In/Visible Series: Is there cooperation amongst women?

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.

What is holding back the agency of women? 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, and open up dimensions.

Zineb Sedira, still from Gardiennes d’images (Image Keepers), 2010 © Zineb Sedira / DACS, London
 © Photo André Morin. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris.

Zineb Sedira, still from Gardiennes d’images (Image Keepers), 2010 © Zineb Sedira / DACS, London
 © Photo André Morin. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris.

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.

#5 Is there cooperation amongst women?

Malala Andrialavidrazana

I willingly believe that women are able to develop remarkable complicity, as long as they accompany each other without slipping into rivalry — as this regularly happens in friendships. This suggests that the collaborations and partnerships that have the greatest chance of success relate more to mutual aid, as an assembly of distinct skills, rather than to the sharing (in the sense of a pure division) of similar resources, while the coveted gains are hardly parcelled. But to understand these shifts, it should be remembered that in cases of imminent danger, trade patterns in the professional world are not based on the same altruism or solidarity mechanisms. On the contrary, to reduce the risks of conflict, basic labour principles require fair remuneration in proportion to the invested energy.

On the other hand, leaning closer to the complexity of artistic networks, we can also finally admit that there is no theory applicable to the profession. The sector is both speculative and highly competitive; it is not surprising to witness the individualistic behaviours it causes at all levels, including the restricted circles of market influencers: galleries, major collections and museum curatorial departments, etc. While the feminisation of these spheres could give hope for significant progress regarding the consideration of women artists, one can be bewildered about their low admission in various institutions. Ultimately, this fact reveals that the choices made by women close to power spheres, tend to synch with those of their male counterparts, with a firm commitment to maintain the privileges where they already are. In this case, feminine cooperation would be an illusion.

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

Women have an innate sense of solidarity. Facing the same problems encourages them to join their forces to resolve them.

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

In general yes. Sisterhood is very tangible in Southern and Eastern Africa. Female artists from North Africa have been supporting each other for decades. Central Africa is waking up, and West Africa must wake up. There is less cooperation amongst female curators, and it might be because of the competition: too few opportunities for them to collaborate.

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

That is a difficult question. I think that this is variable. Sometimes women see their own advancement as being curtailed by being identified as such and refuse to be associated with their sisters, preferring to inhabit the category ‘human’ (as if the one precludes the other) or eschewing the fraught label of ‘feminist’ lest they be pigeonholed, or type cast. But there is huge strength in numbers — and in shared priorities and resources, and women in Africa have often made pacts in order to face injustice or address mutual concerns. I am reminded of the important women’s alliances in the anti-Apartheid movement or of various anti-colonial struggles, for example, the bare-breasted protests in Nigeria in the 1920s, and similar insurrections in Zambia and the Congo (to name only a few) in subsequent decades. Women co-operate in all sorts of ways — in sewing circles and farming co-operatives, in craft collectives and community centres, in family structures and social networks. But fine art is often perceived as a solitary endeavour and notions of individual genius and exceptional talent still permeate our discourses, and institutions. So we are more likely (in the contemporary art world) to hear of lone success stories than of the shared achievements that set out to advance the lot of women in general. Nevertheless, so many of these initiatives do exist and help to change lives and livings. In addition, what is absolutely crucial has been the rise of female curators in Africa. Many of the pioneering and groundbreaking curators who have emerged from the continent are women. I am thinking of stellar figures like Bisi Silva, Koyo Kouoh, N’Goné Fall or Gabi Ngcobo. For them, the visibility of women artists is key and they have worked to create shows that not only foreground women practitioners, but that provide a space for the articulation of feminocentric concerns – from sexuality to the maternal, and from women’s history to fabricated and fabulated futures in which women are no longer marginalised or silenced.

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

Reaching the top of the mountain is a very good sign
I will now refrain from using the term black when discussing women, I will assume a current demeanour that communicates my position now. Artists, curators, and other entities within what we call an industry, have a tough time collaborating; artistic practice is, and perhaps should be, a violently lonely pursuit. It is a pursuit for individual truth and enlightenment, which contributes towards possible changes in paradigms.

In a sense this may be paradoxical that I think women do collaborate, and unfortunately, we collaborate a lot.

What this does is that it prevents personal growth, it prevents us from getting completely lost in the dark, for we tend to have a group of other peers to rely on. I am not saying that we should not collaborate, what I am saying is that we should not be each other’s safe nets.

We can, and should, acknowledge the work, potential and abilities of other women and therefore engage in a sharing — that does not cripple our advancements — that, on the contrary, can challenge us to communicate better, and make our concepts visible in depth and reach. That does not have to be in unique moments, it could be recurrent or have the chance to morph as the relationship grows.

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

I have spent my whole life working with other women — as activists and as creatives. There is a tremendous tradition of African feminist solidarity and community making. In fact, some of the relationships that I have really do make real the idea of a ‘sisterhood’ — of people holding you in their hearts, and sustaining your soul. So there is most definitely cooperation amongst women, and many examples to show how this has helped support social change, and the creation of new ways of seeing the world.

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

There is definitely cooperation between women artists and supportive friendships. However, in the group of artists associated with the gallery, we have found equally supportive friendships and cooperation between male and female artists. The challenges of being an artist in Zimbabwe today make them all brothers and sisters in arms. This is the big unifying factor as I keep saying.

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

I think it is very important that women cooperate and support one another. Women must not allow the system to pit us against each other. We must come together, talk about our experiences in the workplace, strategise solutions, empower each other, and reclaim our own bodies. We also need to extend that support to artists of colour, and LGBT artists, because we are all affected and disenfranchised by the same system. We are operating in a system whose standards have been set to support men, not us, not humanity. We have to come together to advocate for new rules and standards that can help us all live up to our fullest potential; we need a system that emphasises our shared humanity rather than our differences.

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

Women have made a great difference to the independent filmmaking industry in Kenya. Several organisations run by women are operating in the city, funding productions (Ginger Inc.) and creating access to grants (DocuBox Kenya). Though, I have not had the impression that these organisations have been created specifically to benefit the female minority in the filmmaking industry. Both male and female filmmakers have been able to access the opportunities created.

It is possible that female filmmakers have access to grants at a higher rate than their proportion in the filmmaking industry, but I would not know for sure. Internationally, I do feel that there is an emphasis on increasing grant access to women filmmakers on the continent, due to the lack of content created by African Women in mainstream media. This, of course, has an effect on our independent productions.

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

Cooperation requires a community of people that can work together for common or mutual benefit. Generally, I feel there is great cooperation between the African diaspora living and working in Europe and America.

As for the art field, African female artists and curators from other regions than mine do cooperate, enabling artists to develop their careers internationally. However, in the Lusophone world, the community of female artists is not large enough to allow for such a cooperative system.

Recently, a minority of female curators and academics have started to appear in the Angolan art scene (a new trend that did not exist in past decades). This is a real step forward and development in terms of cultural production: these curators are much more sensitive to gender equality and are conscious of the need to include women in the shows they organise. Despite this, many group exhibitions presenting Lusophone artists still do not include women.

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

Yes, and given the lack of formal educational infrastructure, most female artists receive education through cooperative networks amongst women. However, these networks mostly promote practices traditionally associated with women (e.g. ceramics, textiles). Even as many female artists start working with painting, they encounter difficulty to create new visual languages.

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.

More Posts in this Series:

2 thoughts on “How can we newly understand the dynamic nature of the vernacular?

  1. What is really exciting about this roundtable is its overall assertion of Canada’s position in the interrogation and development of the vernacular. Whether developing practical, new building techniques or considering sustainability and development systemically, this is a discussion Canada should be leading in global discourse. With a strong first nation population; with populations living sustainably in a variety of extreme environments; with strong foreign policy and development activities around the globe; and with a growing knowledge economy Canadian architects, designers, urbanists and all other professions should be paving the way for new ways of thinking about integrating existing vernacular building methods and developing new vernaculars for a sustainable future.

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