The Laboratory of Feminist Memory Bar

by: Valentina Laudari

As the last part of our course, we attended the final event. The Laboratory of Feminist Memory featured several artworks by a lot of talented artists. Visual art, poetry and films were the mediums used by the powerful feminist women. I was extremely proud of my team’s video to be featured amongst these works. We initially intended the feminist remediation video to just be a project for our class, however, our professor thought it would be great to screen it at the event as well. I was nervous to share the stage with the rest of the amazing artists. How could we follow the short film by Elisha Lim or the Think About It Series? As a fourth-year film student, I have screened several films before but never presented them in this context. I anxiously watched the crowd as they watched the film. To my surprise, the audience seemed to really enjoy it. After screening the film, I shared my feelings of hesitation with the crowd but the audience was extremely reassuring. My heart was filled when one person said that the film was better than most of the ones they had seen at festivals. My group members were also encouraged to post the video online.

I am rarely surrounded by so many supportive and inclusionary people. I was not aware that events like this one existed. The Social Justice Media course has opened my eyes to feminist theories, important discourse and uplifting events such as the Laboratory of Feminist Memory. I am appreciative that I have been exposed to such media and look forward to incorporating what I learned into the media I produce.

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Blog Post #3: Laboratory of Feminist Memory Bar

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The Laboratory of Feminist Memory Bar, part of The ARTivism Lab Speakers Series, featured an impressive range of feminist artists and their artefacts, both contemporary and dating back to the second-wave feminist movement in the 80s. It was particularly interesting to take in the dichotomy of modern feminist art compared to the pieces from thirty years ago. While the most notable change lies in the differing mediums, and somewhat in subject matter, it’s remarkable how resonant many of the themes are to the modern feminist struggle, over thirty years later. Whether a web series, song, poem, film or collection of instagram posts, the artefacts shared a good mix of shared and diverse features.

Midi Onodera’s 1985 film Ten Cents a Dance was beautifully shot, while the storylines remain relevant to current relations in the digital age. Since coming to university I’ve come across many conversations reminiscent of the opening excerpt, about discovering how one’s sexuality is constantly being discovered. The physical divide on screen was a striking way to present the physical and social divide that exists between characters simply attempting to connect and find love. I was immediately reminded of a quotation by American multimedia artist Signe Pierce, whose work is often concerned with themes of surveillance and connection in the digital age. “The government has long-been surveying our webcams in search of ‘terrorists,’ but instead have found that most citizens use the internet to connect and to find sex & love. When will our politicians’ agendas reflect humankind’s instinctual motivation to find & share love with each other? Why is the focus of policy so often built around hate & fear?” Pierce’s words ring true especially in the bathroom scene reminiscent of the Toronto bathhouse raids. The film is a stark reminder that we all yearn to feel connected and part of a community.

Anna Willatz brilliantly written poem challenged the notions of the traditional nuclear family, documenting the insemination process as a lesbian attempting to conceive about thirty years ago. With eloquence and humour, Willatz presented a side of conception I had never given much thought to. The performance was informative, entertaining and continued to make an entire room burst into laughter, proving its contemporary relevance.

Grace Lao’s presentation of social media posts was an interesting dichotomy to the older artefacts. For me, it not only represented how much artivism has changed through the decades but also how social networks have allowed us to pat ourselves on the back while putting in minimum effort or commitment. Obviously, spreading awareness through the binary is good! But it can also facilitate shallow discussion. Many of the posts were informative, humorous or interesting, but it seems concerning when the discussion fails to move past these posts. It worries me that in thirty years, students will look through awareness posts on social media as “artefacts” and realize the negative impact they had on organized activism.

Looking At: Archival Material and Activists’ Journey Through Feminism

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As the ARTivism Lab speaker series comes to a close, we were given the opportunity to observe the past and present work of various  feminist activists. With a focus on archival material, it was incredibly rewarding to see said activists reflect upon their previous pieces and individual journeys through feminism. With such pieces these women forged a space for the female narrative and voice, one in which I benefit openly from today.

Many of the artists present discussed the outrage that followed the release of some of their work. Such controversy is reflective of a time when creating art that challenged the hegemonic discourse carried a heavier consequence. The bravery and trailblazing nature inherent within such feminists facilitated a future in which women such as myself are free to explore various subject matters without fear of consequence. For example in 1995 Thirza Cuthand released a self-made short film titled ‘Lessons In Baby Dyke Theory.’  Upon its debut Cuthan was accused of spreading lesbian ‘recruitment’ ideologies, resulting in their ban from local festivals. Similarly Midi Onodera’s film ‘Ten Cents a Dance’ illustrated the difficulties associated with a one night stand, told through various couples of different sexual orientations. Classified as “porn”, Onodera faced challenges in acquiring funding. I owe my privilege of free expression to the self-identifying women who fought for it before me.

The event also made aware the privilege I carry as a result of my sexuality. Being straight, I have encountered far less systemic and social challenges than women who are gay. Anna Willats recounted her experiences of getting pregnant through insemination as a lesbian in the 1980s. While told through a humorous tone, the story made evident the everyday challenges  faced by those who do not fall under the dominant mainstream. As non-heteronormative relationships were heavily looked down upon and often forbidden, Willats and her partner were forced to supply their own sperm and injection processes. This is opposed to straight women unable to get pregnant through traditional approaches, who have readily available access to public sperm banks.

The Laboratory of Feminist Memory Bar demonstrated the importance of preserving archival material as a means to re-write history. Through interacting with archival material one has the potential to reclaim history by taking agency in highlighting voices and stories previously disregarded, shifting the lens through which we typically view history. However for such repositioning to take place, archival work must be both available and accessible. Materials created as a counter-discourse are commonly underrepresented as they tend to challenge hegemonic forces already in place. Activists today need to take special consideration to ensure that such work is no longer silenced due to a lack of media attention. As emphasized by Bociurkiw, a lack of preservation and digitization of non-mainstream archival material means that media created by marginalized groups will continue to go unnoticed unless intentionally preserved (7). Events such as the ARTivism Speaker Series work to draw attention to the voices that have changed and challenged traditional means of representation, and and thus paved a space for today’s feminists.

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Works Cited

Bociurkiw, Marusya. “Big Affect: The Ephemeral Archive of Second-Wave Feminist Video Collectives in Canada.” Camera Obscura, vol. 31(3), 2016, https://courses.ryerson.ca/ d2l/le/content/173420/viewContent/1843641/View. Accessed 8 April 2018.

Artivism Lab: Feminist lab memory

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On the evening of April 10, 2018, the last art activist lab event took place at the Glad Day Bookshop. The night consisted of memory statements from many feminist activists from the second wave feminism to present day. I only a few of the artists as they were talked about in class, however, some of them was new to me. Each person spoke on their work and their own experiences that were involved with feminism and LGBTQ+ genres, but all together they brought some comical ques to the stage along with their stories. The night was lively and funny and I am glad that I was there to witness the events. Two people that stuck with me were Midi Onodera and Anna Willats.

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The 1st scene from Ten Cents a Dance (Parallax)  (Midi Onodera, 1985, Canada)

Originally my mom was the one who taught me to be open-minded. However, when I saw this film I thought, wow!, I don’t think my mom would have made it through this one. Knowing my mom I think it would have been new and shocking to her, even though she did watch 9 1/2 Weeks to the end. My following thought was that the film was about the challenges with communication among diverse people or discussions about sexual contact among diverse people. With a low budget overall, I think she nailed her goals with this film.

Anna Willats was another women speaker that intrigued my ears when she spoke. She expanded on her struggles in becoming a mother. She called her memory a time during the gayby boom? or gay baby boom? A play on words from the 60s baby boom. 🙂 During this time female same-sex couples were trying to get pregnant, and it seems many were lucky with there chances, however,  for Anna and her partner it took them some time. Prior to the difficulties of insemination, Anna said that there were legal issues when same-sex couples wanted to adopt a child and even having the fear of getting the child taken away. That was heartbreaking for me as my one auntie is still looking for one child to this day from the 60s scoop of indigenous children. Despite Anna’s roadblocks herself and her partner were able to find a solution to their problem. Going through a search of an expert on at home insemination and sperm donors within the city of Toronto took a lot of work so that way they would have children. Finally, in the end, the hard work was paid off. I felt happy that she was able to start her family. What interested me in her dialogue was the history behind all of the laws against same-sex couples in the 1980s. I would have never known these laws if it weren’t for this speaker series.

The history of all these amazing women is rich and alive. I enjoyed this event the most out of the other collectives. This one was a very nice way to end my first semester in university. The intersectionality was real with the Speaker Series!

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A new light, a new beginning.

gladday1Our final lecture took place somewhere surprisingly different. While walking to the location I wasn’t sure what to expect, as this was one of my first feminist bar I’ve attended. Once entering the Laboratory of the feminist bar at the Glad day book shop I was so captured by the posters and the “Glad Day Bookshop” neon sigh. The event showed the class different feminist pieces, achievements as well as a variety of art pieces. This not only showcased the topic of discussion but also introduced the idea of how there are many identities in the feminist world.

 

Discussing the topic of power in feminism was hard for me at first. I didn’t understand too much about the topic at hand and never had no prior knowledge on what the meaning of a feminist really was. However, beginning to understand the topic from different perspectives allowed me to open the door in meeting many women who had a powerful passion for it. Hearing the emotions and travails in their stories showed how proud they were to be called a feminist. I was more intrigued in how some of the speakers were able to incorporate the historical negative judgment feminist received, while sharing the positives.

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Out of the speakers Meg Mackay really stood out for me. Even though she had discussed the serious issues about feminist, she still made her topic of discussing interested by keeping such high energy and enthusiasm with the crowd. The topic of love had a connection with me and I was surprised that a women spoke words that I was feeling. Throughout my years I’ve had my struggles in love and friendships and to hear Meg talk about her struggles allowed me to create a connection. Growing up as child it was hard for me to open up about my emotions. I never felt comfortable with the idea of telling someone how I felt or even getting advice on how to handle different situations, as I felt I would have been judged. However, after hearing Meg freely open up about her life struggles I felt such a strong emotional bon

Even thought the topic was serious, the speakers tied in the use of comedy. This really stood out for me as my group had added the idea of comedy in our presentation. When organizing our group project, we wanted to appeal to everyone. Comedy has the ability to engage everyone in some type of way. Knowing this we made sure to include our major content, as well as making it more engaging to the students around us. Overall, the presentation went well as the entire class was able to engage and relate to the topic in some kind of way.

I just want to take the time to say how much I appreciated this class. Growing up in a family that works with the Toronto School Board, I’ve always been taught about different issues in social justice and social equality. This class has allowed me to get a better understanding of different issues I didn’t even know our world was facing. Not only was I able to speak on my own knowledge but also, I was able to hear other students perspectives on what they knew about social justice.

 

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Feminist Memory Bar

The Laboratory of Feminist Memory Bar was a very interesting experience. Unlike the two previous events within this speaker series, this one was held at Glad Day Bookshop. The event featured many different feminist activists and the work they have created. I found that this event was a great wrap up of the entire semester, as it featured many different forms of media/art feminist activism. From songs and poetry, to film and story telling, as well as social media, every feminist that was speaking brought something new. Seeing real activismdone by real feminists ranging between many different age groups was very inspiring.

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Anna Willats was a feminist that really stood out for me. She shared a story that she had written about her experience of trying to have a baby with her partner (another women) in the 1980s. This was a time where sperm banks didn’t donate sperm to lesbian couples; a time where being gay was not accepted the way it is today. The two women tried and tried so hard to conceive, and bring their own child into this world. This was obviously a very difficult thing to do for them, however after months of trying, they succeeding and their baby boy was born. Willats shared this story with so much humour and so much passion, I didn’t want the story to end. When she said “Our son is now 32 years old” I was covered in goosebumps; she shared such a personal story with so much passion and emotion, while keeping the story very lighthearted and hilarious. (She has a real talent in storytelling!) The reason this particular part of the night really stood out to me was because it reminded me of the true meaning of feminism. Often times, people forget what exactly feminism entails. As one of the women of colour states in the film Sisters in the Struggle, feminism is a white ideology. It focuses on the white middle class women, usually trying to get equal pay within the workplace. Although this is a matter of importance, often times the word feminism loses its relevance to minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community. Upon hearing the story, it really dawned on me how much more difficult it is for homosexual couples to conceive a child. In the 1980s, sperm banks didn’t donate to lesbian couples, they weren’t able to adopt a child. It is really unfair, and something the LGBTQ+ community has struggled with. Hearing Willats share her story was an amazing experience, and I loved how it further enforced the true meaning of what feminism truly is.

Another speaker that truly stood out to me was Kativa Dogra. She talked about the privilege she has due to the family she was born into and the place she gets to live. She began to speak of child brides within third world countries. This concept is extremely upsetting for me; the fact that there are young girls around the world that get shipped off by their parents to marry an older man, without their consent or any desire, makes me sick. This is a serious injustice. I really liked how Dogra addressed this problem because often times people (including myself) living in the first world forget how privileged we really are. Feminism within these places is often forgotten, which is really upsetting. “We will not rest until all women & girls are free.” Females living in places of privilege must not forget the unfortunate events that happen daily within other countries. It is truly upsetting and I am extremely happy that Dogra addressed this. We must not forget that feminism is equality for ALL women, not just ourselves.

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Lastly, a moment that really stood out to me at the event was at the very end when Aisha and Grace were reading the audiences proudest feminist moments. Aisha read one that mentioned a young girl in the 80s who got sent home from school for wearing pants, and the next day, the other students at school got together and protested for their right to wear pants, and won. This was a truly inspiring story. It reminds me of Susanne Neagh’s speech at the first event within the speaker series, when she mentioned that the key to change is supporting one another and standing in solidarity. It was cool to see obvious connections throughout the entire speaker series, and to see all the amazing work all these activists have done.

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Shared Experiences

The Laboratory of Feminist Bar was a great night and perfect way to end off Social Justice Media. What a great semester it’s been. It was lovely to see the diverse arrange of women who shared their work, activism, and inspiration with all of us. In an environment full of like minded individuals, what they said was very relevant and relatable. Glad Day was a great location to host the event, a well suited location to match the vibes.

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All of the women who were speakers all had something different to offer and the wide array is what really made the night.

What stood out to me and really inspired me was actually the first piece, Ten Cents a Dance (Parrallax). Midi Onodera is such a talented woman and it was amazing seeing an asian woman as a filmmaker in Canada, even at a time in the past. On top of that, making a film that caused a stir, got recognition, and really analyzed the relationship dynamics between different sex couples. I just thought the way she did it was amazing and I’ve always been drawn to the use of actual film so hearing about how she did it on two 16mm film cameras simultaneously was amazing. Everything about it was really inspirational, especially when it came to the social issue that she mentioned, I had vaguely heard of the bathhouse raids but I wasn’t completely educated on the matter. Though I now have many tabs open on my browser, ready to read up.

It was also really great to see the audiences take on Aisha Afzal’s Think About It. She’s a really great activist and such a kind person. It was so great to get to help on the show and it was interesting seeing the older audiences take on a show that deals with very millennial topics. The same could be said about Grace Lao, when she talked about Things Feminist Activists Wrote (Or Did) When They were Younger, but instead she looked at different tweets that she retweeted and shared. I thought that was an interesting take.

I was also great seeing the students in our class remediate the Curfew for Men in their assignment, seeing how they stood and held their ground around the other feminist presenters. It was lovely to see that they could do that and hopefully will continue to do so.

Lastly, I wanted to talk Kativa Dogra who talked about her privilege based on her parents liberal views and her living situation. I really related to that being the child of Indian immigrants as well, knowingly growing up around people who had parents who were strict and held negative beliefs. Ones who knew sexism all to well, ones who grew up in religion, and ones who wouldn’t dare be themselves. That’s something I didn’t have to experience because my parents have always been liberal minded, even when they were raised in a country that didn’t strongly lean left. It was nice to hear that someone else felt that guilt of seeing their friends experience that and I see that privilege everyday.

All in all, it was amazing hearing from feminists from different backgrounds, their shared experiences, and differences a like :)!

-Amreen Kullar

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