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FEMINISMS AND DEMOCRACY: Feminist Art Changing the Game
The Feminist Art Project Affiliated Society Session at the College Art Association Conference 2020
Hilton Chicago, Wilford C
At this particular historical moment when democracy is under threat from authoritarian rulers and right-wing populism, feminist art practices have been used as social critique in efforts to transform politics in general and democracy in particular. Yet, specific questions remain. What difference does it make to treat democracy as a topic of inquiry as an artistic practice, a curatorial strategy, or a critical perspective in the visual arts? What new insights about democracy as both ideal and as praxis can emerge if gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, socioeconomics, and immigration status are central to such inquiries? This panel aims to interrogate these complexities and how they inform the intersection between democracy and feminist art practices that can challenge the status quo and make a positive change.
Session Chairs: Connie Tell, The Feminist Art Project and Kathleen Wentrack, The City University of New York, Queensborough CC
Conference registration required for attendance. Pay as you wish, single session or day rates available onsite • collegeart.org
Fearless Indigenous: Shelley Niro’s Statue of Liberty
Claire Raymond, University of Virginia
In her series of collaged photographic works, For Fearless and Other Indians, Mohawk (Turtle Clan) photographer Shelley Niro contests the icon of democracy: The Statue of Liberty. Her series of seven photographs shows the Statue of Liberty against a field of blue sky juxtaposed with hand-written text contrasting the “democracy” of America that performatively pivots on symbolic monuments—notably the Statue of Liberty—with traditional Mohawk (Iroquois) systems of engaging in political decisions and communal, ethical life. Niro’s series deconstructs the symbol of American democracy, as her work explores the very premise of iconic emblems of democracy as a kind of false front. Monuments, as edifices of power, work against democratic inclusion, suggests the artist, and so stand oddly for it. Niro subtly takes apart the premise of American exceptionalism as a leader of democracy, positing here the elided history of settler atrocities against Indigenous Americans as the primary fact and act of the United States’ formation. The democratic field of “lady Liberty” Niro encounters and revolutionizes in these images. My paper follows Niro’s lead in excavating the history of American democracy as linked to the process of monumentalization. I consider how her work, completed at the turn of the 21st century, is important now as we approach a crisis of democracy in the United States. I also discuss her work’s reference to L’il Abner comic strips, the character of Fearless Fosdick who lives despite a mortal wound, and analyze the comic strip’s demeaning use of Indigenous American characters.
Visualizing Decolonial Democracy: The Women’s Media Takeover in Oaxaca, Mexico
Lorraine Affourtit, University of California, Santa Cruz
In the summer of 2006, during a popular uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, a group of Oaxacan women peacefully occupied the state television station (CORTV) and transformed it into TV by and for the people in just twenty-one days. They were part of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), a coalition of over 300 social and political organizations aiming to create a political space inclusive of the state’s historically minoritized populations – peasants, women, and Indigenous peoples. Engaging with the amateur and fugitive aesthetics of the women’s self-produced media, this paper examines the ways in which the broadcasts escaped uptake into state logics of power to prefigure APPO as a model of what I propose to call decolonial democracy; that is, a participatory democracy based in Indigenous communal lifeways and forms of resistance to colonialism and its heirs. I argue that through the recuperation of the previously foreclosed space of public television, the women developed forums for political deliberation and debate that re-articulated and reframed issues of gender, class, and Indigeneity in APPO’s social movement. They drew from communitarian feminism, developed by Indigenous (Aymara) Bolivian feminists, waging a decolonial feminist critique of APPO’s proposed democratic model to ensure that it would not reify the gender inequities troubling communal autonomous governance in Oaxaca’s Indigenous pueblos. The occupied CORTV broadcasts visualized the popular assembly as a dynamic work-in-progress and in turn helped to manifest it by inviting broad public participation and support to realize APPO’s democracy “to come.”
Soft Democracy of BuroMoscow
Irina Aristarkhova, University of Michigan
This contribution queries the relation between democracy, feminism, and welcoming design and public spaces: what “democratic/welcoming” connection is in design of public spaces, who decides what is welcoming, who makes it and who uses it. My theoretical framework will be based on the previous feminist and critical approaches to the intersection of two notions: hospitality and space. My case study in this contribution will be the most recent work of Russian design and architectural firm BuroMoscow (www.buromoscow.com). This award-winning and increasingly influential firm is run by two women architects who see their work’s aesthetic as targeting to “soften Moscow,” and the Russian built environment in general, against the backdrop of hardening political atmosphere and political and nationalistic violence. I focus on one of their projects – The Swings – in the city center of Moscow to show how this already-iconic project not only challenges Russian “hard” architecture and its corresponding social and political history but also, how critical reaction to this project highlights the power dynamics around who and how feels entitled to and welcomed in a public square in a center of an increasingly authoritarian state, Putin’s Russia – immigrants and women, for example, rather than more typical critically-minded left intelligentsia or those who support the state. At the end of my presentation, I come back to my general question about balancing positive change and feminist resistance through art and design and danger of being co-opted and complicit with the authoritarian past and present, be it socialist or capitalist.
The Archive as Open Work in Tucumán Arde: Art and Memory under Argentine Dictatorship
Christine Filippone, Millersville University
This paper addresses artist Graciela Carnevale’s preservation of the Tucumán Arde (1968) archive as an open, living repository of among the most radical art works ever made, continually shaped by the artist’s affective relationships and recollections. A central component of the multipart, months-long project organized in defiance of Argentina’s first military dictatorship and the art institutions that were complicit, the Tucumán Arde archive preserved the work from within, as it unfolded. This storied project, which included union groups, economists, sociologists, and agricultural workers was conceived to counter a media campaign initiated by the dictatorship to cover up joblessness and rising poverty in the agricultural province Tucumán. Carnevale and her collaborators travelled to Tucumán to document the situation for themselves. They interviewed displaced workers and their families, and photographed their living conditions and former workplaces, the sugar refineries around which their communities had been built over generations. The artists conveyed the facts of the Tucumán workers’ impoverished circumstances to the Argentine populace in several ways, including via press conferences wherein the reality of Tucumán was infused back into the media cycle, juxtaposing empirical data against the dictatorship’s “alternative facts”. Like the project it preserves, the archive is an open system, an open work, which the artists associated with participatory democracy, interdisciplinary collaboration, indefinite completion, and a disruption of the status quo, feminist principles that Carnevale continues to employ. As the archive’s steward, she facilitates access by describing each document, however painful, and offering context, a process she calls “socializing the archive”.