Feminists’ Opinions | The Site Magazine

The issue Feminisms, published in May 2017, brings together a collection of essays that address the relationship between the visual arts and feminisms from a variety of critical perspectives. In order to expand the scope and range of the questions under debate, the editorial committee invited various individuals from the arts milieu to offer a succinct response to the following question: In your opinion, what is the single most urgent feminist issue that the arts community is facing today? The following contributions are by authors of The Site Magazine’s latest volume, Feminisms.

Ruth Jones, The Site Magazine editor:
How do we do our work? When we sent out a call for our Feminisms issue, we were surprised how many people responded with some form of this question. How do you plan your career when a classroom full of women faces a jury full of men, or when gendered ideas of labour in the home reinforce divisions of race and class that make the professional success of one group of women in some way conditional? How do practitioners and audiences involved in creative work keep hold of places that are part of the queer histories of cities? How do you address histories in which the work of women has often been less visible or elided? What scale do we work on to change the systems that create opportunities for exclusion and exploitation? Again and again, different authors posed this question in different ways, insisting on its importance as a way of making individuals, organizations, and institutions accountable.

About
The Site Magazine is an award-winning magazine addressing the social/political/cultural relations of design in our built environment. It is run by an editorial board of architects, designers, curators, and writers based across Canada and internationally. Ruth Jones is one of three co-editors in chief, along with Miriam Ho and Aisling O’Carroll.

Stephanie Lee, graduate student at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning
The most pressing issue confronting feminism and the arts is the deeply entrenched power imbalance within the field, which is inevitably tied to gender. This imbalance is pervasive, and it is reflected not only in museum leadership—where only thirty percent of the largest museums are run by women—but also in major permanent collections, where only three–five percent of total artworks are created by women. The imbalance’s effect goes beyond demographics and representation. It divides allies, blames victims, nurtures prejudice, and encourages people to turn a blind eye to inappropriate or malicious behaviour. In its mildest form, it frames our perception of work, of institutions, and of each other. In its most insidious, it rationalizes and excuses abuse and exploitation.

Maike Hemmers, artist, MFA in Art Praxis at the Dutch Art Institute
In my opinion, the “single” most urgent issue the art community is facing today is the tendency of feminism (or any opposition) to become a singularity. What do we miss when we form a closed off unit that wants to change a whole outside of itself? As a feminist in my personal, small, and leftist art community it seems most important to reach outside of my own space and into the differences. Which are the spaces that can change the whole? Do they occur inside feminist headquarters or out on the streets and in houses not our own? And how to align with one identity when we are all complex and changing beings? Is there a way to escape limiting terms and constructs while still wanting to change something so tangible as the results of patriarchal, racist and capitalist structures? Asking plenty of questions and answering them variously might be a start to escaping the singularity of a pressing concern.

Sunita Nigam, PhD candidate at McGill University in Performance Studies
I think one pressing feminist issue in the arts today is the urgency of affecting urban policy to ensure the preservation of affordable, yet not necessarily institutional, spaces for diverse women’s community arts practices. As cities around the world are adopting development models that instrumentalize high-profile arts and culture to boost urban economies, they are displacing vulnerable urban populations and damaging local ecosystems of underground and community arts. Historic haunts and cheap real estate for artistic production are being disappeared by high-end condos and homogenized spaces of spectacular cultural consumption. In an institutional context that privileges the work of white and male artists, and higher-income consumers, community arts practices and non-institutional underground scenes are especially important for women, low-income, and racialized artists and audiences. How can we pressure our cities to preserve and multiply the spaces in which these scenes might thrive?

Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, interdisciplinary artist, curator, and intern architect
When I think about that the pressing issues and questions of feminism and the arts today I look to my seventeen-year-old nephew who navigates the world as Dakota at home and as Vivienne at school. They live in the in-between, refusing to call themselves solely one gender as they navigate the challenges and opportunities they work within when asking every new person they meet to call them Vivienne without taking great lengths to change their perceived masculine appearance. I am inspired by how Vivienne navigates this entropic environment as they approach adulthood. In this lens I see feminism and the arts acting in a similar way. I often perceive that I am expected to perform a certain way as a mother, artist, architect, and curator but know that uninformed perceptions are opportunities. In those moments I reflect on the relations with my family, close friends, and colleagues, which are filled with empathy, strength, and resiliency.

Éloïse Choquette, architect, writer, and community organizer
As an artist and architect, I know first-hand how these communities are still dominated by white, cisgendered men—the latter especially. It happens for a reason: history courses still glorify patriarchy, institutional racism, and colonialism in insidious ways. Courses focusing on these issues (when they exist) are rarely mandatory. But how can Black people feel welcome when programs centre the achievements of the oppressors that orchestrated their ancestors’ enslavement and massacre? How can Indigenous students feel safe in courses trivializing building on unceded territories, without acknowledging the genocide of their cultures and peoples? How can trans students feel accepted when art worships cisgendered bodies? We can’t build inclusive communities by forgetting centuries of oppression; we must acknowledge that the status quo contributes to an oppressive system. As a friend of mine put it, “When we are speaking, we must remember whose voices we are silencing in the process.” Representation matters.

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