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.
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.
#6 What is the role of women in the production of information and knowledge?
This may sound naive, but before becoming fully constructive actors, women must rebuild a positive image for themselves by gaining back an awareness of their status as citizens just like everyone else (with rights, duties, opinions). They must remember that they make up almost half the air (breath), and the energy of humanity. Therefore, they have a great responsibility to eradicate gender-based attitudes and stereotypes which do not only lead to the marginalisation of many of them, but also to much suffering that affects the society as a whole in the end. In short, their role consists notably in correcting errors of judgment that are no longer acceptable, in outing subservient structures, in guiding the eyes towards more openness, and in promoting equality in the democratic sense. The task may seem daunting, but it is a necessary evil to be able to speak freely, and to defend their positions when it will prove to be useful, and vital.
Angèle Etoundi Essamba
Naturally, women are the keepers of knowledge. They transmit it through raising and educating their children, and thanks to the important role they play in their communities. Naturally, this also translates into other areas where information and knowledge are of major importance, such as in art and business.
Women have the same role as men. Artists and curators have to be go-betweens. It is all about producing and sharing. How do we look at the world, how do we perceive it, and how do we share our points of view as artists, curators and art critics with the audience? How do we build projects that will give the audience something to think about? I still believe that art has the power to impact mentalities by questioning our societies. It could sound naive, but I do believe it. And the moment I will stop believing in that, I will go back to architecture.
Women are key agents in the rewriting of history and the reorienting of knowledge. To look from a woman’s point of view is to stipulate an alternative viewing position from which to ask questions and to map a terrain of thinking. Feminism has taught us that the received narratives and plot-lines of the past recount only a partial story, one in which women serve as reproductive vehicles and sexual trophies, rather than productive agents. Historically, female sexuality has been made to serve the agendas of patriarchs and pimps, servicing the pleasures and needs of an economy in which women are exchanged between men (whether husbands, fathers, brothers or clients) but in which their desires and needs are often denied or dismissed. At the same time, many women have both resisted such circumscribed roles and fought alongside men to improve their lot (and that of humanity in general) and shift perceptions. It is only through feminist scholarship that such repressed stories are uncovered and that knowledge is both expanded, and reworked. By de-naturalising essentialised constructions [having] to do with women’s ‘nature’ or aptitudes, past actions can be explained as emerging from specific social and ideological circumstances, rather than expressing ‘natural’ or god-given destinies. This opens up space for new kinds of being to be imagined in the present, so that women’s potential is not curtailed by the straightjackets of historical conformity. Contemporary art, as much as writing or music, provides an essential platform for new forms of agency to be imagined and expressed. And women artists now join novelists and singers to voice new possibilities for being in, of and from Africa.
Euridice Getulio Kala
Reference other women, and grow my/their individuality:
#KoyoKouoh, #LornaSimpson, #NontobekoNtombela, #MimiCherono, #CarrieMaeWeems, #BisiSilva, #SoniaBoyce, #MarySibande, #DineoBopape, #WanjaKimani, #JustineGaga, #GabiNgcobo, #LeratoBereng, #LaurenVonGogh, #JackieKaruti, #ChristineEyene, #ZinaSaro-Wiwa, #PascaleObolo, #PamelaSanstrum, #MolemoMoiloa, #DonnaKukama, #WangechiMutu, #manyothers.
Women, in as much as we are a part of humanity, are as much a part of information and knowledge production as men. The question is whether this is recognised. African women have been holders of aesthetic and technical knowledge around everything, from storytelling to cloth dyeing and house decoration, drumming and ritual process, to song, poetry, photography, filmmaking – you name it. That repository of creative knowledge still needs to be fully acknowledged and documented before people pass on. As the saying goes, “when a griotte dies, a whole library burns down”.
I am not exactly sure of what you mean. If we are talking about participation in the information economy, then this is an interesting question, but again, I am not sure it is a gendered question at all. What we are talking about here is access to the Internet and having adequate opportunities to use it. This is across the board an economic problem, and not a gendered one. The majority of the population in Zimbabwe does not have good access to the Internet. As a result, the minority, which does, cannot be said to be truly representative. This is a problem because it has an impact on the international perception of the country as well as having ramifications in the economic sphere. Given that more than half of the population of the country is rural, this is very significant.
The role of women and our influence in the production and dissemination of knowledge is very low. But this is not because women are less competent than men. Although more women are now working in the art industry than ever before, the weight of tradition remains. For example, compared to men, there are fewer critical texts written by women about women artists, and even less about black women artists. This creates a problem on the availability of information on women artists, which invariably affects what is being taught about them in schools, as well as the quality and scope of information available to curators, gallerists and museums in their decision-making. More information on women artists is imperative in changing the status quo. As many studies have shown, women are uncomfortable in asserting their opinion in the public arena, and I think it is because it does not fit into the role society has defined for women. Also, when you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies. Even so, women must value their knowledge and make their voices heard, because it is crucial to the attainment of a more balanced, healthier, and progressive society.
Mónica de Miranda
Women’s roles have been affected by centuries of gender inequality. Women’s presence in the realm of art (be it as artists, viewers, critics, collectors and connoisseurs) has been limited in History. Women have been accepted in art, through time, mostly as subjects or, more appropriately speaking, as objects at the disposal of male artists’ act of observation.
Nevertheless, during the last century, women’s access to higher education has become much easier in most developed countries. At the same time, the significant transformations in science and technology have also affected the participation of women in the artistic and cultural enterprise as knowledge-producers, art managers, curators, artists and educators. This has manifested especially in the last three decades, given the changes of perception towards the role of science and technology in society; scholars, cultural producers and artists have explored different sites of knowledge-production, and have highlighted the changing roles of both men and women in society, and in the arts.
The role of women in the production of information and knowledge can only be only fully understood in light of the gendered cultural and social transformations of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Women play a major role in the field as curators, art historians, architects and designers, or doing arts and events production. There is perhaps an issue of representation and visibility, but not one of lack of female participation.