Looking Forward Looking Back
The Looking Forward Looking Back theme developed organically out of a number of beautiful discoveries as we planned and met with community partners over the last year.
The first of these discoveries was the Women’s Kit at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) at OISE.The Women’s Kit was a box of feminist resources that its curators distributed to secondary and postsecondary institutions in the early 1970s. In a meeting about a panel partnership with the CWSE, the Women’s Kit was literally pulled out of a closet and placed on a table.
While we went through the gorgeous pamphlets, slides, records and films out of the box, themes of media representation, beauty standards, economic disparity, and erasure of women’s art emerged from the colourful archives of posters, poetry and recorded conversations between artists like Joyce Wieland and Vera Frenkel.
The contents of this box begged the questions: What has happened within the feminist art movement since the 1970s? What inroads have been made? What victories, if any, have been won? Are we still speaking about the same issues in our work? Are we repeating the same messages, making the same mistakes, saying the same thing? What is different between then and now?
At that table was Frieda Forman, professor, writer and activist, now 77. She talked about organizing the first feminist art conference at OCA in 1973 called Women’s Work. She urged us to go to the archives at OCADU to see if there was any record of the event happening.
We contacted Scott Hillis, an archivist at OCADU, and he got back to us the next day with an excited email. He had images of all the work that was in the 1973 conference exhibition and he had the schedule along with several essays and contentious debates in the student newspaper Nimbus. He urged us to come and take a look. He had also pulled a number of feminist posters and university activity that showed a clear rise in feminist organizing at OCA in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
At the same time we were going through the curatorial process of the 2015 exhibition and we were painstakingly creating documentation of the submissions for the upcoming curatorial meeting.
This is an important point, because when we sat down at OCADU to look through the slides from the Women’s Work show in 1973, it was like a mirror reflecting back at us. The works were so similar to what we were seeing in the 2015 submissions: the reclaimed textiles, the gendered sculptural objects, the text-focused paintings, the photographs questioning identity and gender. The work demonstrates that visual languages, symbolism, aesthetics, concerns, and political rage have come full circle.
At this moment we decided that we needed to focus our programming around these unbelievably rich discoveries and invite our audience also to consider these questions. We committed to creating a necessary dialogue around what has happened before and what needs to happen next.
For looking forward we have the students of Central Toronto Academy presenting their Stop Suicide photography series, which focuses on supporting trans students at their school. At a very critical moment in trans* rights awareness, advocacy and activism, this type of visibility is crucial to any contemporary feminist art show and conversation.
FRANQ Magazine is presenting a panel of teens talking about feminism from a youth-based perspective. The Girls Art League is displaying the work of their community and students at Artscape Youngplace, paired with established artists ARTIFACTS. These relationships establish a path between generations of feminists, ensuring that these connections are not lost in the passing of time.
On Wednesday night, a student from OCADU, Julia Pereira, will present her online curatorial project called [insert feminism], which showcases the work of emerging artists on an online blog, a wonderful reflection of the internet feminist movement that is dominating this new rise in social justice activity.
Another satellite exhibition is co-presented by Women in Art (WIA) and the Canadian Women Studies in Education (CWSE) called the Women’s Poster Project: Feminist Organizing. The Women’s Poster Project takes cultural artifacts and uses them as touchstones to mark the passion of past feminist organising. These historic posters which detail key cultural, social and political events in the women’s community are a lens through which to view the history of feminist organising. The Women’s Poster Project is ongoing until April 30, 2016 in the Hallway Gallery at OISE/UT (252 Bloor Street West, 2nd floor).
Our film night will feature the screening of Shadeism: Digging Deeper, produced by Refuge Productions. In the film, director Nayani Thiyagarajah focuses on the present-day issue through her niece, a young girl who expresses dislike of her dark skin . Nayani takes this moment to also look back at the history of colonization and white supremacy, a system that permeates the identities of people of colour to this day.
First as a city councillor, then as a Member of Parliament, Olivia Chow has been fighting for women’s rights in policy and procedure. She is a staunch advocate for more women in politics and joins us as the keynote speaker, looking forward and looking back at the place where she started, OCADU (then OCA).
On Saturday, spoken word artist and Wordspell co-founder Andrea Thompson will present at FAC with her workshop students, who have been cultivating their expressive potential through performance. Experimenting with a variety of innovative spoken word forms and practices, they bring passion and power to their words, on both the page and the stage, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of FAC.
The culmination of this discussion will be explored in our Looking Forward Looking Back panel, which will take place on Sunday from 1:00pm to 2:30pm. On this panel we have Frieda Forman, the coordinator of Women’s Work, Lillian Allen and Paula Bourne, senior activists who have been relentless in their fight for equity and social justice for decades.
Our youngest panelist is Fannie Gadouas, a Montreal artist, who will be reading the Cuntamponary Art manifesto at the reception on Thursday night. This manifesto seeks to create a new vision for feminism moving forward. Fannie was recently at the fore of the Montreal movement to ban a misogynist speaker and writer who was coming to Canada to deliver speeches and promote rape legalization.
This phenomenal group will be moderated by Johanna Householder, OCADU’s chair of Art and Social Change. Johanna is a feminist performance artist with a long history of successful feminist art activism and performance. She was a member of the notorious satirical feminist performance ensemble The Clichettes, who performed across Canada and the US under variable circumstances throughout the 1980s.
We hope that these programming pieces have a dialogue with one another, a dialogue that will help us to move forward and support the next generation and this new rise in feminism (s) that is occurring both in the physical realm and the ever-expanding online world. The challenges that we face within the digital sphere are especially topical, as we are required to think on our feet as we navigate it. Here especially, we can consider where we forge new paths to build a stronger future of equity and social justice within an intersectional framework. We look to continue the feminist tradition of an impassioned approach to our feminism(s) to create real social change in our communities and our art.