Shannon Cochrane on The Grand Domestic Revolution

Attending the opening of The Grand Domestic Revolution exhibition makes me even happier than I already was that a festival like City of Women exists. Sometimes it’s hard enough to make art and to expend your energy on such a rarified life-direction. Then there is The Grand Domestic Revolution: a traveling long-term research project that seeks to connect with local contexts to provide an expressive outlet, support for, and expanded conversation around domestic work and domestic workers. Sometimes it’s hard enough to make art. So when curators Binna Choi, Maiko Tanaka, and Yolande van der Heide decide to take on not only art, but a subject that – let’s face it – most people are not all that interested in, despite labour being a part of everyone’s life (everyone has or has had a mom, everyone knows a woman who works), I am happy that venues like City of Women exist. The Grand Domestic Revolution seeks to do what women have always done for each other, and for others: help. It’s not sexy as a curatorial concept, but that’s not the point. It’s more than art. It’s a way of being.

The works in the exhibition are varied: video installations, photographs, large-scale stencils used earlier in the day in a public action installed as wall works, several embroidered textile works, not to mention the workshops and screenings happening the day after the opening.

I’m tickled to see an image of the amazing Spanish-born artist Esther Ferrer in the exhibition (titled Europortrait). In the photo, a torrent of coins spills from the artist's gap-jawed mouth, showing the female body undernourished, and made violently sick by capitalism.

Charming for the Revolution (video, 2009) by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz is super-crazy, or crazy-super, and I love it. More ridiculous than funny, the main figure in the film morphs from a manifesto-reading-biker-daddy, to a feather-drenched-dandy walking a turtle on a leash, to a bird-man trying to communicate with real birds (spoiler: they ignore him for the most part), all the while delivering a critique on gender, marriage, and the prison of the domestic (which amounts to fear of losing a bad job). The camera zooms in and out like a cheesy music video, and while perched atop an electrical tower, the main character loses half of her manifesto to a stiff breeze. It’s worth it not only for the message, but for the jerky improvisational dance sequence at the end.

But for me, the most important (and charming) part of the evening is an appearance by Milagros Navarra, a representative of j4dw (Justice for Domestic Workers Organization) who, in collaboration with Ask! (Actie Schone Kunsten) and the local group Revolting Women Social Workers, was a part of The Grand Domestic Revolution as a participant in a reverse-graffiti action in the streets of Ljubljana prior to the exhibition opening. In the exhibition materials, j4dw doesn’t occupy much real estate, so I am glad that Milagros is given the most space and time during the introductions. She delivers an impassioned speech describing who and what Justice For Domestic Workers does, and what the organization tirelessly campaigns for. She is knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and commands the room with her presence and her message.

After her presentation, I ask Milagros if I can publish her speech on this blog, and she happily agrees, but first she has to transcribe it! It was scrawled on several loose sheets of paper that same morning on her way to the opening – the sure sign of an overly busy woman. She promises she will email me the transcript once she has it typed up, and I’ll post it here. In the meantime, I’ve included the text read by several members of the audience in a collective action she presented after her speech. Milagros tells me it was originally a poem written by j4dw, and was envisioned as a voice-choir for the exhibition opening.

Please look up j4dw, and DOMESTIC WORKERS UNITE!



(From the Justice of Domestic Workers brochure)
Justice for Domestic Workers was established on March 15, 2009. It is an organization of Migrant Domestic Workers working in private houses in the UK. Mostly are mainly women, though we do have men who are members. We come from many countries especially the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria and others. Some of us hard to escape from abusive employers, it was our only means of surviving. Finding one another and sharing our experiences is a great refuge. Together, we unite to campaign for our freedom, rights and justice.


Our Journey by Justice 4 Domestic Workers

Speaker 1: This is my journey

Speaker 2: and mine

Speaker 3: and my journey

Speaker 1, 2, 3, 4: This…is OUR JOURNEY

Speaker 5, 6: Why do we work abroad?

Speaker 7, 8, 9: Back home, there were no jobs/Children beg in the street/They cry on empty hobs

Speaker 1: and illness spreads

Speaker 2: to our beloved

Speaker 3: sick children

Speaker 4: no cure

Speaker 1, 2, 3, 4: no medicine

Speaker 8: Education fails the children of the future

Speaker 7, 8: its own future!

All: Governments are greedy and corrupt

Speaker 7: Illegal recruiters

Speaker 5: business scammers

Speaker 10: labour exploiters

Speaker 8, 3, 4: Illegal recruiters, business scammers, labour exploiters

All: Unemployment rise/Poverty is worst/from Hunger we fled, with Love and hope in our hearts

Speaker 2, 1, 7: To foreign land/we emigrate/we labour day and night

Speaker 9: Cleaning

Speaker 3: Vacuuming

Speaker 6: mopping

Speaker 4: Our meal is hardly once a day/Ironing, cleaning, a full load of laundry I say/Gardening, marketing, car washing

Speaker 10: Sometimes we succumb/no power to carry on/too much problems to face/but for life/we live on

All: no rest no pay/to Greed there is no mercy/In a locked cage we stay

Speaker 10: no door to open/no embrace that tightens

Speaker 2, 1, 7: Beasts growl/they shiver our soul/Creeepy creatures haunt and CRAWL

Speaker 6: Where shall we run?

Speaker 3: Survival is our strength/with Courage we carve/we’re molded/our love of family…we’re protected.

Speaker 8: Dreams reverse for us to find/a fairytale in our mind/A day of fulfillment/the good Reality of life

All: Enough is enough!/We could take no more/Free and let our wings fly/We educate and soar/We organize/We campaign

Speaker 4: Now we found each other/A renewed hope is stronger

All: Together/Our voice echoes the world/We are workers/JUSTICE FOR DOMESTIC WORKERS!