. 

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Study of Self 3. 28cm x 36cm. Fabric and Thread on Canvas. 2020.

Artists such as Ebony Patterson and Kehinde Wiley influence my visual practice in their unapologetic and dynamic representation of Blackness and Black culture. I take inspiration from bell hooks’ “Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black” and the ways in which she dissects the relationship between oppressed and oppressor. My ambition is that my work can reflect the strength of a Patterson or Wiley while remaining accessible to its intended audience in the same way that hooks has achieved. I hope to further the visibility of Blackness in art and academia and to continue to build upon the important works of influential thinkers and creators.

Each piece I create continues to build upon an integral aspect of my practice: to contribute to the visibility of Blackness in the art world. At many points in our lives, Black women can live within a paradox of hypervisibility and yet still not feeling truly seen. I want my work to function as a love letter of sorts to Black women, to create space for us not only to be represented but to be celebrated.

To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat By Esmaa Mohamoud

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Installation view, Esmaa Mohamoud: To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat, Museum London, 2019, Photo: Dickson Bou.

Museum London 

September 14, 2019 – January 5, 2020

Curated by Matthew Kyba

By Adi Berardini

Walking into To Play in the Face of Certain Defeat by Esmaa Mohamoud feels dark and ominous. The lighting is dim, the works under a faint spotlight—the space itself feels oppressive with a prevailing sense of shadows. Through her work, Esmaa Mohamoud focuses on racial and gender inequality in professional sports culture. Multiples of concrete basketballs are reflected on a black plexiglass pond and chains are draped from the ceiling holding Under Armour Cleats. At the end of the main wall, there’s a large circular ring of black footballs, all subtly branded with a traditional Kente pattern if you look closely enough. Mohamoud brilliantly addresses toxic masculinity, identity, and lack of access in sports, criticizing the spectacle of violence towards Black bodies as a form of neo-slavery.

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One of the Boys (Black) and (White), 2019, colour photographs on paper, Courtesy of Georgia Scherman Projects, Photo: Lucas Link Stenning.

Mohamoud questions the binaries that are inherent in sports and in our broader society. As Matthew Kyba outlines in his curatorial text, in any sports game there’s a “winner” and a “loser,” perpetuating an “us versus them” mentality. The same sense of opposition is present in masculinity and femininity, the binary oppositions prevalent in western society privileges the earlier rather than the latter. In her two pieces One of the Boys (Black) and One of the Boys (White) she juxtaposes a Toronto Raptors jersey and an elaborate ballgown, melding the two gendered extremes together. The piece evokes the sense of masculinity expected in sports when someone strays away from the expectation, they immediately become criticized. The layers of oppression become multi-faceted since gendered expectations and homophobia can be implemented from varying communities. One of the Boys displays how celebrating a multiplicity of gender expressions can subvert this binary.

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One of the Boys (Black) and (White), 2019, colour photographs on paper, satin gowns, Courtesy of Georgia Scherman Projects, Photo: Lucas Link Stenning.

In her three-channel film installation From the Ground We Fall, two players are stuck in opposition. Juxtaposed with romantic music by Nina Simone, they try to pull away from each other in the sweltering heat, although inevitably fail, since they are bound by multiple chains. The film comments on the struggle within colonial systems where members of a community are pitted against each other. Sports also implement a sense of “neo-slavery” wherein players are placed within rankings and given value based on their physical qualities and performance. Through this process, a sense of identity is lost, and their worth is solely based on their abilities and rankings, perpetuating the violence and competition of pre-dominantly Black players.

This is further explored in Mohamoud’s notable work Glorious Bones, consisting of forty-six adorned helmets with a range of West and East African patterns. Although there’s a deliberately frustrating viewing experience since they are blockaded by another work Fences, a gigantic hockey net strung from the ceiling. The helmets prescribe a vibrancy to the ghost players since they are embellished in saturated African patterns of teal, cadmium red, and mustard. Glorious Bones highlights the richness of African culture within the context of North American sports, which feels lost through team uniforms that erase this individuality. The net barrier of Fences blocks the access and exploitation of culture which happens so frequently through a white, western gaze. This sense of the white gaze is guilty of enjoying Black culture but lacks the true respect for Black people.

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Glorious Bones, 2018-19, repurposed football helmets, African wax prints, faux soil, metal, and Fences, 2019, hockey goal mesh, Courtesy of Georgia Scherman Projects, Photo: Lucas Link Stenning.

As Mohamoud explains, Fences also comments on the lack of equality of access in sports, particularly hockey, due to hockey’s high expense to participate. Capitalism’s hands are a means of exclusion from these systems that perpetuates the feeling of being unwelcome. Mohamoud challenges the trope of “cultural acceptance” and “diversity” in a society that actively perpetuates exclusion through classism rooted in white supremacy. In a subtle intervention, a gold grill embedded in the wall, her work Why See the World When You Got the Beach? critiques the western obsession of wealth accumulation and material obsession. The gold entices and causes one to go to any length, including exploitation, to reach it. This intrusion into the museum’s architecture also has symbolic significance since the work positions itself into the white walls of the institution.

Further, she encourages viewers to contend with society’s enjoyment of a system that perpetuates toxic masculinity and the organized competition of Black players.

Additionally, Mohamoud addresses both the hyper-visibility and invisibility of racialized bodies. Through the effective use of discrete text composed of clear vinyl on the concrete floor, she quotes Ralph Ellison’s book, Invisible Man, creating an obstacle in reading the understated work below one’s feet. In Ellison’s book, the protagonist is never given an identity and is a tokenized figure fabricated from racist views and stereotypes. The subtleness of the texts conveys a sense of ignorance within whiteness, often oblivious to unconscious racism and the struggles of Black individuals.

At the artist and curatorial talk held at Museum London, Mohamoud speaks about how she both loves sports (the Raptors are her team) but views the sports entertainment industry with a critical eye. Esmaa Mohamoud’s To Play in The Face of Certain Defeat reflects on the toxic systems that exploit the violence of racialized bodies for entertainment. Further, she encourages viewers to contend with society’s enjoyment of a system that perpetuates toxic masculinity and the organized competition of Black players. Mohamoud’s work makes a lasting impact regarding sports entertainment and its connection to racial, class and gender inequality—causing one to think again before flipping to the NHL channel.

This review is an excerpt from our first print issue. If you’d like to grab a copy you can visit our online shop.

Socially Distant but Still United: Art in the time of COVID-19

By Adi Berardini

When I first posted a call for submissions for immunosuppressed artists and artists affected by COVID-19 cancellations I had no idea that we would have such a strong response—we had a large number of submissions and it was shared over 150 times. I spent hours getting back to artists who are affected by the pandemic; hearing many stories from both immunocompromised artists, artists who had faced closures, and students who had their final grad exhibitions cancelled. Although COVID-19 has brought upon a sense of collective trauma, artists with pre-existing conditions that put them at risk should be centered in the discussion. Through the call for submissions, I was able to connect with some of the artists who are also working as disability activists, fighting for their rights and accommodations that should have long been addressed by art institutions and the broader society long before this pandemic hit.

Launching this call for submissions re-affirmed what I already knew— that the community behind this small publication is in fact very large and interconnected. The following are some artist highlights from our social media call. The posts were curated around certain themes such as invisibility and chronic illness, memory and dreaming, land and the environment, the domestic and interiority, and biology and its relationship to art. You can view all of the features on the Femme Art Review Instagram under the stories highlight “Social Solidarity” and by following the hashtag #caringisnotcancelled and #sociallydistantbutstillunited.

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Cat Lamora. Mok yok tang, We Bathe Here installation shot. The Margin of Eras gallery. 2019. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Cat Lamora

Cat Lamora @catlamora is a Toronto-based artist who creates large-scale installations with paper. “We Bathe Here” is an immersive paper installation by the artist that explores themes of connection within a shared and very vulnerable space—the Korean bath house, or mok yok tang, which translates to “bathing pools.” Traditionally, towns became named after the bodies of water flowing through them and to know the names of the bathhouses would be to get a glimpse of the town itself. The installation aims to interpret the transition where a long-used space becomes a physical, emotional, and cultural reflection of its people and how these spaces also influence the internal strata of experiences.

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Kimberly Edgar, Quarantine. 2020. Courtesy of the Artist.

Kimberly Edgar

Kimberly Edgar @deadbirdparty is an artist, cartoonist, illustrator, and designer living in the subarctic town of Dawson City, Yukon. Kim is chronically ill and uses comics to reflect on their experiences of both the medical system and the ennui that comes with being sick with no end. Edgar’s work transports the viewer to enchanted forests with mushrooms and flora and fauna. They explore the experience of bodily illness in comparison to the experience of climate change and how it impacts the land (which is also a body). Their works have been nominated multiple times for Best Comic with the Broken Pencil Zine Award, and in 2019 they won the award for their comic The Purpose.

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Nina Zdanovic, The Kitchen. Oil on Paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

Nina Zdanovic 

Nina Zdanovic @allaboutninka is a painter from Vilinus Lithuania living in Tokyo. As if referencing distant memories, in her paintings she refers to situations that have happened to her, places that she has visited, or people that she has met. Real stories often merge with similar memories and the emotions she associates with them. Most of her paintings are like a snapshot of a lucid dream: some things are real, some things are not, and it’s not possible anymore to tell them apart.

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Kat Cope. Onward March.

Kat Cope

Kat Cope’s @kat_cope_artist project titled, “Onward March,” is a sculptural installation comprised of a series of suits and fragmented pieces of armor made from paper.  They remain feminine in nature to contrast with armor, which is commonly perceived as masculine, despite historical women warriors. It is a documentation of how we build our own armor in the face of challenges through perseverance. Describing her process, Cope says, “Paper, like skin, is vulnerable to the materials and elements that assault it; yet, paper is an astonishingly resilient material. Sheets of paper can be made incredibly strong[…]While in most cases we as humans do not develop a thicker skin, both time and experience shapes us and we learn when, and where, to protect ourselves from harm both emotional and physical.” Starting this fall, she will be pursuing her PhD at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughn, Ireland.

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Em Somoskey. Bedrock’ (84”x96”). Mixed Media on Canvas. 2020.

Emily Somoskey

Emily Somoskey @emsomoskey gives form to the complexity, instability, and enigmatic nature of our lived experiences. Through these large-scale, mixed media paintings, she explores the simultaneity between the actual and the psychological, the material and the immaterial, the visible and that which lies beyond sight. Domestic spaces are largely the carrier for this ambition, which offers multi-sensory and ever-changing material that the paintings build upon. Digital collage fragments and painted shards might reference a tiled floor, a stove-top burner, or the edge of a piece of furniture, but they also point to readings that move beyond the domestic. The complex tension of their visual density calls for contemplation; asking the viewer to slow down in order to navigate, discover and dwell within them.

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Isadora Vincent. Installation shot, Michigan State University. 2020.

Isadora Vincent

As part of her BFA exhibit at Michigan State University, Isadora Vincent @isadoravincent addresses the altered way she views the relationship between her body and her mind after she had to face her irrational fear of needles, foreign objects, and substances invading her strange cellular interior. The processes she uses to generate painting and sculpture initiates a rediscovery and connection. She investigates the complexity of the human body, specifically with feelings of pain, discomfort, and anxiety around the unknown.

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Dana Kearley. Relief, 2019. Image Courtesy of the artist.

Dana Kearley

Dana Kearley  @danakearley is a multidisciplinary artist, illustrator, and jewellery designer on the unceded territory belonging to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. Kearley depicts powerful figures among other-worldly landscapes with a digital airbrushed aesthetic. Her work is inherently autobiographical, dealing predominantly with themes of chronic invisible illnesses, disability, mental health, and tenderness. On COVID-19, Dana states, “I kindly ask abled folks to please remember that you still have an able body while in quarantine, and that a quarantined lifestyle is normal for many of us. It is VERY different being chronically ill and disabled during this time. Many of us are merely surviving…It makes me sad that abled folks who have recently been laid off due to covid are getting much more compensation for their lob loss than myself and other disabled folks ever will. Itʼs not that they donʼt deserve it, but why are people with disabilities still being paid less? Ableism! It is very, very hard to sit with. It hurts. I donʼt share my experiences for fun. I share them as part of my activism, to raise awareness around endometriosis and for disability visibility.”

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Madeline Walker, studio shot. 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Madeline Walker

Living with an invisible illness has informed the majority of @madelinewalkerart‘s work, which is a combination of painting, sculpture, and digital fabrication. Using a range of mold-making and casting techniques, her sculptures and installations are commonly assembled out of cell-like parts that emerge as a visualization of various mental states, encouraging closer examination of what we thought we knew to be true.  Often coloured white, faint candy pink and blue, the molds resemble that of honeycomb or even bubble wrap packaging, merging natural structures with the artificial. Playful yet architectural landscapes of thought patterns and mind maps emerge in her recent series, Sensory Landscapes /Mind Maps 1. Forms, colors, textures, and everyday objects are re-contextualized as a form of re-writing and storytelling about unseen disability.

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Em Minyard Oppman. Products of Nature in Bloom. Supreme Court ruling Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. screen printed on bacterial culture growth medium cast in a petri dish for hosting bacterial colonies, creating a living document. 2019.

Em Minyard Oppman

Em Minyard Oppman @emminyard_ is an interdisciplinary artist and scientist from New Orleans working in sculpture and genetic research.  They were recently part of the 0.1% exhibition at NAVEL Gallery in Los Angeles in collaboration with UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics, and EXPO Chicago. Oppman earned their BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an emphasis in Art & Technology and Sculpture.

On their practice they state, “mixing lab protocol with sculpture and performance, I enjoy subverting systems of power and control by working within them to expose their depravity. My lab work focuses on the intersection of biotechnology and oppression.” Drawing upon their experiences with the medical industrial complex, they break down the alienation of the white coat by performing within it. Currently,  they are patenting mutations of their own genome, challenging SCOTUS’ 2013 decision in the landmark case that ruled for-profit corporations can no longer identify and patent isolated human genes. Having identified a loophole in the ruling, they are patenting mutations of their own genome to educate the public on issues of bioethics and prove that if they are able to do it, large corporations undoubtedly still can.  Following lab protocols including molecular cloning while collaborating with patent attorneys, this project is a conceptual exploration of the American patent system, as the artist navigates legal labyrinths and distribute NDAs. Minyard Oppman explains that “this work is about ending the monopolization of human genes and the further exploitation of sick people.”

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Tania Alvarez. Image Capture. Oil, Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas. 2019.

Tania Alvarez

Artist Tania Alvarez @taniaalvarezart paints in the same way that she recalls events in realtime: Objects, lines, and figures may appear and disappear as she remembers them, but the process is left behind like a roadmap for the viewer. Regarding her practice, Alvarez says “Being diagnosed with a chronic illness, I have become increasingly concerned with how my own story will be remembered. While every day it becomes easier and faster to record our story in the digital world, it can just as easily become diluted and two-dimensional. The human experience is layered and full of nuance and mistakes.  My paintings aim to preserve the raw experience and tell a more complicated story.”

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Emily Sara. Image courtesy of the artist.

Emily Sara 

 Emily Sara @emilysara12345 is a disabled, interdisciplinary artist, designer and disability rights advocate working within the language of advertising and animation to discuss the America healthcare system, pain, and the extent of social control over the disabled body. Her work mixes feminine signifiers with food, commenting on the infantilization of women with disabilities, and also how sickness affects one’s relationship to food. Emily received her undergraduate degree from Boston University in Advertising and Art History and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has exhibited nationally and is the recipient of grants from the Women’s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles, and the Foundation for Inclusion Fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA where she currently teaches in the Graphic Design Department. Emily has authored articles such as Fighting the Art World’s Ableism, first published by Hyperallergic in 2019, and is a current resident for the art criticism website The White Pube (London, England) were she utilizes the platform to highlight international disabled artists.
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Katrina Jurjans. Our Sanctuary underground (at times withdrawn). Acrylic on Canvas. Image courtesy of artist. 2019.

Katrina Jurjans

Katrina Jurjans @katrinajurjans is a visual artist creating poetic narrative heavy with symbolism— flowers embody feelings of absence and growth and rain clouds communicate intense emotion. She is interested in the power of analogies to tap into the feelings we all experience. Shifting into the surreal, the depicted scenes – intimate, often nostalgic and heavy – are anchored to this world while simultaneously departing away from it. Sometimes flesh and blood, other times ghostly outlines, the figures she paints exist between somewhere real and imagined.

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Mimi Butlin. Image Courtesy of artist. 2020.

Mimi Butlin

Mimi Butlin is the artist and creator of @cantgoout_imsick. Often using pop culture references, Butlin makes art to amplify the experiences of many sick and disabled womxn, making those who are chronically ill and disabled feel seen. She also aims to highlight medical trauma, inaccessibility, and to break down disability stereotypes, provoking conversation around the many issues faced in a world not built for sick and disabled people.

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Amira Brown. Untitled (frosting). Image Courtesy of the artist. 2020.

Amira Brown 

Amira Brown @amirahb_art is an interdisciplinary artist based in New Haven, Connecticut. Currently experimenting with the limits and variations of subjects in paintings, she often uses random chance as the starting point for her series of work. Her work at the moment focuses on personal meaning and the obscuring of such through red herrings, whimsical aesthetics and deconstructing the picture plane.

These are just some highlights! To view the rest of the social media features, check out the Femme Art Review Instagram under the stories highlight “Social Solidarity” and by following the hashtag #caringisnotcancelled and #sociallydistantbutstillunited. Thank you again to all the artists who submitted their work. 

Colour and Commodity: Marilyn by Sara Cwynar

Sara Cwynar

Marilyn

27th February 2020 – 30th April 2020

The Approach

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Sara Cwynar, Marilyn, installation view at The Approach, London. Courtesy the artist and The Approach.

By Adi Berardini

 “Cezanne…it’s Susan,” the voice in Sara Cwynar’s film Marilyn echoes. Cezanne jewellery boxes act as a signifier of high-class wealth, opening multiple times throughout the collaged-footage film. Suddenly, I have flashbacks of every time someone has mispronounced my name—something that many women likely know well. I have to introduce myself saying, “it’s Adi. Eighty like the number.” Then, I think of how it’s depressing that I have to assign a numerical value to my name in order to be remembered. Isn’t remembering someone’s name a sign of fundamental respect?

In Marilyn, featured as an online exhibition at The Approach, Vancouver born, New York-based artist Sara Cwynar addresses how the commodification of women’s desire is not only prevalent but ingrained in a capitalist society. On the inspiration of the title, Cwynar explains how “the X-Rays of Marilyn Monroe’s chest sold for $45,000—even the inside of her body was up for grabs.” Often with a seductive, vintage feel, the film specifically uses soft pinks and siren reds to display the relationship between colour and commodity. The narrator chimes in with, “colour, decided by someone else, handed down, placed upon us.”  Reminiscent of shopping for lipstick and attempting to find the perfect colour, it causes me to dwell on how individuality can be both a myth and a marketing ploy. I think of how it’s ironic that women don’t have full autonomy over our bodies, yet there are hundreds of shades of lipstick to choose from. 

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Sara Cwynar, Marilyn, installation view at The Approach, London. Courtesy the artist and The Approach.

“I’m telling you these reds aren’t real,” the narrator states in a voice reminiscent of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. 

The lips are referred to as a red wound, a seductive and vivacious symbol, but also one that is tied to violence. A hand strokes a lavender rose; the film repeatedly zooms in on a fashion editorial, a shot of a woman posing with matte red lipstick. Cwynar is interested in the production of photographic tropes and how they are just as manufactured as the makeup that the models wear. She has worked as a graphic designer for the New York Times, and frequently shoots her colleague Tracy Ma, since Ma is also familiar with media construction and its inherent power imbalance, particularly as a woman of colour. Footage of make-up manufacturers reel, showing the creation of buttery foundation and saturated glitter eye-shadows. While the cogs of the machine hypnotizingly churn, the darkness envelops us, consumed by the same cycles—a loop. Cwynar is fixated on the same few poses the models for popular e-commerce sites repeat. The film speaks of the idea of “a New Woman, “a Face,” and how the patterns were invisible to us before.

“I thought of the women of antiquity who were accused of lying for making up their faces.”

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Sara Cwynar, Marilyn, installation view at The Approach, London. Courtesy the artist and The Approach.

The film is primarily narrated by a man’s deep voice and a woman who chimes in at times, almost like she’s trying to get in a word during a meeting where a male colleague takes up too much space. The artist is pictured trying to lip-sync the narrator, an act that seems like a reclamation of what he’s saying in a tried but failed manner. The inter-spliced narration is in reference to a myriad of philosophers and cultural icons such as Descartes, Barthes, Plato, Sontag and Eileen Myles, and focuses largely on colour, art, capitalism, and gender. The artist says phrases like, “Women create life, men create art but not anymore, suckers,” and “I know I have a body of a weak, feeble woman but I have a stomach and a heart of a king.” Suddenly, the clearance sale is filmed from the vantage point of an escalator— “60% off!” the red tag reads, illuminated by fluorescent mall lighting. There are deliberately too many media snippets to contemplate simultaneously, enacting the oversaturation of advertisements one subconsciously faces during a trip to a shopping mall or scrolling through their phone.

“A new image comes without warning.”

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Sara Cwynar, Marilyn, installation view at The Approach, London. Courtesy the artist and The Approach.

A key aspect of the film is how nostalgia fades in a capitalist ploy. It also evokes how companies re-appropriate trends and nostalgia to sell their products to consumers. I witness not just the plaster nude bust, but the staging and the men behind it, setting it up. Several shots of a blonde woman’s slick red manicured nails are seen stroking a cherry convertible. Sliding by are a plethora of lipsticks, collaged over a shot of Claude Cahun and vintage film photographs of near-nude women. The voice of the narrator evokes the posts of Instagram influencers, inherently narcissistic in nature, but oh so deep. These days, it’s impossible to tell if someone genuinely likes something or they’re trying to sell it to you. The voiceover proclaims that she loves the times, she can buy anything she wants, but it’s hard to believe her when her face is visibly stressed, tears welling up in her eyes. She searches for pleasure where she can get it, but it hardly seems to be authentic—the glamour fades just as feelings do.

“To choose when to look and when to be looked at, that is the essence of true freedom.”

Cwynar addresses how in art women are thought of as objects and not subjects. With an array of commodified colours in her palette, the films address the painful reality of a society that uses the idea of “freedom” as a marketing method to sell back a sense of feminist empowerment. I can’t help but think we’re trapped in a system that’s difficult to escape.

The end of the road: Julia Frank’s Fine Corsa

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Julia Frank. FC / Eye, Color print on semitransparent textile. Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

By Victoria Dejaco

Preface: Julia Frank’s solo exhibition FINE CORSA at Galleria Doris Ghetta opens with a large curtain of fabric, an all-seeing singular eye. Through FINE CORSA, Frank addresses the environmental concerns of the warming planet we live on through cosmogony. The exhibition contains an artificial crystal—a large, melting block of contaminated ice filled with microplastics. The crystal causes the viewers to dwell on the power of our actions that taint its very nature. Frank asks us how long our human-made illusion can last if the earth’s ecological imbalances are ignored.

The exhibition is situated in the current Northern Italian Covid-19 hotspot. Regardless of its physical inaccessibility, the following text and visual material provide stimulus and relevance during this difficult time that we all face. The new work is accompanied with a text by Victoria Dejaco, a curator, art historian and her lifetime partner, in the form of a love letter. They are both from the same Northern Italian region but have left the area years ago because of its conservative and homophobic ideology.

Upstairs, the upper floor of the gallery is a curated exhibition by Siggi Hofer which has opened simultaneously. Altogether, even under sad circumstances, it seems historical because for the very first time two gay artists, born in the same area but who moved abroad, decided with united forces to provoke what they have been escaping and fearing for years.

Vienna/Ortisei/Vienna, February/March 2020

Dear Julia,

Your exhibition opens with an eye printed on a semi-transparent textile installed like a curtain separating us from the exhibition space. Not two eyes. One. Like we use it to look through a looking glass or a microscope. An invitation to look closer? One left and one right eye, a pair of eyes would be a familiar sight. It’s the one, isolated right eye that is unfamiliar. Seeing something unfamiliar influences our perception. Not long ago we had a conversation about how—in order to save energy—our brain constantly categorizes patterns and acts/reacts accordingly. It also means that we as humans are less susceptible to the details and irregularities of the everyday because automated categorizing blanks them out. To look at a pair of eyes is not irregular, and our brain would recognize the pattern as known. However, the single eye is alien enough for us to switch from a process-orientated everyday into a different rhythm—one that prepares us mentally and physically for the exhibition and focuses our attention.

Because our blind spot is approximately 30 cm in front of our noses, metaphorically this begs the question of how many other things we ignore that we have right before our eyes? The simple apology that puts an end to the fight? The heartfelt salutation that would turn the stranger into a friendly neighbor? Even solutions to the big challenges of our times might be similarly simple. A thorough global redistribution that also produces less CO2? Maybe we just cannot see it clearly yet. We don’t have much time left for good solutions and their implementation. In the race against climate change, we are already “in fine corsa,” if not behind schedule.[1]

Possibly, this is the most important outcome of any artistic practice: the invitation to look closer, to dwell on a topic, to decipher a riddle, to engage with an object longer that we are used to from the scrolling on platforms in our everyday hustle under constant and simultaneous impulses. Who will preserve this skill in the future to ponder on a question as long as it takes for the solution to arise? Or to lose oneself in a painting like the one at the beginning of your exhibition?

The time and skills for contemplation are getting scarce. We find “Contemplor” from “contemplare” in the Stohwasser, the Latin dictionary that always quotes the first person singular of every verb: “1. inspect, regard: contemplator (imp.) cum to observe, when V. 2 metaphor. contemplate, consider. E: templum: observation room.” The last remark is relevant for your exhibition. Temples (or cathedral) are rooms of observation. A room, in which we have time for contemplation, for observation. Not too long ago I read in the Swiss newspaper NZZ:
“In the 1980s […] society’s need for clearly defined spaces of art increased. Their closedness was experienced as reassurance, their institutional character is seen as a confirmation of certain values that seemed to disintegrate in a pluralistic, multicultural media society. […] Enhanced by a previously inexistent public interest the museum became the new community building: Incidentally, those new museums were called the new cathedrals.”[2]
With precise mise-en-scène of the lighting, you turn your exhibition into a cathedral, a temple (for observation). Already in medieval Gothic age, the dramaturgy of light was orchestrated for maximum enhancement of contemplation and worship. Cathedrals were built in order to have dim light in the entrance so that the eyes would need to adjust to the somberness and then be blinded by the rising sun through the colored windows of the apsis in the East during morning congregation.

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Julia Frank. Fine Corsa, Installation shot, Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

The two light sculptures are oriented towards the poles. One towards the North, the other towards the South. Shining bright, albeit their ephemeral presence. Besides the wall text, they are the only source of light.

Light is also the guidance for the viewer through the exhibition: leading from the first sculpture in the South, along with the text work and the second sculpture in the North to the last installation, that closes the apocalyptic atmosphere of the exhibition with a symbol of hope.

The first wall work on the blue membrane on the left wall after passing the eye-“curtain” is part of a series of works in a technique you developed a few years back. The surface of the insulating material with layers of microplastics has as many familiar associations as unfamiliar ones. The newest work is the smallest one yet with a diameter of 150 cm. The works can’t be much smaller by nature because you are 170 cm tall and the synthetic layers applied under gas pressure are pressed together in the folds of the material under the weight of your agile and muscular body, pressed into one another and partly detached from the surface again. The viewer is looking at the backside of the layer of “paint” because the frontside was collapsed to become the middle or bottom layer.

To question things and to think outside the box is second nature to you. In general, sculptures are three-dimensional and have more than one obverse. Pictures, on the other hand, even abstract ones, from an art-historical point of view, traditionally don’t show the viewer their backside. However, we experience the layers of color in your works mainly through their backsides. A very sculptural approach to “painting.” Fittingly, their making is rather a performance than a work process. I am hardly surprised, that you succeeded in transferring the vehemence of stone carving (which you already mastered prize-winningly as a teenager) to the practice of painting. Who else? 80% of your artistic output was done without a studio to work in. Artistic production is like breathing to you; intrinsically interwoven in your actions and thoughts.

The rectangular versions of the membrane work have a cartographic character. Now you have turned the form into a circle and immediately it resembles a distant planet.

Or the iris of an eye? The single “components” of the surface are multi-faceted in their form, individual like configurations of clouds and as co-incidental. The clods seem as fragile as eggshells. Or moss lichen. Or corals. A piece of untouched nature. Or, on the contrary, like the garbage patches of plastic trash floating in our oceans trapping sea animals.

After all, the surface is made of microplastic particles undulating on the blue insulating membrane, like the residues of plastic that regularly get retrieved from the insides of dead sea animals. Every year a million birds and 100,000 ocean mammals die around the planet from ingesting plastic or being caught in it. Also, we humans apparently consume the weight of a credit card in plastic every week.[3] Plastic sediments in the bodies of mammals similarly as on the whole of our planet: in clods and layers. Future civilizations will be able to tell the period between 1970 and 2030 AD from the sedimentation of plastic in our geological strata.

Also, the layers of your wall work function like strata of sediment of colored plastic particles. Residues of this sediment can be found in the ice blocks that form the main body of the sculptures, that melt in front of our eyes, while we decipher your signs in the dimmed light.

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Julia Frank. Fine Corsa, Installation shot. Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

Your exhibition is plunged into darkness. Another contribution to sharpening our senses. Light only plays a role as part of three artworks and one wall installation. Implicitly you are showing us that light>enlightenment> (in-)sight comes from the works of art. Both sculptures are composed of a grid on which the ice blocks are resting, a frame, and a rotation motor, that moves a tube light up and down. It looks like a scanning process. In intervals of a few minutes, the wet lights are moving down and up the ice blocks, then switch off again. The first sculpture has a red light. Despite the light source being a cold light, the red color brings a feeling of warmth, a fire that melts the ice. We might think of spring, the sun that melts the ice and awakens nature since the exhibition takes place only a couple of weeks before the official start of spring. But the ice is melting with the room temperature that changes depending on the visitors in the exhibition space. The more visitors in the room, the warmer it gets and the faster the ice will melt. The more people there are on the planet, the more our planet is “sweating…”

Coincidentally, this exhibition takes place under a frightening global state of emergency. Nothing like humanity has ever experienced before. Due to the global pandemic spread of Covid-19 whose European epicenter became Lombardy towards the end of February, the Italian government banned meetings of more than 100 people in the week before Saturday 7 March, the date of the exhibition opening. Initial partial and local restrictions in Lombardy soon applied to the whole of Northern Italy. 48 hours after your unofficial opening, the whole country goes in lockdown. All cultural institutions have to close. 72 hours later, we are both back in our apartment in Vienna when all boarders to Austria shut down and everyone passing the boarders on Brennero, Sillian, and Passo di Resia by train, highway, or state road gets fever checked. In the following weeks, governments [from] all across Europe and most Western countries take up similar measures to curb the spread and “flatten the curve” of exponentially growing infections. International flights are reduced to a minimum. No international conferences are held. The Olympics are postponed for the first time in history. No festivals. No concerts. The CO2 values drop world-wide in the following days. After four weeks under lockdown, in Wuhan, where the virus first broke out emissions are reduced to the point of a blue sky showing behind the lifted smog.[4]Natural light reaches the citizens again.

 

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Julia Frank, FC / Ice (rot). Ice, metal, rotation motor, electrical parts, wet- lamp, LED, translucent red film. Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

The unnatural red light of your first sculpture reminds us of infrared light rather than sunlight. Infrared light is also associated with layers in art history since infrared reflectography is used to reveal underlying layers of a painting or sketches in a non-destructive manner because different pigments of color absorb the light differently. It hence references the synthetic layers of your membrane work too. But it is associated with a second function that relates to your work: The infrared spectroscopy is used in waste management to detect and filter plastic in waste separation processes.

The light bar installed prominently at the far end of the room combines two different practices of yours for the first time to my knowledge. The installation unites the text works that until now have appeared on paper, as photographs, on mirrors, or in shop windows with your sculptural practice. The text, in this case, is applied to a light bar. It connects the wall installation with the freestanding sculptures. It is mounted on the same height as one of the objects too and the residues are frozen into the ice block connect the sculpture with the wall work on the blue membrane. You give the viewer clear signals that for you nothing exists independently, that everything is connected. If this concept of interconnectivity would be clear to humanity, we might stand a chance…

The wall text reads: “You are my last breath. Tell me you care for me. You are the first and the last thing on my mind. We probably risk too much. Is this part of our destiny? You give us all we have, but it’s not enough and your patience has run out, we let it happen. The time is now. All eyes are on the clock (but) the time takes too much… Do we end our waiting? The atmosphere is charged. In you I trust. And I feel no fear as I do as I must. Seduced by the fear… I will not hesitate. The time is now, and I can’t wait. I am empty already too long. Tempted by fate. And I won’t hesitate. The time is now, the time has come.”

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Julia Frank. Fine Corsa, Installation shot. Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

Each sentence opens doors to multiple interpretations. The text could be read as a prayer. The worship of planet Earth. Seeing it as an equal partner, to not take the planet and its resources for granted as the basis of our livelihood. No fear of the grand gestures that are necessary for course correction. To shift the metaphor of the Earth as “Mother” to the Earth as “Lover” creates a more emphatic, equal relationship between humanity and the natural world.[5] “You give us all we have, but it’s not enough and your patience has run out.”

The second sculpture is illuminated repeatedly by clear cold-white light shining through the melting, impure ice. This ice block contains the residues of the layers of plastic from the performative membrane works. The lettering on the wall that picked us up in the South at the first ice block, lead the viewer in the North, where a second block is melting away before our eyes. You found a poetic expression, but your message is clear: the poles are melting.

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Julia Frank. Fine Corsa, Installation shot. Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

Also, outside around your exhibition during these first warm days of March, huge ice sculptures are melting. In the winter in Ortisei, Val Gardena, the valley where your exhibition takes place, up to 30-meter high ice sculptures are traditionally created along the river and in prominent places. They are created by a sprinkler system with a huge tree-shaped scaffolding underneath. It sprinkles the structure with water during the cold winter days that freezes into a big white-blue weeping-willow-resembling frozen waterfall. At night they are illuminated from inside. A bright glow comes from inside the frozen sculpture. They give the landscape the semblance of a magical world. The light behind your second block of ice has a rather disenchanting effect. It shines a clear light on the impurities of plastic scatterings inside the ice.

The South Tyrolean landscape, UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dolomites, is a multifaceted and fascinating region in the Italian Alps. Mediterranean and alpine.[6] International and vernacular. Bilingual. A transit country and yet largely untouched and undiluted, for example in terms of language development (so many dialects!). Harald Pechlaner talks about a prominent facet of South Tyrol, tourism, in an audio piece that is set on a porphyry “seat.” You asked Harald, with whom you have already travelled half across Europe exploring the non-places along the most frequented routes, to take on the roles of tourist, resident, and critic around the topic of tourism and to alternate between those perspectives. You present this audio piece with headphones on a rock. The stone has a sprawling shape adapting to ones, hips, and thighs, inviting to linger. To observe, to rest, to contemplate. Listening on headphones, we know, creates an intimate space where one loses awareness of the noise level of the outside world. You give the listener the opportunity to dive into the globally omnipresent problem of the familiar abroad and the foreign at home.

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Julia Frank, Fine Corsa installation shot. Rock, Local porphyry rubble, MP3 Player, headphones Audiorecording by Harald Pechlaner. Galleria Doris Ghetta. 2020.

The surface of the stone is replicated on the wall of your last installation. A cave wall with cracks in it makes the viewer approach in curiosity to discover what is hidden behind. In Plato’s allegory of the cave, the true forms are behind the viewers, who are satisfied with shadows on the wall. In your narrative truth, purity, hope all hide behind the wall. As it happens, when you intensively engage with space over a longer period of time, you have intervened in the architecture of the gallery and used the space between the exhibition architecture and the building itself. In a custom-made display, different spotlighted gems nestle behind openings that look as if they were cracks in our dimension and the entrance to another. Hidden behind the wall are four rock crystals which are gems of pure quartz and amethyst, a variant of quartz. The rock crystal is generally assigned to the month of April, the month you were born in.

The Earth is made of 65% of silicon a mineral that derives from the rock crystal. In the Classical world, it was thought to be petrified ice. “Crystal” comes from the Greek “krystallos” which means “ice.”[7] We come full circle: At the end of your Parcours the crystals represent symbolically the rock strata of the planet, the sediments. Layers of history and the history of our planet before it was ours before the Anthropocene began to erode it. Before we added plastic to its historic geological strata.

Around the world, various cultures attribute healing powers to the quartz and in particular to the rock crystal, who can be found almost everywhere on the planet. Among the ancient Egyptians and the Romans, the Aztecs, Mayans, Celts, Tibetan Buddhists, Aborigines, Native American and African tribes, it is a supporting tool in diagnosing diseases. Hildegard von Bingen described its effect on the eyes, against ulcers, heart problems, and stomach troubles.

The rock crystal is a symbol of hope and renewal.[8] We encounter here the hope for healing. Originally you probably related the metaphor of healing to the climate disaster. Now, in an awful coincidence, simultaneously we are hoping for the healing of the over 500.000 infected[9] followed by the healing of the economy. The hope, that this disaster won’t be forgotten and give us a chance to find better methods of developing as a collective species. The last message of your exhibition is hence one of hope. A glimmer of light, the only thing we need, to see, to realize. We turn to leave the exhibition towards the entrance and look at the single left eye staring at us—the mirror image of our first impression when entering the exhibition.

Love, Victoria

 

[1] Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, first edition 1969, new edition 2008/2017, Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich.

[2]  Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani, 23.09.2016, https://www.nzz.ch/feuilleton/kunst_architektur/museen-sind-die-kathedralen-von-heute-unterhaltung-und-erkenntnis-ld.118166 (Last accessed: 17.03.2020) (translated by the author)

[3] CNN Health. “You could be swallowing a credit card’s weight in microplastics each week.” June 17, 2019. (Last accessed 17.03. 2020) https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/11/health/microplastics-ingestion-wwf-study-scn-intl/index.html

[4] https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/coronavirus-china-luftverschmutzung-101.html (last accessed 17.03.2020)

[5] “We treat the Earth with kindness, respect, and affection. […] We will stop the rape, abuse and poisoning of the Earth” from the Ecosex Manifesto, (http://sexecology.org/research-writing/ecosex-manifesto/) (last accessed: 17.03.2020)

[6] South Tyrol accommodates many industry leaders of international relevance: Microgate (https://www.stol.it/artikel/wirtschaft/suedtiroler-teleskop-spiegel-fuer-die-nasa-und-co), Durst, Leitner (last accessed 17.03.2020)

[7] https://www.edelsteine.net/bergkristall/ (last accessed 17.03.2020)

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Number of infections globally still rising. 476.000 on the morning of March 26th, 2020. 523.000 on the evening of March 26th, 2020 when I finished translating the text from German. 9 Yuval Noah Harari, The world after Coronavirus. (https://www.ft.com/content/19d90308-6858-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75) (last accessed: 25.03.2020)

In Conversation with Monica Joy Peeff: On Technology and the Tactile

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Monica Joy Peeff. Degradation of Communication. Digital print alongside film & raw clay. 2019.

Questions by Adi Berardini

London-based interdisciplinary artist Monica Joy Peeff combines tangible mediums like ceramics and drawing with the digital sentiment of the iCloud and internet messaging. Always observing their surroundings with a sketchbook in hand, Monica’s work is contemplative and explores queer identity. Peeff specifically focuses on the dependency on technology as an accessible platform to initiate and maintain love and connection. By using the symbolism of cell phones, message bubbles, and cigarette packs, they relate to the topic of addiction to represent these themes. Through their work, they evoke emotion and inspire the viewer to put down their mask and embrace vulnerability.

Additionally, Peeff is interested in deconstructing reliance on coping mechanisms, looking at the juxtaposition of guilt/shame culture, while simultaneously romanticizing/normalizing habits. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they work within the realms of ceramics, printed matter, drawing, painting, performance, and installation. The variety of objects and media provide a physical element to what would otherwise remain hypothetical, in memories, or visually online.

Your work merges more tactile ceramic work with technological references, seemingly commenting on technology and its influence on our relationships.  Could you explain more about your inspiration behind this combination?

This combination derives from an appreciation for the technology we currently have access to. Clay and technology exist as juxtapositions to one another. Clay is this natural substance derived from the Earth, delicate, tactile, and malleable to touch, while our phones, laptops, etc. are a combination of complex hardware and software, manipulated with coding and programming beyond physical visualization. Now, more than ever, am I utilizing my technology to connect with my loved ones almost instantaneously. The ability to maintain our relationships is essentially always in our pockets. A few years ago, I was making ceramic cellphones, exploring my dependency on my technology. [Through this project, there was] a gratification in creating an ever-lasting object with a note of digital memories. Now experiencing the present state of the world, I am ever appreciative of the ability to stay in touch with others and establish new connections with people all over the world.

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Monica Joy Peeff. Send a Message, digital prints graphite, ink & tape. Travelling installation displayed at UPRLFT Design & Photo Studio, Good Sport Gallery & Bealart Year End Show, 2019.

One of your pieces uses more of a social practice approach where people could write hand-written messages on typing bubbles, facilitating communication where it can be difficult at times. Can you explain your process for this project? What was the outcome?

I began using the message bubble to symbolize communication. These cards were installed in three separate shows at Good Sport, UPRLFT and Bealart with a grey card on the wall, alongside stacks of blue cards, providing an opportunity for response. I kept it open so that people could take cards with them if they wished. During the installations, it was quite funny to see how people responded with anonymous freedom. Especially at the Bealart show, with more traffic of children and high schoolers, they took a very comedic approach to responding, which was amusing.

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Monica Joy Peeff. Send a Message, digital prints graphite, ink & tape. Travelling installation displayed at UPRLFT Design & Photo Studio, Good Sport Gallery & Bealart Year End Show, 2019.

It seems to evoke a space to be vulnerable in public but since it’s still anonymous there’s some allowance for that. How do you find incorporating text can convey queerness and aspects of identity in art? Do you find that text is part of your process? How does it function?

It allows me to be really literal and honest in a sense—that’s often really frightening. When outright expressing something, I instinctively seek ways to cover it up. However, especially in the past few years, I’ve had the urge to not be so subtle in implying when a subject is very personal. I hope to grow into a person that is comfortable speaking to my experiences. I am trying to limit the possibility of integral parts of my identity and artwork being brushed over.

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Monica Joy Peeff. sketchbook page (Val on Zoom). 2020

Who are some other artists that inspire you?

Jeannine Marchand makes these really large-scale fabric-like works. [Monica brings up a slideshow on their laptop for an artist talk entitled WHAT UP I LIKE CLAY]. She has this amazing piece called Welcome that viewers hesitantly walked on [since it’s placed right in the doorway of the gallery], as a result of these interactions it gets completely destroyed. I think this might have been the same piece [Marchand’s work Bucket] although she doesn’t entirely explain it, but I think someone cleaned it up, placing the pieces in a bucket, with a note reading “I love you and I’m sorry.” I thought that’s so bittersweet. But her intention was fully to have people step on it—some people tried to jump over it since they didn’t know how to interact with it but obviously it just got totally crushed.

This artist, Serena Hughes, [@wamwogs] inspires me whenever I’m in a rut with creating. Seeing their work reminds me of what I love about drawing. They’re so honest with their use of text in their work. It’s a humbling reminder that I can just say whatever I want in my sketchbook, with the freedom to share it or keep it private.

Lynn Park is one of my closest friends and favourite artists. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing them develop as a person and artist, from our time together in the Bealart program to them moving in Montreal. I remember the first time they told me that I am their favourite artist. I was flattered but felt slightly it was nonsensical. Thinking, there is a whole world of artists, creating much more complex, thought out, relevant and skillful work than I am, why me? As a beginner artist, at the time still in high school, barely figuring anything about myself out. After some time, I have grown to understand how powerful that sentiment is. To be someone’s favourite artist? Nothing can make me want to continue creating as much as support like that. I now pridefully share with others that my friends are in fact my favourite artists. Their practices hit home like no other. Recently Lynn began creating a project that is an interactive website as an exploration of their experience of space and friendship in the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Monica Joy Peeff. we are separate but connected, cone 6 porcelain & graphite, 2019.

I think it’s powerful to think of intentionality especially with ceramics, you often see it just displayed on a shelf or a plinth. I notice that your work has a unique sense of tactility since you use ceramics and often reference hands in your drawings. I was wondering if you could speak about this aspect of your work? 

I’m really motivated by the tangibility of clay. I think it is so vital to ceramics because it’s a medium where the artist is directly working it with their hands. This is the main factor that always has me drawn to them as a subject matter, in drawing, sculpting, painting, etc. These objects I made with my hands, I spent time touching, interacting with, and manipulating them into entirely new forms. To just put said object on a shelf/plinth as if it’s a final resting place, where only eyes can see it is so heartbreaking. The texture of it is so important, every crack, bump, carving, drip of glaze, or rawness of a surface unglazed is vital to my own experience with it, and I want others to have the opportunity to understand an artwork in that way.

Do you have any projects planned in the near future?

Yes! As a culmination of ongoing research in the psychology of addiction, I will be creating an installation with found cigarette packs. I have been gathering littered packs for almost a year now, with approximately 200 collected so far. I’ve paused collecting due to the risk with COVID-19 of course. I hope to eventually continue when it is safe to do so. The project explores guilt/shame culture, while simultaneously romanticizing/normalizing habits. In 2020 plain packaging for tobacco products became mandatory in Canada (as well as in Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Turkey, Israel, and Singapore) which I found to be a really interesting and impactful shift.

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Monica Joy Peeff. Found Pack of Next Original. Ink and Watercolour on paper. 2020.
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Monica Joy Peeff. ongoing collection of cigarette packs. 2020.

One of my friends (and favourite artists as well), Angie Quick in an interview with McIntosh Gallery, spoke to how, especially with her home studio, her life and her practice blends together. In this, she said, “Everything I do can be my art practice; so if I’m making muffins, I’m making art, and if I’m going for a bike ride, I’m making art, and so in this way, it’s like my whole life became the art-making”.

This ideology of every aspect of my existence contributing to my being as an artist has been very impactful to me. I’ve been spending a lot of time dancing, which is something I would like to incorporate into my practice publicly. Although I am still learning to be comfortable recording myself dancing or doing it in front of others. Recently I skyped someone I met online and they had referred to the act of dance as “an unspoken physical connection with another human being”. Self-isolation has made me crave this more than ever, I’m aware of how vital going out to dance was to my mental and physical health, so naturally my art practice [as well].

I am attempting to shift my practice into a more collaborative, cross-disciplinary and performative direction. I think there’s such an invisible barrier between artists and viewers because often when I talk to someone who isn’t an “artist” I hear, “I can’t even draw a stick figure!” In reality that’s not it, you don’t need to be able to draw a stick figure to be an artist. You can draw poorly, or you don’t even need to draw at all. Art goes beyond every medium.

To see more of Monica’s work, you can follow them at @mjpdraws and on their website.

Mira Makai’s Keramik und Grafik at Susan Boutwell Gallery

 

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Mira Makai. Keramik und Grafik Installation shot. Photo documentation by Ákos Ezer. Courtesy of the artist.

Keramik und Grafik

Susan Boutwell Gallery

Munich, Theresienstrasse 48

Germany

Resembling coral reefs or corporeal body parts, Mira Makai’s abstract ceramics have a sense of organic vitality, pulsing with moulded forms merging together. Makai is a Hungarian artist who intuitively explores the boundaries between life and decay through printmaking, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. She has studied in Germany at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München and has an MA in Printmaking from the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. Additionally, she has been featured in Forbes Hungary’s Top 30 under 30 and has exhibited throughout Europe, most recently at MODEM Modern and Contemporary Arts Centre, Art + Text Budapest Gallery.

Femme Art Review is pleased to feature a digital experience of Mira Makai’s exhibition Keramik und Grafik at Susan Boutwell Gallery since it has been closed off to the public due to COVID-19. Viewing art online may be a different experience than seeing the show in person, however, we hope to spotlight artists to bring their work to viewers. Although these past few weeks have been uncertain, the power of the arts community coming together to offer their support has been tremendous. In these disheartening circumstances, new avenues of collaborating and experiencing art can occur. Below is an artist’s statement and video of Mira Makai’s exhibition Keramik und Grafik.

Mira Makai. Keramik und Grafik at Susan Boutwell Gallery. Video by Max Draper.

Mira Makai / Artist Statement

While making [these] ceramic objects I was reminded of a childhood scene. When I was young and we went to the River Tisza on holiday, my favourite game was to fool around with the wet sand of the riverbank. I liked to watch the watery silt first losing its sheen in my hand, then go dry, and finally display another quality in it’s cracked and whitened form. This is a basic experience to me, which has determined the roots of my attitude toward painting and sculpture. I like to imagine that in the prehistoric age the process was the same during the birth of the first works of art. This is the feel I am looking for in my work in general.

In my university years, after making a lot of graphic prints and studies, I formulated a need for a kind of creation/possession of objects. This was the main motivation behind my moving to Munich to work on ceramics. I wanted to have something that had value in itself, without being furnished with the amount and locked behind a frame. I immediately warmed up to ceramics, where works are enduring but really mouldable in all respects. First I planned to realize five or six designs, and their building was preceded by a long preparation. After being confronted with the characteristics of the material, getting to know its nature, several options opened up for me. I was liberated from my fear of making errors and at once felt the product to be my own.

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Mira Makai. Keramik und Grafik Installation shot. Photo documentation by Ákos Ezer. Courtesy of the artist.

The forms used in my sculptures are based on a simple observation of nature. Therein reappear the treasures of natural museums, loved and visited by me, such as the structure of minerals and rock, the details of prepared displays under glass and the transparent innards of amphibians in formaldehyde. I strive to create a sort of personal Wunderkammer. What I deem important in these works is the duality manifested on the borderline between inviting, vibrant proliferation and revolting yet natural decomposition. It is in this frontier zone that I imagine these works, and pair up formal elements with colours and surfaces accordingly.

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Mira Makai. Keramik und Grafik Installation shot. Photo documentation by Ákos Ezer. Courtesy of the artist.

Additionally, I think that the atmosphere and the mood of the works can awake an inviting and repulsive feeling [for the viewer]. This observation is interesting to me. This is the border between the full of life prurience and the deadly rot. I find my works interesting if I can balance in this border with them.  I build up my works for that ambivalent aesthetic, and I search for those values in other artworks.

To see more of Mira Makai’s work visit her website and for inquiries about her work contact Susan Boutwell Gallery.

Mama Cash Feminist Art Festival

Mama Cash logo
Mama Cash logo.

By Chloe Hyman

International Women’s Day is an increasingly intersectional affair in The Netherlands, where the Mama Cash Feminist Festival kicked off in three Dutch cities on the weekend of March 8th. Programming at art spaces in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht provided platforms for queer people, POC, and sex workers to discuss issues pertinent to their identities, through panel discussions and interactive tours. Live performances were plentiful too, and their participatory nature embodied the spirit of International Women’s Day; emboldened by the atmosphere of self-love, visitors were free to jump up and dance, tell a story, or strut down the runway.

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Mama Cash Feminist Festival Advertisement by Marilyn Sonneveld.

Intersectionality and participation are central to the mission of Mama Cash, the first international womxn’s fund. Founded in 1983 by a group of feminists in Amsterdam, the Mama Cash fund has grown to support thousands of womxn, trans, and intersex people each year. The fund provides financial and networking aid to 150 self-led feminist human rights organizations annually, and the proceeds from the yearly Feminist Festival help finance these grants. Further, some recipients participate in the festival, which is a wonderful platform to raise awareness for their human rights initiatives. This year, the Mama Cash Feminist Festival sold out completely, aiding future grant recipients and ensuring full audiences for every panel and performance.

The Infinite Kiki Function

My weekend began Saturday evening at the Mama Cash Feminist Festival X Infinite Kiki Function, a ballroom competition held at WORM, an experimental art space in Rotterdam. Co-hosted by the Kiki House of Angels and the Kiki House of Major, this competition—known as a ‘kiki’ in the ballroom community—invited individuals of all identities to compete in a variety of creative categories.

Some of these, like Old Way to Vogue Femme Beats, paid homage to 1970s queer Black ballroom culture, which originated in New York City. Performers in this category embodied the ‘Old Way’ of voguing, at regular intervals sliding from one sustained angular pose to the next. They were accompanied by vogue femme beats, a more contemporary musical subgenre characterized by high-energy beats and frequent crashing—the ideal instrumentation for a perfectly-executed dip. In other categories, like Dyke Realness, Trans Activist Realness, and Transfemme Aesthetic Resistance, the MCs Ms. Maybelline Angels and Karmella Angels welcomed intersectional identities to the runway.

These added categories illustrate the inclusive nature of ballroom culture today, but their incorporation is not always seamless. Questions arose when artist Mavi Veloso took to the stage for Trans Activist Realness and shimmied her silk dress up to her navel in a tantalizing body reveal. The judges questioned whether the entrant adequately fulfilled the category’s activist requirement, and Veloso was quick to defend her performance as activist art. The judges faced a dilemma: what are the parameters of trans activism? After a few tense minutes, Ms. Maybelline Angels announced that the discussion would continue after the kiki, and the judges awarded the grand prize to the performer Alex 007, who walked the category carrying a sign reading, “My existence is resistance.”

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Performer Alex 007, Winner of the Trans Activist Realness event, with MC Karmella Angels, Infinite Kiki Function. Photo by Naomi van Heck.

Later, Rae Parnell—House Mother of the House of Major—would elaborate on the judges’ decision. He explained that ‘realness’ has historically referred to an individual’s ability to pass as a cis woman or a cis straight man. Thus, trans people who can’t or don’t want to pass are not able to walk categories that place a premium on a participant’s ‘realness.’ Of course, such categories were not invented to be exclusionary, but to exalt the qualities that might save a person from anti-trans violence. In recent years, the ballroom community has broadened the meaning of ‘realness’ to make space for non-passing trans people. Newer categories like Trans Activist Realness de-center passing and unclockability; the only quality judged for realness in this event is the entrant’s performance of their activism. According to Parnell, this was the aspect the judges found lacking in Veloso’s otherwise stunning performance.

Though this conflict charged the air in the room with feeling, it was not uncomfortable to witness. Moments of discord should be embraced in spaces of activism, as they enable us to better support and elevate marginalized voices. The ballroom community acted in kind, using the conflict to communicate the community need for a category judged a particular way. Furthermore, Trans Activist Realness is a relatively new category, so it’s understandable that the culture must shift to make space for its presence. Parnell calls ballroom “a living organism,” and we are watching it evolve in real-time.

In addition to intersectionality, the Infinite Kiki Function exhibited a commitment to fostering audience participation. Though most performers signed-up prior to the evening for their chosen events, the MCs frequently invited the crowd to join in. When they first announced Dyke Realness, not a single person hit the runway, but after some encouragement, people leaped off their chairs to show the judges what “lesbian energy” really looks like. By my count, the category boasted the largest number of contestants out of any event that evening.

The Fearless Collective

Fearless Collective 3, Photo by ClaireBontje
Ishq Inquilab (my love is the revolution). The Fearless Collective. Photo by Claire Bontje.

The line-up on Sunday across all three participating cities demonstrated a similar commitment to participation and intersectionality. I was most intrigued by the program offerings at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which promised an art-filled International Women’s Day experience. Geographically speaking, the festival began outside the glass walls of the Stedelijk. Early attendees arrived to see members of The Fearless Collective—a public arts organization—busily painting the museum façade. They watched as artist Shilo Shiv Suleman traversed her glass canvas on a moving scaffold, carefully bringing her portrait to life. Visitors were also invited to participate in the work by adding their own protest slogans in the bottom right-hand corner of the mural. Later arrivals, including those who slept in after attending a late-night Kiki, were greeted by a complete rendering of the artist’s subject and her penetrating gaze.

 

Fearless Collective 2, Photo by ClaireBontje
Ishq Inquilab (my love is the revolution). The Fearless Collective. Photo by Claire Bontje.

English-speakers had the opportunity to learn about the mural during the English-language panel, which included Suleman—the founder of The Fearless Collective—and a number of different arts organizations. Following a spirited opening address delivered by the Dutch Human Rights Ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie, Suleman shared the story of the Fearless Collective.

Since 2012, The Fearless Collective has travelled from the artist’s home in Bangalore to underrepresented communities in over ten countries, where it works with locals to transform public spaces through art-making and storytelling. Each public art project draws on community values, practices, and histories to foster collective healing. Murals are painted to reclaim public space, flooding sites of fear and trauma with affirmative messages chosen by the community—proclamations of strength, sacredness, and beauty. Suleman spoke of recent murals, like that erected in the Indigenous village of Olivencia in Brazil, which celebrates the contributions of women to their society. She also recalled the construction of the first known public tribute to queer masculinities in Beirut, which her organization made possible.

Fearless Collective, Photo by Claire Bontje
Ishq Inquilab (my love is the revolution). The Fearless Collective. Photo by Claire Bontje.

The artist also discussed the significance of her mural on the Stedelijk façade, which echoes a mural recently painted by the collective in Delhi, India. Both public artworks call attention to the peaceful protests led by women in the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood of Delhi, in response to the 2019 passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act targeting Muslim Indians and other minorities. That both are public multiplies their strength; the thousands of tourists who flood Museumplein each day—to see the Rijksmuseum, The Van Gogh Museum, and the Stedelijk—will encounter Ish Inquilab (my love is the revolution). These international visitors will learn the story of the Shaheen Bagh protestors, and will no doubt be affected by its message of resilience and beauty. Perhaps they will find strength in this message and gain the courage to stand up for themselves and others in their own communities.

Las Reinas Chulas

Suleman was joined onstage by a number of other speakers involved with Mama Cash. I was particularly excited to hear from Ana Laura Ramírez Ramos, a project coordinator for Las Reinas Chulas, a human rights group that works with women, youth, LGBTQ+ communities, and indigenous people to workshop cabaret performances, and educate through the medium of cabaret.

Ramos explained how cabaret, a heterogeneous mix of song, comedy, and storytelling, lends itself well to personal expression and community building. She also emphasized the comedic aspect of the medium, which promotes self-reflection, enabling performers and audiences alike to think critically about their identities. Throughout the creative process, participants often find themselves wondering, “How did I swallow so much rubbish?”

Ramos explained how cabaret, a heterogeneous mix of song, comedy, and storytelling, lends itself well to personal expression and community building.

Armed with their frustrations and an acerbic sense of humor, the participants of a Las Reinas Chulas cabaret workshop create characters rarely seen in Mexican telenovelas—autonomous women who enact positive change in their societies. In recent years, many of the participants have been lesbian and bisexual women, and their onstage personas reflect the experiences of queer women in Mexico. By virtue of their visibility, these personas are a threat to patriarchal systems, but Las Reinas Chulas are not content to merely disrupt the status quo; every story seeks to engage male audiences in a societal restructuring. Ramos and her collaborators look to the men in their lives for inspiration—men who feel comfortable living in a male-dominated society. They have found humor to be a successful rhetorical tool in various communities for infiltrating cultural barriers and communicating feminist messages to men in the audience.

Las Reinas Chulas also offers a number of educational cabarets for school and university groups, including the diverse series ‘The New Monographs.’ In these thought-provoking musical skits, professional performers provide information on safe sex practices, dating violence, abortion rights, and a number of other issues. Another intriguing program is ‘The Observatory Publivíboras,’ an awards show parody, in which ad campaigns are recognized for their outstanding contributions to sexism, racism, and classicism.

 

The Sex Worker’s Opera

Another notable presence on the English-language panel was the Sex Workers Opera, a theatre company that promotes narratives written by sex workers, represented onstage by Movement Director Siobhan Knox, and Music Director Alex Etchart. The company’s titular work is a devised theatre piece assembled from one hundred stories submitted by sex workers from 18 countries, incorporating song, dance, poetry, and visual projections. A film adaptation is also in the works, and the performers regularly conduct workshops for sex workers and allies.

Speaking at the Stedelijk, Knox and Etchart discussed the inclusion of sex workers at International Women’s Day celebrations, emphasizing the intersectional relationship between sex workers’ rights and feminism. They explained that most sex worker advocacy groups push for decriminalization rather than legalization because the latter requires sex workers to obtain legal paperwork and pay expensive licensing fees—hurdles for migrant workers and other marginalized groups.

When asked, “Is the feminist future near?” Knox responded thoughtfully. She acknowledged the global trend toward oppressive policies, which are endangering marginalized communities around the world. But she also spoke admiringly of young activists, who she trusts will bring us closer to a feminist future. “We [are] constantly inspired by the next generation,” Knox said. “By young people who are more aware and active than ever before through social media and necessity.” Echoing Ramos’s comments about humor, she added that art and laughter have the power to “disarm hatred or ignorance.”

Feminist Tour of the Stedelijk with Sekai Makoni

Sekai Makoni, Photo by ClaireBontje
Sekai Makoni giving a tour at the Stedelijk Museum. Photo by Claire Bontje.

The next English-language event of the day was a guided tour of the Stedelijk Museum led by English artist, speaker, and activist Sekai Makoni. Makoni’s artistic and academic work is characterized by an intersectional interest in Black Feminism, spirituality, and activism. She is a graduate of the Critical Studies program at the Sandberg Institut in Amsterdam and currently produces a podcast, Between Ourselves, in which she explores the experiences of Black women in Europe. In keeping with the artist’s integrated approach to contemporary art, this tour explored four different works through the shared themes of play, activism, Blackness, and togetherness.

We began at Barbara’s Kruger’s 2017 installation Untitled (Past, Present, Future), an immersive text-based work situated in a transitionary space between the museum lobby and exhibition halls. Visitors moving through this space are bombarded with English and Dutch sentences, printed in all capitals and plastered on the gallery walls and floors. A George Orwell quote takes center stage, informing us: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face, forever.” Other statements come from Kruger herself, like the simple request, “PLEASE LAUGH,” or the Dutch sentence fragment, “GEZOND VERSTAND” which translates to ‘common sense.’

Barbara Kruger, photo by Gert Jan van Rooij
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Past, Present, Future), digital print on vinyl, acquired in 2012, the installation of the work in 2017 is made possible by ProWinko ProArt. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij.

Makoni guided our group through a basic visual analysis, beginning with observations about the work’s use of color, space, and light. Next, she asked us to consider Kruger’s intentions—what the artist hoped to communicate to viewers—and how the work’s formal aspects enabled that message to be delivered. Only after this collaborative process did Makoni supplement our ideas with a brief overview of Kruger’s feminist oeuvre, and the qualities that characterize 20th-century American activist art. By waiting to contextualize the work, Makoni created space for free-thinking and participation. That viewers interpreted Untitled correctly without a didactic lecture is a testament to the work’s clarity, as well as Makoni’s skill as an educator.

Esiri Erheriene-Essi, photo by Daniel Nicolas
A Lineage of Grace (for Toni and Cindy), Esiri Erheriene-Essi (2019). Photo by Daniel Nicolas courtesy of the artist.

In contrast, Esiri Erheriene-Essi’s A Lineage of Grace (for Toni and Cindy) (2019) contained a number of visual references unknown to our (mostly European) group. Makoni adapted nimbly, identifying the American Civil Rights slogans pinned to the figures’ clothes, and the patchwork of figures from Black pop culture hanging behind their heads. She discussed the significance of political activist Angela Davis, whose likeness on a button is pinned to the baby’s onesie, and wondered aloud if the eponymous Toni might be a reference to Toni Morrison—the famous Black American author who died last year.

Inspired by Makoni’s lecture, an observant Hungarian woman in our group wondered whether the family might represent the progression of activism from generation to generation. Another attendee inquired about the significance of Black American activist symbols in a British context, given that Erheriene-Essi is Black British. In response, Makoni described the experience of a global Blackness—a recognition of shared histories that enables Black figures from different countries to feel significant to communities around the world.

Of the four works discussed on this tour, only Kruger’s came from the permanent collection, while the remaining three hang in the museum’s temporary exhibitions. A Lineage of Grace (for Toni and Cindy) is shown in an exhibition dedicated to last year’s Prix de Rome, for which Erheriene-Essi was a nominee. At the beginning of the tour, Makoni acknowledged the lack of female artists represented in the permanent collection—a common feature among modern art museums that Stedelijk director Rein Wolfs seeks to change. “We still have far fewer women than men in our collection,” Wolfs said on International Women’s Day. “It’s important to send a clear message in a strong and also an activist way. And for us, Mama Cash is a really good partner for that.”

Events like the Mama Cash Feminist Festival certainly raise awareness about feminist issues as they pertain to art, but the permanent collection can only be diversified bureaucratically through new acquisitions. I hope that Wolfs intends to expand the museum collection accordingly, but for now, I am impressed by the inclusivity of the temporary exhibit program, which enabled Makoni to create an enthralling tour.

I am in awe of all the artists and organizations that participated in the Mama Cash Feminist Festival. Their work demonstrates how art can be used as a tool for both empowerment and education—to uplift underrepresented communities through art-making, and then share their stories with the world. It was also remarkable to see so many groups with seemingly disparate causes converge on one sunny weekend. Organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ and sex worker rights shared the stage with those advocating for communities of color, illustrating the increasingly intersectional goals of Dutch feminism and International Women’s Day in The Netherlands.