LET'S BURN FEMINISM!

Images of Women. Past, present, future. It's with this theme in mind that we began making the programme of the 6th International Festival of Contemporary Arts CITY OF WOMEN. Year after year City of Women has been about breaking stereotypes, stubborn stereotypes about women in the arts. Through the work of hundreds of artists, theoreticians and academics from around the world, City of Women time and again stood --and stands-- for differences of opinion and diversity in articulation. While stressing this diversity of faces and voices, City of Women indirectly points at the discriminatory mechanisms at work when evaluating, producing, distributing, and representing women in the arts. But no matter how many times the festival has demonstrated that it is not only impossible, but also ridiculous to reduce this enormous diversity and multiplicity to one common denominator, there have always been persistent opinions who tried to belittle the City of Women by labelling it a ghetto. No matter how many times City of Women has repeated that there is only one thing women in the arts have in common – that they are treated differently from men – conservatives conveniently diverted attention away from this basic injustice by stigmatising the festival and the work presented as One. City of Women is not One, never was One, and will never be One.

Delta-editor Eva Bahovec writes in her introduction to the presentation of the Slovene translation of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, "Between the man who writes, and the woman who writes, there is no symmetry, no reciprocity – and also no equality. A man is first of all a man,

i. e. in the medium of the universal; the woman is first of all a woman, to be differentiated from the man." And, quoting de Beauvoir, woman "is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other".

Having the words from this milestone publication in mind, it doesn't come as a surprise that – after five years of relative acceptance of the concept of the festival -- we were again able to collect some very passionate oppositional reactions to the 5th edition of City of Women. Emotions erupted on seeing the catalogue cover depicting a fat woman dressed in underwear, sitting on a bed, smoking a cigarette, "provocatively" looking in the direction of the spectator. She was obviously the radical Other. The One we could, and certainly never would, identify with. The One who evokes only repulsion. This real flesh and blood woman documented on this fascinating and complex painting, was immediately reduced to one image. An image that stood for the abject, the ugly. Even "sympathisers" couldn't swallow the picture. Some even felt offended. The whole incident (the deliberate misreading or even refusal to consider another interpretation of this painting) illustrates to what extent uniform and stereotypical images dominate our imaginations.

Of course, we could have put "beautiful pictures" of "beautiful women" on the cover, but – as Duba Sambolec wonders – "if 'beauty is truth', what happens if the truth is ugliness, lies, corruption?”  Or as Rosi Braidotti has remarked, the culture of the abject is one of the mainstream forms of contemporary culture. If so, why can men practice and celebrate this form of culture, whereas women who do the same are at once rejected as "ghetto women’s art".

 

City of Women 2000 looks at pictures, pictures from the past and the present, visions of the future. We'll leaf through the family albums of Virginia Woolf. On our daily walks through Ljubljana city centre we'll be puzzled by Duba Sambolec's "home" videos. We'll discover the thoughts of one of the 20th century's most quoted – but least read -- feminist authors, Simone de Beauvoir. We'll look at vaginas of different courses of life in a way we never have. We'll admire and re-read femmes fatales like Louise Brooks. Vera Mantero will bring to life Manet's impressionist painting Olympia, and show us the reverse angle of the sexy banana-dancing Josephine Baker of the Gay Twenties. The elderly opera-singer Marie-Thérèse Escribano will also evoke the Interbellum with ironic versions of period-"Schlagers". For the first time at the City of Women we'll see drawn images of women at the exhibition of Helena Klakočar. The duo Haohio will transport us to hectic urban Japan with their avant-pop concert. In the year that the first ever feature film directed by a Slovene woman is being edited, we'll be able to see a comprehensive overview of Slovene women-directed short films, documentaries and video-art (including several world-premieres). In her concert, the Greek Savina Yannatou will reunite the centuries old cultural links of the Mediterranean. Suzana Koncut will scan the surface of her body. The always naively witty Swiss Reines Prochaines will takes us back to prehistory.…

So, you want to label all of these images with one term?

Last year Rosi Braidotti reminded us (in her inspiring lecture at the Feminism/S for Beginners panel) of Virginia Woolf's book The Three Guineas. "She has that famous passage where she says what an ugly word feminism is. Everybody hates it. Everybody associates it with the most disgusting things. So, I tell you: Let's burn it! Let's get rid of it! Let's light a holy fire and we burn the word feminism. We just sacrifice it. And when the fire is out and the smoke settles, what do we see? We see simply an agenda point. We see a concrete aspiration to dignity, to justice, to a better way to live. Call it what you want, so long as you have the agenda in mind, so long as you keep that aspiration in mind."

Koen Van Daele