In/Visible Series: Are There Still Spaces and Places Where Women are not Welcome?

Another Africa, Vancouver, Canada 

Every month we present a Global Roundtable in which contributors are asked to respond to a specific question as it relates to one or more of ArtsEverywhere’s lines of Inquiry.

In spring 2016, Another Africa launched In/Visible Voices of Women, a long-term publication project. Conceived by Clelia Coussonnet and Missla Libsekal, it focuses on women artists operating within Francophone and Lusophone Africa. Read more articles in the series here.

© Safâa Erruas, Talon Aigu, 2006. Porcelain and metallic thread, Ekwc production. Courtesy of the artist.

© Safâa Erruas, Talon Aigu, 2006. Porcelain and metallic thread, Ekwc production. Courtesy of the artist.

What is holding back the agency of women today? Can we name the forces erasing or hampering women’s full participation in public life? However complex or varied the issues at hand may be, there is an urgency to reclaim spaces, address our histories differently, and open up dimensions.

We asked 11 phenomenal women — intrepid academics, artists, writers, and curators — to join us for the 6-part Commentary Series of the ‘In/Visible Voices of Women’ project. By fleshing out a diverse terrain of thoughts and opinions, they name some of the most pressing concerns faced by women at large, and the states of being invisible, and becoming visible come to light.

#2 Are there still places and spaces where women are not welcome? and in which domains are they behind?

Malala Andrialavidrazana

It is often said that women are fragile. Certainly, one cannot refute their vulnerability facing the excessive misogynist and paternalistic reflexes at work in the vast majority of contemporary societies. But these feelings, unfortunately, also serve to condone arbitrary judgments and choices in the professional sphere, without any genuine consideration of women’s physical or mental abilities. In the end, when we observe gender distribution amongst several industries, we soon realise that most positions of power and responsibility are still monopolised by men — presumably to ensure more efficiently traditional domination structures. In other words, women are maintained in a status of second-class citizens, excluded from the circle of decision-makers. The positions they are given mutate slowly, despite the coercive affirmative action implemented by some democracies such as France. When the most strategic areas like economic development or diplomatic relations are entrusted to men, women are often content with watching over children or the elderly. Everything is orchestrated to confine them to roles that have little impact on the systems of trade and large-scale organisation, in perfect keeping with the most backward domestic schemes. Yet, to my knowledge, there is no irrefutable evidence or scientific study proving that women are more incompetent than men on one level or another, especially with regard to intellect skills. Finally, in order to remain optimistic on the division of tasks and spaces, and to address better the crises that develop around the world, it is first necessary to change mentalities of the two genders as they are both lagging behind.

Malala Andrialavidrazana is a visual artist with a background in architecture. She is interested in notions of frontiers and interactions within cross-cultural contexts. Primarily through photography, she digs behind scenes in a succession of back and forth between private spaces and global issues to explore social imaginaries. She invents a language whose approach is resolutely turned towards History but whose engagement in the City remains active. In her collection of visuals, examining the in-between space in a multitude of heres and nows, she proposes an open frame where borders do not exist.

Angèle Etoundi Essamba

Yes; there are spaces/places such as education where women are still considerably behind. Education is a basic need, yet it is still not accessible to women in many African countries. As for higher education, there are still very few women in the domains of research, science and technology. Women should also be more represented in decision-making positions in politics, as well as in executive management positions. Actually, since women are known as problem-solvers and contribute to building a safer and more sustainable world, it would make sense to involve them more in decision-making in all domains.

Angèle Etoundi Essamba (b. Cameroon, raised in France) graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam where she lives. Since her first exhibition in 1985 in Amsterdam, her work continues to be exhibited in museums, institutions, art fairs, biennales and galleries in Africa, Europe, the United States, Latin America, Arab Emirates and Asia. Essamba’s work lies at the intersection of the social/gender and the artistic field. She joins the spirit of humanistic photography with a strong attachment to the values of communion. She is a committed artist involved in a reflection on the identity of the African woman. Keywords for Essamba’s work are: pride, strength and awareness.

N’Goné Fall

I think nobody would dare exclude them; we are in 2016. They are doing fine in the fields of hairstyle, fashion, literature, and music, but in the visual arts they are behind male artists. There are more male than female artists practicing, but the ratio is changing, especially in Southern and East Africa. French-speaking African countries are still lagging behind. If you look at art institutions, women are well represented, but not in positions of power, and decision-making roles. They are assistants, in charge of logistics, of communication, of public programmes, or of community outreach. In the West, very few women are museum directors or chief curators, and hardly none of them in Africa. In Africa, women are very visible as curators, directors of galleries, and directors of independent art spaces that they started themselves.

N’Goné Fall graduated with distinction from the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. She is an independent curator, essayist and a consultant in cultural policies. She has been the editorial director of the Paris-based contemporary African art magazine Revue Noire from 1994 to 2001. Fall has edited books on contemporary visual arts and photography and curated exhibitions in Africa, Europe and the USA. She was a guest curator of the African photography encounters in Bamako in 2001 and the Dakar contemporary art biennial in 2002. As a consultant in cultural policies she is the author of strategic plans, orientation programmes and evaluation reports for national and international cultural institutions and art foundations. Fall has been an associate professor at the Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt (master department of creative industries) from 2007 to 2011. She is a founding member of the Dakar-based collective GawLab, a platform for research and production on art in public spaces and technology applied to artistic creativity.

Tamar Garb

Women often remain perceived as trouble-makers and kill joys spoiling the party of ‘quality’, ‘coherence’ and ‘significance’ that much curatorial and critical practice constructs. One still feels shrill and overly insistent when one points out the lack of female presence in an exhibition or insists on a feminist reading of a high-profile show or argument. And old models of priapic, masculine genius remain very powerful in the art world, despite the obvious success (both critical and commercial) of individual women artists. But the question is very space/context specific and it is hard to generalise. The global art world is like a country in itself, with its own rules and languages, and here individual women can really triumph, even if the numbers remain skewed towards men, and the specific markets that promote them. But if you go to Algeria or Zimbabwe, to Mali or Egypt, you will find unique social, economic and cultural parameters that men and women negotiate and where gender may matter a great deal in relation to access to education, exhibition and self-construction. It is by no means a monolith.

Tamar Garb is an art historian and curator. She is Professor of Art History at University College London and was curator of ‘Figures and Fictions, Contemporary South African Photography’, (V&A 2011) and ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive’ (Walther Collection, Ulm, New York, Berlin 2013.14). Amongst her publications are ‘The Painted Face: Portraits of Women in France 1814-1914′ (YUP 2008) and ‘The Body in Time’ (Washington 2008).

Euridice Getulio Kala

Negotiating the Inhabited Universe – gender, sexuality

For ages, in the Western world, the black woman has been represented negatively. It does not help that she continues to be objectified in popular media in an effort to reduce the experience of being a woman, to a contemporary socio-construct.

Today for many young [black] women practitioners, to even have a chance to practice in this “man’s world”, they have to go through a series of shows and exhibitions that have the sole intention of highlighting, how few the opportunities are for us to exist. And, if for some reason some of us make it into becoming, then a series of not so clear deals are offered disguised as opportunities; it starts to move us away from this sisterhood space/place.

There is surely nothing wrong with sisterhood. However, if it starts to represent a lack instead of subsiding the current testosterone-filled environment of the arts, then that is rather fallacious and it should not be supported. This is almost equivalent to the UN’s programmes. Those designed for young African girls constructed with the message to keep them from not leaving school by focusing on teenage pregnancy, and that are bizarrely funded. For instance, I would not be eligible coming from a middle-class upbringing.

These concepts mentioned are very restrained, and make making visible ‘the other’ rather the norm, and even imaginaries of both worlds where we see sexuality and gender being discussed, and being made visible. We also see a sexuality that reduces a feminine experience emanating from women’s emotive language, ergo nothing that comments on the other possible dimensions, concepts or ideas has the space it requires to expand, and to obliterate the current.

If I write that I have had sexual relations with more than 20 people in my lifetime, that will be deemed negatively — as promiscuous, but how is one supposed to deal, gauge, question, repair, their sexuality? Is it by negating it? By oppressing it with religious belief systems (most of them brought upon us in traumatic circumstances)? The black woman, has never had a chance to be promiscuous without the objectification of her body. Eve, as the bible counts, only realised that she needed to cover her body, after the revolutionary action of eating the forbidden fruit — or forbidden truth.

Euridice Getulio Kala (b. Maputo, Mozambique, 1987) is an artist currently based in Maputo, who’s interested in historical cultural metamorphoses, manipulations and adaptation across the period running between the late 1400s and the early 1900s, converging most times with the contemporary context. Kala employs her personal narratives and further delves into her interests, which includes her life in Johannesburg, having been a married woman and being feminist. She works with various media to achieve the finality of her ideas, from performance, video, sculptural-lyrics, installations and photography. Kala was trained as a photographer, and has shown her work in South Africa, Maputo, Amsterdam, Dakar (Off), Apt, Lisbon, Douala and been awarded residencies, both on the continent and internationally.

Jessica Horn

Social relations are dynamic — as human beings we make society, and we also constantly resist the oppressions and limitation society places on us and affirm different ways of being. There are always spaces of subversion and victories in creating new forms of expression and living in different ways. The truth is that — for the most part — women still have to fight for space to be themselves.

It is still ‘easier’ to be a woman artist if you remain within ideas of what is acceptable for women to do. It is accepted for a woman to be a demure, sexualised singer, for example, to dance elegantly, to be an actor — but not a director. There is still bias around work considered ‘men’s arts’ and expressions — like working with metal, expressing rage and anger, and overseeing artistic processes. I remember a Nigerian woman sculptor speaking about how the men in her sculpture class in arts school doubted her capacity to do the heavy lifting

required of sculpting clay and casting metal. The reality was that she could carry more clay than they could from the river! Today though, it feels as if we have and are doing everything as African women. Name an endeavour — and you will find an African woman doing it. I am fascinated by the way that African feminist creatives and activists have embraced the Internet. It has almost been a leveller, as the only gatekeeper online is your ability to access an Internet service and your knowledge of how to create digital content, and upload it. On Twitter for example, African feminists have created the #afrifem hashtag which connects and helps amplify African feminist thinking and expression online. Online subcultures have developed around African women’s creative expression — so it is now easier to build an audience, generate discussion and engagement, and find out about new work.

Jessica Horn is a writer, doer, interpreter of the ordinary; heiress of a lineage extending into the Ruwenzori Mountains of western Uganda and the shadows of New York’s Yankee Stadium. Horn has worked for over 15 years with NGOs, donors and the UN on the intersections of women’s health, human rights and freedom from violence. Jessica takes her passion to theorise, cultivate and engage love as a force for revolutionary transformation into activist and artistic spaces, including at TedX Euston Salon and co-curating the blog Our Space is Love. Her poetry pamphlet Speaking in Tongues is included in the Mouthmark Book of Poetry. Follow her on Twitter @stillsherises

Valerie Kabov

Zimbabwe is by general standards quite an open and liberal society. It is also a very tolerant one, notwithstanding general conservative tendencies due to the predominance of Christianity. It is not a case of women not being welcome but rather a moral code, which says that decent women do not go to bars and nightclubs, but rather to church. Women traditionally have rather boisterous social lives but in women-only environments.

Valerie Kabov is the Director of Education and International Projects at First Floor Gallery Harare (Zimbabwe), which she co-founded in 2009. Valerie holds a Masters in Curatorship and Modern Art from University of Sydney and is a doctoral candidate at University of Paris 1, Sorbonne in Art History (Cultural Policy and Cultural Economics) and is a lawyer with more than a decade of practice in international transactions, with a focus on emerging markets and intellectual property. As researcher and educator, she has focused particularly on the relationship between local and the global in the art market, as well as cultural policy and audience engagement. Kabov is the founder of Art & Dialogue, a professional continuing education programme for curators and cultural practitioners focusing on building skills in engaging diverse/multicultural audiences, and the Editor at Large for Art Africa Magazine.

Marcia Kure

Yes, there are still places and spaces in society where women cannot enter. These may stem from cultural and societal institutions of the past which place expectations on the role of women. I think in order to move forward we must carve our own unique path while being inspired by how others have tackled their problems.

Marcia Kure is a Nigerian artist who lives and works in the USA. She trained at the University of Nigeria and is an alumna of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Kure’s work was shown at the 11thDak’Art, Senegal (2014) La Triennial, Paris (2013), International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Seville (2006), and Sharjah International Biennale (2005). A Research fellow of the Smithsonian Institution (2008), Visual Artist in Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2014) and winner of Uche Okeke Prize for Drawing (1994). Kure’s work is in the collection of major museums in the United States and Europe. Her work was part of BODY TALK: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of African Women Artists, WIELS Contemporary Art Center, Brussels, Frac Lorraine, France and Lunds Konsthall, Sweden (2015-16).

Ng’endo Mukii

Again, I can only speak from my own experiences. Being part of an industry that is extremely tech-focused can alienate women practitioners, who are, from the get go, moulded to more craft-based learning. Animation is not a traditional career path in Kenya, and I myself come from a traditional arts background, and address my projects from this angle. This, I feel, sets me apart from the more mainstream avenues of commercial animation, such as advertising. However, I think this depends on the interest of the practitioner, and what their goals are. Most of us mould our practice to supply the local demand, and those of us who do not, have to do so knowing that the financial returns on their work may not be as fulfilling. The long-term results of these decisions are not yet known, as our industry is still very young. The majority of the women I know within the local film production industry, work as editors and producers. Animation, directing and cinematography are fields that have a very low percentage of women. I think this is related to the perceived technicality of these fields, as well as the relative financial stability of those areas more populated by women.

On the Ides of March, a creature with a fiery afro was born. Small in stature and withdrawn in nature, she led a reclusive life on the green highlands of Kenya, overlooking the savannah seas. Receiving her primary education under the instruction of Catholic nuns, she left her home to experience the Century’s Superpower. She later passed many moons, prancing in the Queen’s country, nibbling on crumpets and searching through the dense fog. Today she can be found armed with a pressure-sensitive stylus, and a macro lens. She spends her time between Nairobi and Tsavo, animating little children, photographing dung beetles, and running away from scorpions. Ng’endo Mukii is a graduate of the Royal College of Art (2012) and the Rhode Island School of Design (2006). She works in Nairobi as an independent filmmaker. She is a Berlinale Talents and Design Indaba Alumni, and has received several accolades for her films

Mónica de Miranda

In Lusophone Africa, there is still a daunting man-oriented art business going on, women are not so emancipated, and a feminist movement that would open the art environment is still to come. However, I think the problem nowadays is not so much being a woman, but being a woman that is a mother. There are social pressures for women with children to settle down, hence their lives are not compatible with the artist mode of life. For instance, there are many recognised art institutions which do not allow women to participate in their residencies programmes with their children. As a single mother, I get cut out from all of these spaces of creation, and art circulation. Sometimes it seems that you have to be childless to be part of it. Also, as a mother, my mobility has been reduced as I cannot always travel with my daughter to attend exhibitions, festivals and biennales. Most of the art circuits are not so children-friendly.

Mónica de Miranda (b. Porto, Portugal, 1976, of Angolan descent) is an artist and researcher. PhD in visual art from the University of Middlesex (2014), she has received support from the Foundation for Science and Technology. de Miranda is one of the founders of the artistic residency project Triangle Network in Portugal and the founder of the Project Hangar (centre of artistic research in Lisbon, 2014). She has exhibited in Lisbon, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, Rome or Singapore, and was included in the 10th Bamako Encounters, the 14thBiennial of Architecture in Venice and the Bienal de São Tomé e Principe. She has participated in various residencies in Mauritius, London, Maputo and more.

Suzana Sousa

No, I would not say that. There are women represented in most domains of public life in Angola, though that does not necessarily mean equal treatment or representation.

There has been progress, with a greater concern shown by the government on women’s issues. However, according to UNDP [1] “gender considerations are systematically inadequately taken into account in decision-making at all levels. Government programmes and policies have failed to address gender issues properly. As a result, the actual situation of women in Angola is difficult due to general poverty and patriarchal norms. Indicators of women’s representation in the social and public sphere are still low. Female work is concentrated in lower posts and in the informal sector. Poverty and illiteracy affects mostly women. Gender-based violence is widespread in the country”. And, women are mostly still behind in the contemporary art scene.

[1] “Promoting Angolan Women´s Empowerment through CSOs.” UNDP in Angola. N.p., n.d.
Suzana Sousa (b. Luanda, 1981) is an independent curator and writer. Her recent curatorial projects include ‘Seeds of Memory’, Angolan Pavilion (Expo Milano, 2015) and ‘Love me Love me Not – Art from the Collection Sindika Dokolo’, Biblioteca Almeida Garreth (Porto, Portugal). Sousa contributes to Contemporary &, Art+Auctions (NYC), the Goethe Institute Magazine and Arterial Network/Arts in Africa. She is currently developing the cultural collective Pés Descalços with a group of Angolan independent spirits.

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