Image: Andrew Alexander. Provided by The Ghomeshi Effect.
Sexual Assault Survivors, Lawyers, and Activists Speak Out Through The Ghomeshi Effect
WHEN: Friday, February 27 @ 7:30 pm & Saturday, February 28 @ 2:30 pm / 7:30 pm WHERE: The Gladstone Theatre, 910 Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa TICKETS: $17.47/$28.09/$31.63 Purchase Here
So many of us felt impacted when the news broke about CBC Q host Jian Ghomeshi. It brought up a lot of mixed emotions for me. When I heard and read the descriptions of his behaviour, they were all too familiar. As the trial started then proceeded many of us felt raw as we witnessed how the proceedings went down. Social media became the public commons where we could work out what was happening and perhaps contribute to some kind of change in policy. The conversation continues with productions like The Ghomeshi Effect.
Words from the Team:
The Ghomeshi Effect’s script uses transcriptions of interviews Jessica Ruano (Director) conducted with local Ottawa residents about their lived experiences in dealing with sexual violence and the justice system. The interviews range from confessional first-person accounts to expert analyses of how the law is constructed to handle these cases.
“Through this process we found that many people have become disillusioned by the court system and do not always see it as the best means for seeking justice,” says Ruano. “In this play we explore why this is and discuss potential alternatives.”
Bringing these stories to life is a broad group of multidisciplinary and bilingual performers: Leah Archambault, Marc-André Charette, Gabrielle Lalonde, Annie Lefebvre, Emmanuel Simon, and Mekdes Teshome. Setting the scene are lighting designer Benoît Brunet-Poirier, sound designer Martin Dawagne, and Métis mixed-media artist Mique Michelle, who will be creating a graffiti-inspired floor design for the stage.
“Ever since we began this project we have known that this conversation was bigger than us,” says Griffin. “Whenever we talk to people about the play, there’s always someone who has a story to share or an opinion to contribute. This performance is about our community and we made a point of including a diverse group of individuals and stories in the script, and opening up the conversation to our audiences.”
Important supplemental programming
Along with the play, there has been auxiliary programming to provide more opportunities for reflection and dialogue. The opening night included a keynote address by Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons, the young girl who took her life in 2013 after she was sexually assaulted and then bullied online. Glen has become an activist against rape culture and how it most often re-victimizes survivors as they move through the ‘justice’ system. He speaks about “youth, consent and the way mixed messages about definitions of rape affected Rehtaeh’s case.”
“Beginning these conversations with our kids when they are teenagers is essential,” says Canning, “because in so many cases we are willing to believe anything about women in order to excuse anything about a man.”
Last Saturday, a fundraiser was held with local pop-band The PepTides.
“It has always been part of our mandate as a band and members of the community to promote equality and human rights. The stories in the script hit close to home and there was no doubt that we wanted to be part of this important conversation,” says band member Scottie Irving.
This is the final weekend for The Ghomeshi Effect at The Gladstone Theatre but there will be one final performance at The Shenkman Centre on Thursday, February 2.
Tickets for this weekend can be purchased here. More info on The Shenkman Centre performance here.
More important and inspiring programming by the NAC
This winter, as part of the National Arts Centre’s programming for Art and Reconciliation, I Lost My Talk premiered. This incredible and poignant performance included the beautiful choreography of Kaha:wi Dance Theatre‘s Santee Smith and stunning visual design by Montreal’s Normal. Tomorrow evening I Lost My Talk will be part of three other orchestral works premiering as part of Life Reflected. The National Art Centre Orchestra’s Director Alexander Shelley “brought together four remarkable Canadian composers to collaborate with Donna Feore to create an immersive symphonic experience celebrating youth, promise and courage, revealed in the compelling and diverse portraits of four women.”
Tomorrow’s performance will include:
ALICE MUNRO – Dear Life with music composed by Zosha Di Castri “Dear Life” by Alice Munro, is a reflection on memory, childhood and the formative stages of life. The NAC Orchestra’s Dear Life was composed by Zosha Di Castri.”
AMANDA TODD – My Name is Amanda Todd with music composed by Jocelyn Morlock My Name is Amanda Todd tells the story of a vibrant 15-year-old who, after suffering for years from cyber abuse, spoke out against harassment and bullying on YouTube. Music composed for the NAC Orchestra by Jocelyn Morlock.
ROBERTA BONDAR – Bondarsphere with music composed by Nicole Lizée Dr. Roberta Bondar’s remarkable expertise as an astronaut, physician, scientific researcher, and photographer have been interpreted in Bondarsphere by Nicole Lizée for the NAC Orchestra through soundtrack and video.
RITA JOE – I Lost My Talk with music composed by John Estacio “I Lost My Talk” – by Mi’kmaw elder and poet Rita Joe, C.M. expresses her experience at Residential School. The NAC Orchestra’s I Lost My Talk was composed by John Estacio.
On my way to an Asinabka event on Saturday I saw the woman in this picture. Since I write a lot on the effects of colonization, past and present, I asked if I could take her photograph for an article I will be writing on Palestine. She was on her way to an event in solidarity with Palestinians on Parliament Hill. She felt it was important to show support. She agreed to let me take her picture but asked that she not be identified by name. So I will call her خديجة Khadija, the name of the wife of The Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be Upon Him).
Many people don’t realize the powerful story of how Islam began. The prophet was married to a successful business woman in Mecca. It is said that Khadija was 20 years his senior. When her young husband began to have visions that he didn’t understand and that were unsettling to him she told him to talk to the Jewish and Christian spiritual leaders she knew in order to find answers and solace.
Through the support of a strong female and the spiritual counsel of people who came from different faiths another religion was born.
The woman I met on Sunday shared with me as much as she could of her story before our buses arrived. Her ethnicity is different from the country she was born in because her family left due to a civil war. She has now left that country because of civil unrest there and has applied for refugee status in Canada. This is why she didn’t want to be identified.
She said that when she decided to wear the hijab it stopped short her career back home as a teacher. Although not living in France she was teaching at a French school. They would no longer let her teach if she was going to cover her head. The day she put her daughter into school in Canada she arrived to find the teacher was wearing the hijab. “This is when I knew this country was my country.” And then she broke down.
There were no words she could say at that moment to express the power of what she was feeling. The feeling of elation that comes with knowing you are safe but also knowing you have left a country and others behind, but a country that wasn’t your family’s motherland and your parents, siblings and friends are forever scattered. There is deep sadness that comes with this kind of dislocation and it can run through the generations. She was also anxious because her hearing for her refugee status was coming up.
As she lost her words and the tears started falling down her face I grabbed her and hugged her hard. Two women, don’t know each other from Adam. We stood there hugging on the crazy busy bus platform of Mackenzie King Bridge. We didn’t talk. We stayed silent and then as I got on the bus I hugged her tight one more time and said I would think of her on the first day of Eid, the day of her hearing.
That is how we build peace.
She could have been Jewish or Atheist. She was a professional but she could have been a prostitute. It wouldn’t have mattered. For me she was another woman who is being strong despite also being afraid and she was in need of some Sister Support!
Hugging is how we stay human.
Being present to hear a stranger’s story is how we begin to shift the energy of oppression.
Creative Time presents “A Subtlety” in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I make a scattered dash to get to the Kara Walker exhibit in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hot day, with an intense late-spring / almost-summer sun blasting me and the pavement I am pounding. I get lost then located. I turn the corner to see the longest lineup I have seen for art in sometime.
Kara Walker. A big sign makes it clear this is an event!
“At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected:
or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”
Once inside the Domino Sugar compound there is a long march into the factory where another blast of heat hits you. This time it’s combined with a sweet smell.
The immediate feeling is of being overwhelmed. The scene is fantastic! Honey coloured light dappling a cement floor textured by the wear and tear of once busy workers. More texture on the rusted out walls that offer a palette of cobalt blues and deep muscovado browns. Beyond the crowds, at the far end of the factory, this gorgeous, towering, powder-white statue rises up – intense with her omnipresent stare.
But then your eyes adjust to the dim warehouse light and your nose notices that the once inviting smell has turned into a toxic sweetness. The scent becomes more rank as you move closer to the sugar sphinx. It mixes with dust and hot human sweat. It doesn’t smell good and the scene that at first seemed stunning loses its charm as you notice you are surrounded by statues of small children, barefooted and barely clothed, standing so they reach slightly above the level of your heart. They each hold a gathering basket. Although they are fixed in their location they seem to multiply and move because as groups of sightseers wander off another child emerges through the dusty light.
It is these children that become the most haunting part of this installation. Constructed from resin and covered in molasses, their bodies leak onto the concrete floor leaving a puddle of black gummy moisture that traps your feet. The dark slick reflects back the faces of the meandering masses that approach the bodies like they are curios.
They are fascinating. Their technical production makes them close to life-like despite the fact that their heads loom too large on their spindly frames. Some even seem to smile but you can’t be sure if it is the case because their face may have shifted as the molasses melts.
The crowd bends to see them face to face, the crowd comes close to touching, but only the little ones, without socialized inhibition, reach out. As they do their parents snap photos, telling them to hold still and smile.
What becomes even more curious then the sugar statues is how the crowd reacts. Met with the visual reminder of the slave trade people pose with the sugar babies flashing a tourist’s grin.
When confronted with the sweetness of life gone sour what should be our appropriate response?
I wonder why they smile in a scene that, if you pause for a moment to think of the reasons Kara Walker’s sugar mammy and molasses children have been constructed in this space, is distressing. At the edge of the East River, for over 150 years, the Domino Sugar building was used as a processing plant for the imported cane that came to America from the colonies. Blood sugar – a term used to demonstrate how the sugar trade was bound to the slave trade yet the crowds want to be memorialized with the look of pleasure on their face.
It’s not that the crowds seem unsympathetic to the histories Kara references. Racially mixed (albeit predominately white), I am sure the majority are aware of what they are witnessing.
So how do we commemorate our experiences with art that is meant to be challenging? As we ram head on into the digital (sur)realities of the 21st Century have we stopped to think about our decorum when we bear witness to problematic subject matter? Have we been educated on how to be critical; have we considered how to be respectful?
Historically cameras were restricted in art spaces but now, often, they are allowed. With a population that is snap happy and needing to share they were there what does this mean for the way we now interact with art?
Are we in the actual moment or does the camera mitigate us from needing to be fully present in those times when we are confronted with difficult realities, realities that may even challenge our lifestyle choices?
We are primed from a small age how to interact with a camera. Like the parents instructing their curious kids, we are told to ‘smile’. Should there be times when we ask ourselves, is our documentation appropriate? Could there be a better way for us to use this ubiquitous technology we have access to?
Upon entering the exhibit a sign reads “Please do not touch the artwork but do share pictures on social media” and the hashtag #KaraWalkerDomino supplied.
As I write, the trending content for this tag is Jay-Z, Beyoncé and their baby daughter Blue. They have been spotted on a Father’s Day outing to the Brooklyn location.
Besides Beyoncé (and the occasional off-colour comment alluding to the Sphinx’s sexualized nudity), the tweets are mostly of people expressing how impressed they are by the artist’s work but the opportunity for a more expansive discussion, even if only in 140 characters is missed.
People seem willing to participate in the spectacle but are they willing to participate in active change?
This sweet stuff is serious stuff.
Kara Walker’s work is not just a memorial to a past travesty. Everyone’s sweet tooth is still sucking bodies into modern slavery and bonded labour. The syrup that drips from the statues of the children is like a living organism that marks the space in real time. The legacy of the sugar trade is in our present moment. When the Domino Sugar Factory is finally demolished, clearing way for condos, what will have changed?
Social media exposes where we are at culturally. The evidence left behind by hashtags demonstrates that there is much work to be done around how best to digest what we should find distasteful.
Inside our pockets are powerful tools. Technology has given us the means to not only discuss our reactions beyond our immediate circle but also archive them for a future population of new users. We each have the capacity to participate in building extensive and transformational legacies around the art that impacts us.
When the molasses evaporates and powdery dust swept away what remains?
Hopefully an expansive documentation of how people were deeply moved by the work and a record of thoughtful interactions in 140 characters or less.
“Over the past four decades, Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—and now even in outer space. Our work is guided by three core values: art matters, artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression.” Read more on Creative Time…
The exhibition continues through until July 6, 2014.
“Midway through Candide, Voltaire’s famously naive protagonist enters Dutch-controlled 18th-century Suriname, where he encounters “a negro stretched upon the ground, with only one moiety of his clothes, that is, of his blue linen drawers; the poor man had lost his left leg and his right hand.”
“Good God!” exclaims Candide, who proceeds to ask the man why he’s in such terrible shape.
“When we work at the sugar-canes,” the man answers, “and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me. This is the price at which you eat sugar in Europe.”
“White sugar has always been for rich people. White sugar has always been guest sugar, company sugar, sugar for public display. Parlor sugar…
…It takes bones to get sugar white. Thousands of pounds of cow bones burned to bone char are used to bleach sugar in processing plants. My Hindu parents, for whom beef was the ultimate taboo, did not know this when they proudly displayed white sugar lumps in their silver sugar bowl…
…Some of us take our sweet dirty. Extracted. Not poured.”
“The overwhelming whiteness of viewers isn’t unique to Walker’s exhibit. There are more than 17,500 museums in the United States that are visited by 850 million people annually, the vast majority of whom are white. Art, particularly when it’s commissioned and it’s covered in important publications like the New York Times, is often seen as the exclusive domain of white folks. Museums, dating back to their modern origins in the 18th century, were usually built by wealthy white patrons and enjoyed by middle and upper class European families. In the American context, they served a specific purpose for opening up and exploring a new continent, according to Ford Bell, head of the American Alliance of Museums who was quoted by NPR in 2008. People of color — their customs, their cultures and, in the infamous case of Sara Baartman, their bodies — were usually the object of those white gazes. But in recent years, as the country’s demographics have shifted in favor of a so-called majority-minority, the art world has made great strides in featuring the work of artists of color. It’s hard to imagine any work by an artist like Walker or Carrie Mae Weems, at the Guggenheim 50 years ago.”
“…Meant to serve as a commentary on the sugar cane trade, and a cultural critique of slavery and perceptions of black women throughout history, the work is part Sphinx, part racist Mammy stereotype, and is coated in sugar. It features exaggerated features including breasts, a bottom, and a vagina. As Walker told artnet News, “Nudity is a thing, apparently, that people have a problem with; not slavery, or racism, but female bodies, or bottoms.”
And sadly, she is correct. While few appear to have responded to the work with charges of indecency, some visitors have been unable to stop themselves from mocking and sexualizing the work, uploading photos pretending to cup its breasts or tongue its buttocks. This gross behavior has, understandably, struck a nerve with feminists and racial equality activists alike. Yesha Callahan of The Root writes, “History has shown us time and time again how a black woman’s body was (and sometimes still is) objectified. From the days of the slave trade to even having black butts on display in music videos, the black woman’s body seems to easily garner laughs and mockery, even if it’s made out of sugar.”
Multiculturalism – one side of many multiple stories.
In a single day, as I cover events, I may spend time in one space that is about design thinking then another that is about curation. I may go from an event on government policy to one on social innovation. Sometimes these spaces may be more straight than queer or more queer than straight. They are religious, agnostic, humanist, and sometimes self-helpish.
They might be Arab or Anishinaabeg spaces and the rituals, protocols and ceremonies change.
It’s a rich way to exist. It’s also complicated.
Because no matter if it is about profession, spirituality or cultural / sexual identity wherever I go everyone is trying to figure out who the hell they are and what the heck does it all mean when you put it into the context of communities that mingle and merge but often overlook the deeper complexities of diversity – most importantly the distinction between Immigrant and Indigenous narratives in Canada.
The narrative of ‘Multiculturalism’ makes invisible the story of the First Peoples. I would argue that was part of the plan. By placing ‘Canada the Good’ on the marquee with a storyline ‘Celebration of a Cultural Mosaic’ the light required to illuminate the systematic oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada instead casts a long shadow.
Initiatives like The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada have now turned the spotlight onto that darkness but as the hearings come to a close, with so much being said, how do we move forward and ensure all the voices speaking are getting heard?
We listen – actively, deeply and with a commitment to sit with the uncomfortableness that comes when you bear witness to someone else’s pain.
The legacy of colonization is a culture built on the instability of over-consumption and hyper-consumerism that thrives on distraction. If that isn’t addressed, living in a world with a multiplicity of voices is going to be problematic because the process of engaged listening is at odds with a society that functions by keeping people in a detached state of insecurity and need.
The government may change but most likely it won’t. In the meantime we can recognize that people aren’t pie charts. We can colour code demographics and cover souls with blanket statements but then we will lose the emotional prosperity that comes when human beings learn how sit and be still with each other despite the surrounding noise.
The images in this post are from this past weekend’s events in Ottawa – The Book Launch of Min Fami at Octopus Books and Niigaan in Conversation at Carleton University. The quotes on the images of each woman demonstrate how many thoughtful people I encounter on any given day. It’s what makes me believe that a new space can be created regardless of systems in place that often seem beyond our control. To all the women I had the opportunity to listen to this weekend – Chi Miigwetch / شكرا.
MIN FAMI: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space and Resistance
“Min Fami: Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance is an anthology that cradles the thoughts of Arab feminists, articulated through personal critical narratives, academic essays, poetry, short stories, and visual art. It is a meeting space where discussions on home(land), exile, feminism, borders, gender and sexual identity, solidarity, language, creative resistance, and (de)colonization are shared, confronted, and subverted. In a world that has increasingly found monolithic and one-dimensional ways of representing Arab womyn, this anthology comes as an alternate space in which we connect on the basis of our shared identities, despite physical, theoretical, and metaphorical distances, to celebrate our multiple voices, honour our ancestry, and build community on our own terms, and in our own voices.”
IIGAAN’s Oshkadis Chineekaneech: The Youth Will Lead
Niigaan is an Anishinaabemowin word for leading into the future. Oshkadis Chineekaneech Is the Anishinaabemowin phrase that translates The Youth Will Lead.
“Niigaan: In conversation is an opportunity for settler Canadians to hear and respond to what Indigenous Peoples have been saying: Canada has not committed itself to addressing the colonial relationship it still has with indigenous peoples. Canada is in denial about that relationship. It is fair to say that most Canadians believe that kind of relationship no longer exists. We are trying to tell you that that is wrong.
The results of our work will be another step towards the continual positive development of the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and non-native Canadians. The main end result will be to provide an engaging and focused space to encourage discussion, learn our collective history and to move forward to the future.”
“Because gender based violence is not just a woman’s issue.”
Around the world we are seeing men step it up with initiatives that bring awareness to violence against women. Recently, in Bangalore, India, men took to wearing skirts to open up dialogue around sexual assault.
“Why does wearing a skirt make a difference? It’s a satirical take on the issue to draw attention to the absurd idea that what a woman wears invites sexual assault. Wear that skirt as a symbol of your support to a woman’s right to wear what she wants, be who she is, exercise her rights, and be safe in her city. Nothing shows more solidarity with women than breaking barriers and boundaries of “his” and hers”. More info…
In Toronto we have the White Ribbon Campaign and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes where Toronto men get out to walk a block in heels.
This year’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes takes place on Thursday, September 26 from 12 – 2 pm starting at Dundas Square on Yonge Street. Thanks to all the fabulous men of Toronto who participated last year. WE LOVE YOU!!!! And thanks to all the fabulous men of Toronto participating this year as your efforts help create change and safe spaces for all people no matter their sexual orientation and gender identification.
There is an old saying…
“You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” That’s why we’re asking you to put on a pair of high heels and join the White Ribbon Campaign to Walk A Mile in Her Shoes®. On Thursday September 26th, 2013 we’re all going to help end violence against women and girls, one man-sized step at a time.”
It was a late night tweet from one of Toronto’s finest MP Kristyn Wong Tam that put MIXED BAG MAG onto this exuberant project – WAACK REVOLT A Dance Film.
Watching the video I was sold on the fact that this team has tons of talent.
Waack Revolt’s Diana Reyes aka Fly Lady Di (above) and Emily Law aka Em Fatale (left).
Already familiar with dancer Diana Reyes aka Fly Lady Di (MIXED BAG MAG almost had her as part of the MASHUP STYLE shoot – next time Diana 😉 ) and Emily Law aka Em Fatale from the incredible Toronto dance troupe Kaha:wi (check out MIXED BAG MAG’s post on Kaha:wi’s The Honouring) it seemed an easy decision to get on board to help spread the word!
MIXED BAG MAG’s interview with WAACK’s Director / Writer Sonia Hong was in a word ‘soulful’. At a time where there is ubiquitous imagery representing a too-cool-for-school vibe we often mask our deeper human qualities like vulnerability and the yearning we all have for connectedness behind that chill exterior. I appreciated that Sonia was an open book and ready to share her history as to how she became a film artist who focuses on LGBTQ issues.
Bullied for not fitting in, somewhere along the way and at a young age, Sonia reached in to that spiritual place that we all have inside to find her source. From hiding her light to shining bright, Sonia had done such a remarkable turnaround with her confidence that a teacher who noticed shared this with her then asked her to be the valedictorian at her Grade 8 Graduation.
She built on that confidence and started to attend theatre summer schools where she said improv helped her try on new characters, play around with identity, and continue to grow more comfortable in her skin.
She also spent time working at Legal Aid alongside her mother. “If I hadn’t of gone to film school I would have gone to school for social work.” A keen sense of social justice, she takes her role as an artist seriously developing projects that can help kids struggling with their identity and place in the world.
Writer / Director Sonia Hong (right) with Producer Allia McLeod(left).
“Community building and creating an inclusive community is what I have always been really passionate about. I want to help young people feel empowered and to know from an early age that it’s ok to be yourself.”
Somewhere in the interview we got to speaking about girl culture – for me coming of age with Madonna and Sonia coming of age with the Spice Girls. Whether we agree with it or not, pop culture is what meets kids where they are at. As a female, Madonna taught me that my sexuality was for me alone to own and to be aware of it and my decisions around it but not without having fun – Express Yourself!; for Sonia the Spice Girls belted out the message that she understood to mean be yourself in the most bombastic way you dare – Zig A Zig Ah!
Our musical tastes have matured (I think?!) but for both of us the concern is that in today’s hyper-sexualized Britney-Miley-Nicki world sexuality now is only about an act of ‘performance’ for another’s gaze (mostly young girls for the validation of males) and something is getting lost in the delivery along with the chance for youth to develop a strong sense of self.
WAACK REVOLT takes all that on and promises to be sexy short with a definite message regarding understanding, owning and standing up for your sexuality. Commissioned by the Reel Asian International Film Festival as a collaboration between dancers and filmmakers, WAACK REVOLT will be premiering at this year’s festival.
“This cheeky love story, WAACK REVOLT. A DANCE FILM, sets the stage for a playful journey that opens during an audition in 1940s Hollywood. It is here that our two lovers first meet and begin their love affair with one another – which centers around their shared passion for “Waacking”. Outraged by their “Waacking” dance style, a visual metaphor for their unconventional love and identity, the public exclaim that they aren’t permitted to “Waack” in public, and must keep it behind closed doors.
In response, the couple escapes to different iconic time periods, sliding and interchanging between genders, ultimately blurring the lines entirely as they “Waack” their way to a full, vivid expression of themselves and their love.”
Using dance to challenge traditional gender roles and stereotypes.
The artistic medium of dance has given Sonia the perfect vehicle to investigate gender as it refers to sexuality.
Sonia goes deep into the exploration of how gestures sub-consciously communicate the assertion of power or an act of oppression and she explains that when they are thinking about the choreography they don’t want the dancer playing the male role to come across as a predator or the dancer embodying the female character as not without movements that communicate empowerment.
“I am really exiting about gender-bending with the actual choreography as music and dance are very gendered.”
Waack itself is a form of dance that evolved during the disco era and much like Voguing was embraced and developed by communities on the fringe of the mainstream as a way to own power around race, class and sexual orientation.
“To me, as a 12 yr old girl, the Spice Girls’ “Zig A Zig Ah” could mean anything you wanted it to much like this style of dance. You should be able to be yourself anywhere and you should be able to WAACK wherever you want.”
Emily Law aka Em Fatale
Professional dancer and founding member of the Toronto house dance crew Warehouse Jacks. Emily has been nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore award and a Gemini for her work with Kaha:wi Dance Theatre.
Diana Reyes aka Fly Lady Di
Multi-disciplinary artist, who has appeared on several progams including MuchMusic’s “RapCity”, and CBC Music’s “How to Dance to Classical Music”. Diana is a member of b current’s prestigious rAiz’n ensemble – home to some of Canada’s most successful performing artists, playwrights and producers.
A dynamic and multi-faceted artist, based in Toronto, Maylee’s music combines organic and electronic forms, including elements of boogie, bossa, space funk, psychedelia and soul. She’s shared the stage with the likes of Janelle Monae, Lee Fields, Aloe Blacc, Little Dragon, and The Budos Band. SOCAN has recently nominated her for the coveted songwriting prize. Get into the ‘Waack Revolt. A Dance Film.” groove with some of her funky tunes. www.mayleetodd.com
When Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s photography first started appearing the language, whether you understood Farsi or not, was explosive.
The images mixed violence, tenderness, and sensuality in a way I had never encountered before. I was used to seeing women valued in art as an aesthetic but not as a stage upon which a woman could perform an act of defiance by literally writing the script of her own point of view upon the body.
This was 1990s and the voices of women artists, especially of non-Western origin, were still muffled under the (wet) blanket of Modernity’s traditions in the way we were to experience art, talk about art as well as conduct the business of art.
“I feel a strong parallel between the writings of contemporary Iranian poets and my images, which visualize the metaphors that are so important in the text.” ~ Shirin Neshat in World Art Magazine, 1996
no one is thinking about the flowers
no one is thinking about the fish
no one wants to believe
the garden is dying
that the garden’s heart is swollen under the sun
that the garden
is slowly forgetting its green moments
~ Forugh Farrokhzād
For me, the contemporary art I was studying in university and experiencing in galleries felt foreign and unrecognizable – not so much to my eyes but to my soul. In the experience of Shirin’s work I found a homeland. It was the gestures – the female hands and lips. It was the look in the eyes staring from one female to another. This time a woman’s gaze was directing the compositional outcome.
Since that time there has been an outburst of women in art. Internationally the work of women is some of the most exciting work to be encountered. The art is layered with explorative technique and quick cleverness as well as being emotionally charged.
But the commentary provided in the work is not exclusive to the female mind. Much of the work being produced is about the experience of being human.
Sona Safaei-Sooreh’s installation Alphabet and Border, currently showing at York Quay Gallery (Harbourfront Centre) as part of curator Sanaz Mazinani‘s The Third Space Exhibit uses a video of English text converging with Farsi script to get the audience to consider the contemporary condition of ever collapsing boundaries.
“Border is a video installation in which Farsi and English texts move towards a corner of a room and disappear on the borderline of two walls. It is about arbitrariness of rules and regulations, the sense of in-between-ness, duality and ambivalence that one experiences in a transcultural situation.
The borderline is a narrow vertical line between two walls: the joint. The place two walls meet. This very “thin line” changes the direction of one’s eye, all of a sudden similar to geopolitical borders in between countries. One step back or forth one is occupied with different laws and orders.”
This beautiful short by Elnaz Maassoumian treats text in a different way less about its abstraction and more about the poetics of its meaning as interpreted by the viewer.
“I am interested in Gaston Bachelard’s idea from The Poetics of Space. Bachelard talks about different kinds of spaces: nests, shells, corners…These spaces are approached both from their physical and metaphorical aspects: they offer refuge and constitute ‘doors for the imagination’. I am interested in the potentials of space. By this I mean the exploration of the possible uses that a space offers. I am approaching this through the reconfiguration of a given space to accommodate specific needs which can change over time. For these purposes, flexible, malleable materials constitute ideal means. They can be easily retooled or reshape to conform given purposes. They also open rich possibilities for redefinition of the relation between private-public; in-out; isolation-connection; visible-invisible.” More images on Elnaz’s website
To gain more insight into Shirin’s powerful imagery, both in the still and moving image, MIXED BAG MAG recommends Tirgan Festival at Harbourfront Centre this coming weekend. Shirin will be giving talks on her body of work and there will be screenings of both her feature film Women Without Men as well as her shorts. All events are FREE!
The real truth about “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report”.
This 4% stat wasn’t adding up for me when I first encountered it. I was immediately suspicious.
As someone who doesn’t hover in spaces where dominant culture reigns supreme and as someone who has photographed women of all cultural backgrounds for 20+ years I know the situation of women’s self-esteem isn’t as dire as Dove would make it seem. I circulate in communities where I encounter many women who are comfortable in their skin and who find things like injecting ass fat into their cheeks for the sake of beauty the butt of a joke (most definitely pun intended!).
I am not denying that in Western culture there is a long entrenched tradition of socially sanctioned self-deprecation and body shame. And I know that it can translate across cultures. But 96% of ALL women around the globe can’t see that they are uniquely beautiful?
I am also someone who has had a career in branding and marketing making my BS radar quite acute.
So here is the breakdown. I think the visual of the list illustrates the overarching cultural narrative being presented as fact.
The world according to Dove.
Along with the many countries absent from the above listed areas, the parts of the world missing in Dove’s study:
The Continent of Africa
The Oceania Region
The Islands of the Indian Ocean
In other words, from Dove’s #RealBeauty perspective, it is mostly North American and European women who speak as the majority for female voices worldwide.
So I guess worldwide doesn’t mean the ENTIRE world.
As the real truth may just be too inconvenient for their marketing strategy.
And I have a funny feeling that the women that were interviewed in the countries listed above were probably selected from the large urban centres where they have more access to the internet as well as exposure to the Western marketing machine. I also wonder were the women interviewed in Saudi Arabia actually Saudi or were they American women living in an international compound?
Dove does not disclose the ethnic demographics of its studies and in countries like Canada and The United States the population from where you draw your research can greatly change the results.
Me in 1971. This photo captures what I hope still comes through as an adult – a happy, playful, open soul.
DISCLAIMER: My critique is not with the women featured in the newest Dove Campaign. I appreciate that they demonstrated vulnerability in opening themselves up as they did. If this was a documentary presented by an independent female filmmaker with opportunities for productive dialogue I would have a different opinion – but consider the source.
“Only 4% of women worldwide consider themselves beautiful.”
Let me begin by saying I don’t buy that stat!
When Dove first came out with their “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, although in big agreement that there needed to be more diversity in beauty advertising, I wasn’t buying into their feel good message because their products contain chemicals that are known to be toxic, carcinogenic and damaging to a woman’s body and health.
Years ago I owned a green cleaning business. I researched deep into Sick Building Syndrome and how what were using to decorate and clean our homes with was making the inside of our buildings more polluted than the LA freeway at rush hour. The more I researched the sicker I felt at the incredible hole we were digging ourselves into. My research also included personal hygiene products. There and then I simplified – baking soda, vinegar and tea tree to keep my house clean; organic coconut or olive oil and glycerin soap for my beauty routine with the occasional indulgence of vegan body cream when the funds allowed.
Because of a serious car accident my business ended shortly before it got off the ground but I never let go of what I learned and the knowledge I gained allowed me to become more informed as well as critical to brand brainwashing.
So yes, I thought Dove, owned by Unilever, was hypocritical in its proselytizing about its love for women and its desire to promote healthier self-esteem while they sold products that encouraged us to slather our skin with some pretty unhealthy stuff.
I tuned Dove out – that is until the “You are more beautiful than you think” Campaign went viral and I could no longer ignore their damn brand.
I am tired to the bone of mixed messages and beauty campaigns that plug into female self-loathing.
When speaking to a friend just after watching the video my first critique was that despite their promotion of diversity the women featured are predominantly white – the opening scene begins with the thin legs of a young woman walking into a room. She is white, blonde, model proportions looking like the Nordic nemesis from my youth. Next scene – young, dark haired, thin, white woman. Next woman – white, blonde, middle-aged. Back to the dark haired woman shown walking with slender legs in skinny jeans, cute in a Charlotte Gainsbourgy kind of way. Another white woman appears…
More images of white women, many of them slender, young, attractive and fashionable with only brief seconds of non-white women and one black man slipped in, each with little to no dialogue.
My friend’s rant on her Facebook wall:
“The sad music with the message ‘you’re prettier than you think’. Because that’s all we are, right? That’s our only currency – being pretty. Tears of joy “I’m prettier than I thought!” This is feeding some gender bs that makes my blood boil.”
Yet again our self-worth is being bound to our appearance. When do we get released from that yoke?
One comment on her wall wrapped it up well:
“The main message is you should recognize your natural beauty and that you’re less fat than you think? I guess it’s a step up from other beauty ads, but it also ain’t really liberating.”
Self-deprecationis defined as the act of belittling or undervaluing oneself.
Thin, blue-eyed, short-nose used as positive descriptors and fat, dark circles, wrinkles as negative.
After our rant this blog post, by Jazz Brice, popped up on my feed:
She did the math on the diversity (or lack thereof).
“Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds.”
Jazz’s post echoed much of what my friend and I discussed.
“Why are so many females I know having such a strong reaction to the sketches video, being moved to the point of tears?
Because the message that we constantly receive is that girls are not valuable without beauty.
Brave, strong, smart? Not enough. You have to be beautiful. And “beautiful” means something very specific, and very physical.”
Let’s say that again – BEAUTIFUL MEANS SOMETHING VERY SPECIFIC AND VERY PHYSICAL.
She goes on to say:
“My primary problem with this Dove ad is that it’s not really challenging the message like it makes us feel like it is. It doesn’t really tell us that the definition of beauty is broader than we have been trained to think it is, and it doesn’t really tell us that fitting inside that definition isn’t the most important thing. It doesn’t really push back against the constant objectification of women. All it’s really saying is that you’re actually not quite as far off from the narrow definition as you might think that you are (if you look like the featured women).”
And like her I also felt unsettled by this woman’s words that wrapped up the commercial:
“I should be more grateful of my natural beauty. It impacts the choices and the friends we make, the jobs we go out for, the way we treat our children, it impacts everything. It couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
Who was the focus group for this marketing campaign? A panel of J Crew models?
As I watched the clip for a second time while writing this post it finally hit me what I was unable to put my finger on before. Dove, for all its “movement marketing“, has aligned itself not with the hopeful “beauty-is-all-encompassing” message. What it has aligned itself with is the white aesthetic notions of the dominant culture and at the same time plugged into the culture of shame regarding the body, culturally sanctioned self-deprecation and privileged guilt regarding fat that can only surface in a capitalist system where constant consumption is the goal. You will not find people starving themselves to be thin where there is scarcity of food. You will not find people complaining about their crows’ feet in places where all-inclusive vacations to the sunny South aren’t the norm. Pinge. Burge. Guilt. Shame. But don’t forget you are more beautiful than you think which makes you worthier than you know (to the marketplace).
That folks…is a white thing!
I will bet that the real reason they didn’t use more non-white women was because the dialogue would not be to the level of self-deprecation for the sound bites they required. Who better to perpetuate the message of shame (cue tears of guilt for saying bad things about yourself) and take the scolding that you are not appreciating the natural beauty you really have (but we aren’t going to free you from that nagging notion that you are somehow not enough).
Growing up in this culture I know it well. Putting down one’s body and lamenting over appearance became ritualized behaviour upon leaving the innocence of adolescence and a rite of passage for moving onward into womanhood. Not only was it accepted it was expected. Walk into any women’s change room at a mall on this continent and listen in on the conversations. Something has gone terribly wrong.
Thanks Dove for nothing…but slick marketing; soft shots of white loft spaces with white girls, camera pans of skinny legs, predictable (read sterile) décor and manipulating music. This is the Forrest Gump of marketing campaigns.
To criticize the miracle my body is and the vehicle it gives me to be present in this world is not something I am willing to partake in.
It took time for my Mediterranean-featured self to come to terms with my looks but when I stepped out of this culture for the first time I encountered non-North American aesthetics of beauty that were less binding then the ones I was experiencing back at home. Upon returning, I started the process of deconstructing the anxiety the advertising had created in me. By the time I accepted my own appearance and decided I actually loved my features I also realized that that journey brought me to a place where I found my outward appearance mattered less than I thought. It took a car accident and wondering if I would ever be able to walk again without pain to love my body for its ability to heal, be grateful for that and to understand I do stand in a place of privilege.
I will keep my lop-sided laugh lines as to me they are proof that I smile often and wink with my left eye as I do. 😉
So I declare it here – I am not one of the 4%.
I am beautiful for the same reasons I see beauty in the other women who are in my life and who I value for what they offer:
Vibrancy. An engaging smile that says – “I am accessible, let’s have a chat.”
Intelligence. A way of looking at the world with a discerning mind so when something isn’t working and they have the skill set to make a change they go after it with gusto and suggesting – “Maybe our skill set can be combined? Let’s collaborate”
Playfulness. Even though they question the world around them they don’t lose that child inside that still believes in magic, serendipity, surprises, and unexpected places just around the corner – “Let’s go explore together sometime.”
Compassion. They are not going to just walk by someone who is visibly hurting. They will take the time to stop and listen. Saying – “If you ever need help let me know.”
Empathy. Fundamentally believing that we are connected and if we don’t acknowledge the stories of others we lose the chance to enrich our own experience as a human being. They are the type of women to say – “Maybe there is something in my story that will strengthen and inspire a part of you. I am not afraid to open up and share.”
I really hope the reactions to this campaign will move women to collectively to say enough is enough. To not echo these words:
It (outward appearance) couldn’t be more critical to your happiness.”
“It’s nice but not a necessity to defining my value.”
Me at 42 years old. Sweaty with no makeup covering the ‘dark circles’ under my eyes, unthreaded brows and hair askew but happy after a spring afternoon spent outside and quite digging how healthy I look!
“They (people who have a deep sense that they are worthy of love and belonging) believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable nor did they talk about it being excruciating… they just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say I love you first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…the willing[ness] to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental”
Thinking beyond the value of self-worth to the value of oneness.
“I still believed my self was all I was. I still valued self-worth above all other worth and what was there to suggest otherwise. We’ve created entire value systems and a physical reality to support the worth of self. Look at the industry for self image and the jobs it creates the revenue it turns over. We’d be right in assuming that the self is an actual living thing. But it is not. It‘s a projection that our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death. But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self’s struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it is connected to its creator, to you, and to me and that can happen with awareness – awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood.”