THE EXCLUSIVITY AND THE POPULARISATION OF THE CITY OF WOMEN

City of Women has been labelled exclusive and limited to a small circle of people with which a larger number of men and women cannot identify. Some find it the realm of a too specific art, others are not pleased with its specific conceptual orientation, which stems from challenging gender inequality.

The reproach of exclusivity was most obvious last year, when we opened up to

feminisms. The organisers historicised the word feminism and understood it as an idea —as well as a civil movement— based on the knowledge that proves that women have been oppressed throughout history, that we live in a society that disregards the equality of men, women and children. At the same time, feminism meant the discovery of women’s power and creativity.

When Judy Chicago began making her well known installation The Dinner Party —which later became a symbol of feminist art— she once went to her mentor Anaïs Nin troubled by fear, saying she had the feeling that unusual and contradictory changes were happening inside of her. Anaïs Nin replied that she had finally allowed herself to express her power as an artist, but various forces remained to fight inside her, because she had incorporated the dominating idea that this kind of power was negative for a woman. Precisely because of the same feeling, many women stopped half way and did not fully realise their creative power. It is not that they were not talented enough. They simply did not allow themselves to fully express their potential, because they had learned that women’s power is destructive.

Although most people would agree with this definition of feminism, most men and women cannot identify with the label applied to feminism. Some cannot identify with it because the word is stigmatised; some women do not have enough courage to endure the negative responses or even scorn; others are convinced that gender inequality is no longer a problem, or even that it has never been one.

Therefore some women —who otherwise love to come to the shows at the City of Women— firmly declare that they have nothing to do with feminism. These kinds of statements have become so frequent that they have reached the level of a ritual chant. People expect them and pigeon-hole the person who says it. Does this declaration mean that the person opposes gender equality and the fact that it is unjust that the world’s museums are packed with paintings by male artists? Maybe she wants to say that she stands for better opportunities for women, but her involvement will not go so far as to threaten existing power relationships. Maybe she has the following unconscious thoughts: “What will happen to my values, if hers prevail? Are my values still right and a norm? If her values are equal to mine, do I not lose my privileges, which I’ve taken for granted and were given to me by my values?”

The consequences of such a declaration may be useful to those who express those repetitive statements, but definitely not for other women. Considering the social structure, these kinds of statements are negative. Because by keeping the status quo, historically rooted processes — such as, the low participation of women in all important social spheres (science, politics, research, culture), family violence, sexual harassment and discrimination of women seeking employment — continue.

We believe that those men and women who have greater access to the public sphere — be it art or politics — bear a greater historical responsibility than those who are not part of the public sphere. Historical responsibility increases during the political and cultural changes we are witnessing today. In such times, it is very important what people say, or do not say. If men and women strive for equality, then they must recognise that — historically speaking — feminism has been one of the forms of fighting to reach that goal. Therefore, those who cannot be part of the solution, should at least not become part of the problem. Since every person can fight against inequality in her or his own field, the City of Women must be understood as a pattern in the mosaic. It encourages women’s art and reminds us of the low visibility of women in the arts.

So that men and women will be able to deal more pleasantly with these questions and reflect upon them, the theme of this year’s festival is Images of Women between Past, Present and Future. It is not about feminism as a too vague identity for some, and a too rigid one for others, but about discovering the changing images of oneself and one’s multiplicity. Therefore, the theme of the City of Women is not exclusive, but popular. It includes everything and everyone, such as the theme of families and their various transformations.

Families were once large and unified, later they became smaller. They expanded from time to time, but became more fragmented throughout the world. In them lived people of different or same sexes and of various age groups. At first, the same people accompanied a person from birth to death. Later on, people lived in two different families in their life span. Nowadays, they swap families as well as family forms. Just as there is not one feminism, there is not one family. It used to be crucial that families were economically stable units that took care of the individual. Nowadays it is more important that they provide safety and pleasure; that the family is a place where people care for one another. A family consists of either ten, four or two members, the one with his/her multiple self. Each member needs something else and has his/her own desires. According to these needs and desires people construct families. A family is not a predetermined fact, it is a creation. Like the City of Women, the family is also a place of women. How the family became a place for women, and how it ceased to be that, we will discover in Images of Women from the Past, Present and Future.

The stories of women artists are personal. Different selves are voiced in them. At the same time, they are embodied stories, since the body not only contains spoken, but also silent stories. If not every person can be a feminist, she or he can be the family. The experience of feminism is barred to many women and men, but everyone experiences a certain form of family. Julia Kristeva once said that we have as many feminisms as there are women who define them. In the case of families, the situation is even more complex. They are as diverse as the women, men, and children who speak of them. But let us not be naive; what we wrote is at least as vicious, dangerous and strange as feminisms are. But this is the way it is supposed to be. Good art is always ahead of its own time.

Darja Zaviršek

President of the Association for the Promotion of Women in Culture - City of Women