Has Black Feminism actually progressed in film?

Is Black female representation as presented in film just a trend?
Originally posted on The National Student.

Hollywood has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years. Just last year we were finally exposed to the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein, prompting the beginning of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, which challenged the status quo of the industry as a whole. And Hollywood hasn’t just been criticised its treatment and representation of women. In 2015 and 2016, the Academy Awards in particular were called out for being overwhelmingly white.

Despite the recent success of Black women on screen and the progressive message that their performances are depicting, many fear that the “Black girl magic” and the empowerment of marginalised voices is nothing more than a marketing tool for ‘woke points’. But being woke is more than being a political young person, it’s more than a hashtag, and way more than a trend.

While some might have feigned surprise that the 2016 Oscars were #SoWhite, anyone with an insight into the industry could have foreseen it. From whitewashing to nepotism, and the promotion of stereotypes, it’s about time that we as a society have a conversation about films, feminism, and race.

Across all aspects of life, society indicates that women are second-rate citizens, people who need to be dominated, and are incapable of succeeding in the ways men can. This is a belief especially damaging towards women of colour, who face discrimination due to their race too. Finally, especially within in the last few years, the presence of melanated heroines on our screens has been at an all time high. Particularly worth mentioning are Hidden Figures, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time.

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A Wrinkle In Time, 2018

In 2015, there were no people of colour nominated for an Oscar in acting. None. In 2016, once again, there were absolutely no people of colour nominated for an Oscar in acting. Suddenly in 2017, there were six. Among the films to tackle issues of race and to garner the Academy’s attention were Loving, Fences, The People v. O.J. Simpson, I Am Not Your Negro, Moonlight, and 13th.

With her documentary 13th, Ava DuVernay calls out the racist history behind America’s penal system and challenges perceptions about the War on Drugs. She has dared to reclaim history, and ended up making it as a result. Even though DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time didn’t excel in the box office nor did it do well amongst critics, the film itself is a game-changer.

And that is not only because it is a landmark achievement for inclusive science fiction and fantasy (SFF) films, but also in the way that it shows Black girls a young hero who looks like them. A Wrinkle in Time is an open love letter to Black girls, and addresses the uncertainties of girlhood, especially for girls of colour.

Hidden Figures, the 20th Century Fox film telling the long-forgotten story of the African-American women at NASA who played instrumental roles in some of their most iconic missions, promotes the message that “We shall overcome”.

But it’s more than just a ‘Black movie’ – it’s an intelligent movie. It forces us to revisit one of the most monumental events in American history and acknowledge the unsung heroes that made it possible. It’s not a story that many people have heard before, but it’s one we all deserve to. It is a feminist movie, one that demonstrates a triumph of progress and perseverance through the rampant sexism of the 60’s.

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Hidden Figures, 2016

“The fight has changed, the stereotypes remain, and the cause will never die.”

A woman of colour doesn’t face racism and sexism separately. The sexism she faces is often racialised, and the racism she faces is often sexualised. Black Americans have endured innumerable hardships since their involuntary migration and subsequent enslavement from Africa to America. The game-changing book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” by British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge details the equivalent Black British experience, which is far less talked about.

The labour of women, but especially women of colour, is undervalued and overlooked. We are glaringly absent from textbooks, and our whitewashed histories are only available during Black History Month or through elective courses.

The representation of Black women throughout history has affected the way Black people, as well as Western society, values, identifies and idealises Black women in general. There have clearly been changes in these ideologies over time, and they are heavily influenced by the way Black women are represented in media.

Black Panther is an important film for diversity across various spectrum’s. It’s a blockbuster movie that features a majority Black cast with major names attached to it, and the merchandising is aimed at Black children. Its existence in the pop culture scene and what it means for representation in media cannot be understated and yes, finally, it is a film that Black women can actually celebrate.

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Black Panther, 2018

The narrative places the women of Black Panther front and centre, making them the heroes of their own stories. From the start, the story avoids the sexist tropes we are accustomed to watching in film.

Black Panther contains powerful messages about gender roles. The Wakandan women’s sex appeal is obvious, but secondary to their personality and skill, and rarely do we see Black women who are as assertive and independent as they are in this Marvel creation. Furthermore, almost every significant female role is played by a dark-skinned actress. It’s amazing to witness.

Yet a YouGov survey recently found that most Americans still believe there are not enough film roles for women and people of colour. The survey of 1,220 adults found that 37% of respondents believed women had enough roles available, just 2% points more than people who believed black people had enough parts available.

On-screen representations of minorities, the survey found, are seen as sometimes inauthentic, though that depends on whom you asked. Nearly half of Black respondents (46%) said on-screen representation of black characters were inauthentic, about twice the rate of the respondents overall. The analysis reveals people of colour remained underrepresented, considering they comprised 40% of the U.S. population in 2016.

Just 13.9% of the year’s film leads and 12.6% of film directors were people of colour.
But what does this mean now? The portrayal of Black women has certainly changed since the age of Blaxploitation, and of course, the success of Black women should be celebrated on screens, but do a few big-budget films with a Black cast count as progress? Is it fair?

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Fences, 2016

Investing in stories that center around people of colour without dwelling on their pain or oppression is a large step towards healing, particularly in this brutal contemporary political climate. It’s important not just to show tokenised images of Black characters, but to present diverse narratives of individuals with different stories and experiences.
It can be argued that in Hollywood, in an industry where everything is about marketing and making fortunes, that money is the only motivator. Therefore, Hollywood isn’t being progressive in including more Black actors and characters, they’re being tactical.

It seems that Hollywood has yet to understand what makes money, however. The last report on diversity in UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies shows that “films and television shows with casts attuned to America’s diversity tend to register the highest global box office figures and viewer ratings.” Yet the study still indicates that the industry could do better.

While the data notes that some progress has been made, it also highlights that Hollywood decision-makers still consider the presence of diverse talent to be the exception, rather than the rule, but sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. To reach a point where we can put marginalised voices on screens, and tell the stories of women of colour without any prescribed idea of what we should be, to find real examples of those like ourselves – this can all be attained.

A few extra nominations won’t undo years of exclusion of women and PoC, because we are as different as we are complicated. Hollywood has to actively work to give more opportunities to those previously ostracised and make sure a wider range of stories get told.

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The Black Feminist Documentary, 2019

Djuna Barnes, gender trouble and lesbian desire

A piece exploring the impact of Djuna Barnes in queer literature. Originally posted on The National Student.

Dying on this day in 1982 at the age of 90, it’s difficult to say that the poet, artist and novelist didn’t live a significant life with impact within queer literature.

Djuna Barnes was at various times a poet, journalist, playwright, theatrical columnist and novelist who then liked to be called “The Barnes.” A recluse, the writer’s avant-garde and “most famous unknown” literary work won wide acclaim in the 1920’s and 30’s, was once a writing talent of the Lost Generation era. The tag the ‘Lost Generation’ came from a remark by Gertrude Stein to Ernest Hemingway when she said, “All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”

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Barnes’ work was mostly given attention to by academic professors and students. Other than fitting within a the category of being a modernist text, she got kudos from writers like T.S. Eliot, who referred to her “a living genius”, as well as Dylan Thomas who called her works “one of the three major prose works by a woman” (probably a back-handed compliment). These comments were made alongside the praise of Graham Greene, Samuel Beckett, Janet Flanner, Lawrence Durrell, Kenneth Burke and Sir Herbert Read, and The Spectator compared Barnes to Virginia Woolf, declaring ”It is clear that a writer of genuine importance has made herself known to us.”

Even the New York Times referred to her as “The American Woolf”; the work is an important milestone on any map of gay literature – even though, like all the best books, its power makes a nonsense of any categorisation, especially of gender and sexuality, this anti-categorisation tendency in Barnes is perhaps due to the ways in which society pathlogizes differences.

Au Café, famous photo by Maurice Brange, depicting Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes in Paris, 1922

However, Barnes never kept it peaceful. Though her works have remained obscure to the broader reading public, she started earning notoriety, starting with a preformative piece the New York World Magazine, where she was force-fed to illustrate the fate of hunger-striking suffragettes, and the accompanying photo shows her stoically being held down by three men while a doctor snakes a tube up her nose.

She also began using herself as a pawn in what she called “My Adventures Being Rescued,” in which she put herself in peril at a firemen’s training session, hanging several stories up in a long black dress. Barnes became a regular on the set of the women’s boxing beat. Her writing is full of misfits, eccentrics, socialists, free thinkers, immigrants and the homeless.

Djuna Barnes was never cautious, and so, because ”Nightwood” in large part concerns a doomed lesbian love affair, the novel would be highly praised despite claiming to not even being gay. She was quick to offend without even checking on herself, while continuously breaking barriers.

“So love, when it has gone, taking time with it, leaves a memory of its weight.” – Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

What I learnt from celebrating ‘Galentine’s Day’

The closing of a year is often lead with great anticipation. Halloween, bonfire night, Thanksgiving (for my American readers), Hanukkah, Christmas celebrations and then finally…the New Years build up. Then creeps in January, dragging its oversized shoes on the floor. January is like the Maroon 5 performing at the Super Bowl of months, despite my own birthday being during this month, I too, have to admit that it overstays it’s welcome. A guest that you were once looking forward to seeing, but is now refusing to leave.

Then, after this excruciatingly dull month of broken resolutions and “I’ll start tomorrow”-s, comes an infamously suffocating day for singles and even couples alike. Valentine’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of the day because it allows you to show appreciation to your significant other, plus the aesthetic of pink and red hearts everywhere may appear as obnoxious to some but I personally think they’re beautiful and uplifting. In a world that seems to forever filled with fake news and depressing headlines, then to suddenly be hit with flowers of all colours and love hearts is pretty encouraging to me. Lord knows we all need it.

But there is also a capitalist, ‘do it for the gram’ element involved which takes the real fun out of it. An haughty, pompous aspect that places couples to compare themselves to other couples. As though your relationships’ depth and meaning is measured based off of your financial income. A factor that is unfair and shallow to say the least. Personally, I’m a working-class student with low earning parents. Therefore, I don’t get any help from them. I simply rely on myself and how often I work, when I can. But with juggling a degree, a long distance relationship and other prospects; it can all get a little (VERY) strenuous. So with this continuous obligation to flex our lives on social media adds even more pressure on this particular occasion, minus the others- birthdays, Christmas etc.

In fact, just yesterday I was speaking to a work colleague who did not hesitate to tell me all about the expensive trips and gifts that her much older boyfriend so lovingly gives. Of course then, this was met with my own romance interrogation; “Where did you go?” “How much did they spend on you?” and “How much did YOU spend on THEM?” So whether you’re in a relationship or not, Valentine’s Day can be a bit of a pain. Don’t worry single people, least you can treat yourself to a cheap bottle of wine and a Netflix marathon then call it a night, it’s not as pathetic as everyone makes it out to be. I promise.

Anyhow, so due to my long-distance relationship circumstances, this year I decided to celebrate my first ever Galentine’s Day with my single friends. Because being single doesn’t mean that you’re alone, at all. This is a holiday that, among other things, highlights the political power of female friendship: Galentine’s Day. To quote main character Leslie Knope, “What’s Galentine’s Day? “Oh, it’s only the best day of the year!” So for context, back in February 2010, NBC inaugurated the holiday on its sitcom Parks and Recreation, starring Amy Poehler’s iconic character Leslie Knope, a described ‘civic crusader’ and ‘friend extraordinaire’. As Knope explains it, each year on February 13th, she gathers together all her best female friends, including her mother, to celebrate what she loves about her female companions over waffles.

However, the biggest lesson that I learnt from Galentine’s Day isn’t to only challenge hetero-normative romantic relationships and gross gender roles and forever pining over ‘the right one’ but of also finally normalising the idea that being single IS NOT something to be distracted from. As someone that is currently in a relationship, I can understand why you’re reading this whilst rolling your eyes. Or how this advice would fall on death ears. Take this with a pinch of salt if you must, but the most significant rule to remember is that you’re able to be by yourself and not hate it. I know right, wild(!) I apologise if this sounds patronising, but you’re allowed to be single on purpose and enjoy it.

Galentine’s day doesn’t have to be surrounded by the concept of filling some sort of ‘romantic void’ otherwise you’re not full. That’s a complete lie. People speak to me nowadays as if by having a boyfriend, I have been “blessed” and that I have been changed for the better. As much as I love being in a relationship, I can be strong and empowered whether I’m in one or not. Galentine’s Day is for all female-identifying folks celebrating themselves, no man-dominated underbelly included, please.

As well as this, Galentines Day should be as inclusive as we can possibly make it. Not everybody has this Sex and the City and Pretty Little Liars-esque girl group. Sometimes our closest friends live in different parts of the country and so seeing all these cliquey squads can emphasise on the loneliness. I often feel it. So another lesson I have learnt is to keep open-minded and productive when it comes to this kind of thing. Galentine’s can be a beautiful day, but always remember to show love and support for women throughout all the other days to.

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Erasing “toxic positivity”

“Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn to new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough, we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy, always”.

S.C. Lourie

It’s been exactly five months since I’ve last published a blog post, which is pretty unbelievable to me! Not only have I failed to keep to my manifesto of coming up with new content every calendar month, but this realisation that five whole months have passed by is something kind of surreal altogether. Alongside the dreadful pressure of maintaining an online presence despite having no cool social life to flex, I’m also having to continuously convince you (my very limited audience) and myself that I’m vaguely fun, creative and relatable to read about. However, these feelings of doubt and inadequacy don’t need to be acknowledged or explained, only lived. So anyway, I’ve recently noticed a growing trend of people becoming overly positive. Though there is nothing wrong with seeing the glass as always half full, it can be ultimately damaging to entirely dismiss any natural emotions of anger, sadness or any feeling that isn’t completely positive. I understand the need to surround yourself with “positive vibes” which is mostly good, the majority of the time it can just come across as disingenuous and forced. So without further ado, here is an update on why I personally believe that we shouldn’t focus too much on what the chemicals in our brains are weighing and my newfound mentality of not caring. Not to seem generally insensitive towards people with genuine mental health issues of course, I couldn’t recommend therapy enough. However, this is just a personal mantra that keeps me afloat.

Okay, so I’m currently living in a house with three other girls, and in typical student-house fashion we have seen the worst and the best of each other. Emotional breakdowns over deadlines and assignments, momentary, short-lived ‘heartbreak’ over guys that won’t text us back anymore, financial restraints further exacerbated via fast fashion, year-long next day delivery and Klarna (you know, that whole ‘buy now, pay later’ deal that’s going on?) ASOS, Pretty Little Thing, Nasty Gal, Missguided- I’m looking at you, please let me live my life.

But once I came to discover that 2/3 of my housemates were on antidepressants and anxiety tablets, whilst regularly making appointments with therapists, the realisation forced me to have a serious think about my generation and our newfound outlook on mental health. Despite stigma decreasing by over 6% within the past decade, the overall outlook hasn’t REALLY changed all that much, I recall one of my housemates telling me “I just got tired of not feeling normal, I felt so embarrassed about crying all the time!”- which is of course, a very much valid emotion. But, I have to meet it with some critique.

Why has it become an embarrassment to say how we feel and why must wesolveor fix” these emotions? Throughout my time in higher education, whether that be in secondary school or university, the main lesson that I have learnt is to just tell people how you feel. The collapse of a lot of my friendships penned from being dishonest, antisocial and just an overall lack of real communication on how I feel. I’m still working on it, actually.

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary,” observed Cecil Beaton, who was born in 1904.

For so long, I thought that the past 2-3 years had been dedicated to recovering. I fully committed myself to feeling better about things. I wanted to recover from the trauma that secondary school brought me, my home life, and other disappointments. Then I learnt that there’s absolutely no avoiding it. You can go your whole life insisting that it only gets better from here onwards, but you’ll always be faced with something new that will kick and punch you. And you’re not wrong for feeling bad about these things.

For example, when I was seventeen I went through my first brutal heartbreak. It’s never been easy for me to talk about, even today. Without going into too much detail, he was a drug addict with eyes for someone else and I was a lovesick teen with no sense of self-worth, we were only 16-17 but it had a profound experience on me as a teenager. It may not have been real for him but it certainly was for me, and it was one of the worst emotional experiences that a 17-year-old could go through. So after that, I recall thinking “Okay, I’ve experienced this thing and now it’s over” but then once I turned 18, it happened again, but with a slightly different narrative. Cheating boyfriend, not a drug addict but instead emotionally abusive; and on top of that he quickly began to hook up with my friend who I thought would never do that sort of thing, and nobody seemed to mind, either. Nobody checked in to see how I was doing. As if this was just “normal”.

Then throughout the years as I became older, things took another bad turn. I was having very bad family problems, I lost jobs, I lost friends that I thought would stick around forever, I hated my university and began doubting my place on this earth (I’m going somewhere with this, don’t worry) I knew that I wanted to be a journalist but I began to hate my course and the people in it, so I didn’t see the point anymore. I had completely lost all motivation. And I felt bad about it.

People will always tell you that you serve no purpose being sad, that it’s a major sign of weakness and that someone out there is always going through something worse- which is indeed true but that in no way should invalidate whatever it is that you’re feeling. There we are again, feelings. I used to hang on to that word by a thread, like I said earlier, there was always this belief that you would experience something tremendously bad but it was okay because it will eventually stop. One day you’ll wake up and everything will calm down a bit and be…better. Which is to some extent true, but let’s not dismiss the fact that this is real life. Bad things happen all the time, but so do the good.

I read a quote on Man Repeller once which said You’ve been around long enough to know that dark places aren’t locked rooms, but tunnels“. And that’s it, bad emotions aren’t exactly bad overall, we often treat our uncomfortable feelings and emotions as if they had no real right to exist, inconveniences to be anesthetized or bludgeoned into extinction. But emotions aren’t really the enemy. They are feedback sent from within, messages sent from our deeper self that tell us how we are doing. As such, there really are no bad feelings — only comfortable or uncomfortable ones.

I know that there is this ongoing pressure to always seem busy, I get questioned all the time on what it is I do all day. I also know that there is this urgency to escape the hardship through grit and sweat, that any form of negative emotion has to be immediately wiped or otherwise you’re a depressed failure. Like say, if you submit one exam or essay that didn’t get the best grade, then you felt like you weren’t made for academia and that you should give up wanting a degree. But that’s not the case, it took a very long time for me not to treat these emotions as a blanket diagnosis but rather a stepping stone to something else. And I like to think that being able to bare this in mind keeps me up a level. You’re not doing it wrong, sadness and frustration aren’t just the shitty parts to make the good parts feel better, but just parts — the logical means through which get through to the next one.

Maybe I’m not the best person to take emotional advice from, and within the many times in life that I’ve been wrong and have poorly misjudged a situation, I can guarantee that I’m kind of right about this one thing. Without sounding corny or tedious, you can’t appreciate a good meal without having starved (not literally, I mean don’t deliberately go hungry) and you don’t appreciate a hot shower unless you’ve been out all day and you don’t appreciate the summer without going through the miserable months of January, February and March first. There’s something amazing in just riding it out and going through it. It’s not always good, but it makes a hell of a story to tell afterwards. Life is a far more interesting that way, like literally every movie that you will ever watch will have a point where something supposedly sad happens halfway through- both the cheesy and the epic ones. So don’t feel weird for having negative emotions, do not apologise for the inconvenience and then try to immediately jump to fix them. They always say it’s better to have felt something rather than nothing at all, it gives everything substance and meaning, and isn’t that what they’re meant for anyway?

Still I Rise: ‘Feminisms, Gender, Resistance’ Exhibition review

On October 26th, the Nottingham Contemporary art gallery launched a new effervescent exhibition titled ‘Still I Rise’ which runs until 27th January, 2019. The name stems from Maya Angelou’s empowering poem from 1978 which tackles subjects of prejudice and injustice.

Similarly to the poem, the exhibition showcases themes of resistance, gender, feminism and resilience as well as exploring the roles that women played in the history of resistance movements. It also refers to artists spanning centuries and continents who are protesting and exploring new, alternative forms of living.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps
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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Coinciding with the centenary of women’s suffrage within the UK, this major group is a demonstration of endurance around the world, spanning across the time periods between the late 19th century to present reforms.

The exhibition also references key historic moments including the Civil Rights Movement, resistance against dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960’s–70’s, independence movements against colonial rule in Africa, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the AIDS crisis and the Stonewall Rebellion, exhibiting pieces from a multiplicity of perspectives, from minor cases on the domestic sphere to larger scale uprisings.

Since opening in 2009, the Nottingham Contemporary has been the city’s chance to make a larger cultural mark in the global art scene, highlighting social upheavals and movements through art.

What is most compelling about this new exhibition is how it captures such a pivotal era, showcasing art as a form of protest, declaration and revelation. The exhibition itself signifies the abuse of power by those who sit in high government positions, as well as the judiciary and people within the police force. For the public, it sends out clear, repeated messages of hope. For those who understand the meaning of repeated wrongdoing, the title ‘Still I Rise’ becomes an anthem, a beacon of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Upon arrival, spectators are immediately faced with a giant board with pens and coloured paper on the side. On each piece of paper, visitors are addressed with questions such as “Blank page – Share your thoughts and feelings about the stories and themes in the exhibition” and “What does resistance look like to you? Share your acts of resistance”.

Not only do these types of statements engage viewers into the exhibition and facilitate individuals to involve their personal input, but they also help to widen conversations for future observers, opening up a much-needed discussion. This form of interactive art enables visitors to build their own versions of the accompanying publication, reflecting a history of self-publishing as a form of resistance. Answers were often playful but pressing, with answers written in permanent marker such as “TRANS RIGHTS R HUMAN RIGHTS” and “BEING WHOEVER THE F@#& I WANT TO BE!”.

Within the exhibition, there are different rooms for each gallery, and each one of these rooms is arranged thematically across different practices and waves of feminism. Above the artworks themselves, the exhibition displays have been designed by f-architecture, a research-based architectural practice which explores issues surrounding the spatial politics of bodies and subjects.

As well as the catalogue, which is by OOMK (One of My Kind), the London-based collaborative publishing practice that has produced a book with rearrange-able pages to allow the reader to structure their own thoughts.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

The first artist to be gazed upon is none other than feminist artist Judy Chicago, with a pink-peach background for a wall, Chicago’s explosive colour pieces are complimented marvellously. It’s been over 50 years since the artist debuted her flame, fireworks and smoke performances on print, yet the pyrotechnics of Smoking Bodies in the Californian desert still ignites the same passionate reaction today. Chicago created this body of work as a reaction to the male dominance of land art created in the 1960’s.

Other standout pieces were displayed proudly within another gallery room titled ‘A Rumour’. This area features an array of protest posters showcased a decade later, during the 70’s, by the See Red Women’s Workshop, covering topics from abortion rights to Margaret Thatcher’s benefit cuts. There are also Suffragette Mary Lowndes’s detail-orientated and crafted banners that were designed for the 1908 National Union of Suffrage Societies procession, alongside a selection of prison photographs of female anarchists affiliated with the Paris Commune of 1871.

Queer artists, however, made the most significant impact in this particular area; a tower of Zoe Leonard’s infamous poem ‘I WANT A DYKE FOR PRESIDENT’ was distributed to visitors of the exhibition. The piece highlights the need for a wave of politicians which represent marginal voices across the spectrum. Despite being published in 1992, it recently regained recognition and relevancy as it was performed as a rap by Mykki Blanco for a video, during the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election.

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

The erasure of minorities and the outvoted isn’t uncommon within history. There have been many examples in recent years which show that many important movements and advancements within biographies involved more than the white men who were accredited. I recently read a line inside the Stanford Daily about representation which said “Representation can make disadvantaged groups become real people” and I think I’ll continue to use this quote in the future because it’s true, and that’s why exhibitions like these are so engaging: they help us to realise that there is a lot going on outside of our echo chamber.

There are patriarchal hierarchies and that’s the brutal truth about the world we live in, within all sectors. Whether we agree or understand it all or not is irrelevant because not everything is our story to tell and a lot of the time, we want to be heard more than actually understood. Isn’t that what Maya Angelou fought for her entire life anyway?

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Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance, Act 1, Nottingham Contemporary, 2018. Image credit: Stuart Whipps

Tyler Spangler on throwing illegal parties and how to be drugs without doing them 

Even if you don’t recognise the name, you would have encountered his work in some shape or form; Tyler Spangler is a Cali-native artist who rose to fame through his lurid, bold and vibrant pieces. As Jealous Gallery puts it, Tyler’s work focuses on the formalist relationship between images removed from their original context, while exploring the connotations of colour, form, and photography.

His work is the physical equivalent to a Flume song, sonically pleasing with a floating, comatose feeling. Tyler explains his style as “A grape flavoured Popsicle dipped in the ocean and placed on a rock to melt”. Whereas his lecturers and teachers could only describe it as looking like “a high school year book on acid”. Yet despite the substance influenced scenes, Tyler denies any involvement with the stuff and claims to be just “a bit obsessive”. Tyler’s work disseminates the world around him of surfing and west coast sunshine, but doesn’t stay ignorant by exploring the human condition and involving some significant political messages on gun control and mental health.

Tyler Spangler’s work caught my eye when I was around 15 years-old, my GCSE art teachers made us get a Pinterest account to ‘seek inspiration’, and upon scrolling aimlessly for what used to feel like hours, I came across his websites and social media pages which I later came to discover held 160k+ followers on his Instagram alone and double that on his Tumblr.

I was pretty captivated by the way that he plays with animation and colour, placing  bright colours, psychedelic patterns and cartoons and intertwining it with black and white old photography combing two different forms of art, creating  an outcome of colourful stimuli into the modern ‘gif’ age. This cool mix of old and new reminded me of a modern day Andy Warhol, even though my GCSE level attempts to recreate his art was beyond poor, he still saved me when I was feeling uninspired and landed me a decent grade, so I felt almost obliged to reach out- and you could have imagined my reaction once he responded (excited). That being said, here’s the exclusive chat I had with the artist, the first one I’ve ever interviewed too, and he did not disappoint.

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Your work mostly involves rather random images taken out of context, where do you source them?

I source all of my imagery from royalty free sites such as flickr commons, library of congress, and sphere.

Describe your work using 3 adjectives.

Chaotic, calming, curious.

You originally got a BA in psychology, what made you decide to explore digital collage?

I originally made hand collages on my bedroom floor which was really fun. I began exploring digital collage soon after and fell in love with the immediate manipulations and availability of imagery.

What’s the design process like typically? How long does it take you to create a collage?

It varies drastically. Most of the time I will search for imagery with no intention in mind and I basically just wait for something to spark an idea. I am always listening to music while I work. I used to listen to a lot of Electric Wizard but I am mixing it up and listening to this really cool YouTube channel called Don’s Tunes which is basically just modern covers of old blues songs. I really like to listen to slow and emotional music when I work – I think it helps access subconscious ideas.

How do you keep coming up with fresh, new and original content?

I sort of force myself to make new stuff everyday. I have gotten to the point where I get anxious if I am on vacation or away and I wont be able to make something. In those cases I just make extra work or repost old pieces. I tend to look at a lot of my old pieces and try to reinterpret them if I am at a loss for ideas. It usually comes out different so I am not too worried about recycling ideas.

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Do you ever get creators block? If so, how do you usually overcome it?

Probably about 40% of the time I sit down to work. I will just brute force myself through it and mix it with video games. I will start something then pause and play a video game or make food then come back to it. Temporarily taking a break is good.

You dropped out of the Art Centre College of Design, why was this? Do you think creatives can pursue their dream without getting a formal education?

I didn’t think the price justified what I was getting out of it. I didn’t want to begin my career in a financial hole in an industry where truth is subjective. Being in debt would force me to do work that I wasn’t interested in. I think it is definitely possible to be a creative without formal education but its definitely harder. You have to work your ass off, have something unique, and kinda get lucky.

How would you say your personality is reflected in your work?

I think it is a reflection of my introversion mixed with my curiosity for chaos. Originally I would interpret my emotions through imagery but recently I have started to experiment with typographic pieces. Its kind of cool to be a little more literal. I like to think I have a very playful and humorous personality and I think the colors and imagery I use reflect that.

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What do you think are some of the most inspiring things happening in art currently?

I think its amazing how artists are making mental health more positive. Im not sure this is entirely new but I have been noticing more attention and acceptance of mental health issues in the art community. It is really fun to bring awareness to such an important cause.

Some of your more recent pieces was a graphic commentary on the state of gun laws in America, do you think art should be more political or should, just be? Especially during these particularly divisive and politically polarising times.

I think art can be whatever anyone wants it to be. Its hard not to be political with art as it is a reflection of the self and environment in which one lives. I am not a political person but I like to create what I feel and sometimes it just comes out.

How do you think the internet has affected graphic design? Has social media been used to your advantage?

In one sense it has homogenised style’s but it has also created a competitive environment where the most enticing work will rise to the surface. Staying prolific is rewarded with attention. Social media is the main reason I am able to freelance. I am quite an obsessive person and the efficiency of being able to send my portfolio to 50 companies in one day for free sure beats the old method of sending an expensive physical portfolio to a company and paying for postage. Social media has removed a lot of the risk.

You ran an illegal punk venue for 13 shows which eventually got shut down by the police, that’s pretty badass. Speak a little about that, what would the shows entail?

After I graduated from college I had no idea what I wanted. I just knew that I loved surfing, art, and music. I loved going to punk shows and made friends with one band in particular. There is never enough if any all ages venues in most cities. I thought it would be cool to take a stab at running a cool warehouse where bands could play regardless of age. So I basically took my savings and convinced a guy from craigslist to let me pay 3 months up front. Everything went fine up until the cops came after the third week. Shows were super fun. The first show everyone lit fireworks which was exhiliarting but almost gave me a heart attack at the thought of a fire. Another show resulted in someones leg going through the wall into the neighboring business. I had to apologize and haphazardly repair the wall myself. A lot of it was just empowerment of knowing that I created something out of nothing.

And lastly, what advice would you give to any struggling creative out there?

If you are truly passionate about working in a creative field, stay true to your own style and be honest. There is nothing worse then making a watered down version of someone else.

Keep up with Tyler and find him here;

Website– http://tylerspangler.com/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/tyler_spangler/

Buy his prints– https://society6.com/tylerspangler/s?q=new

Buy his designs on shirts– https://tylerspangler.bigcartel.com/

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All work copyright © Tyler Spangler

Drama Films about PoC by Women of Colour that everyone should watch

A small list of some of the most talented women of colour directors within the film industry telling important stories.

Today is March 8th so we celebrate the political, cultural, economic and social achievement of women all around the world! Yay! 👭👩‍❤️‍👩👩‍❤️‍💋‍👩

So to mark Internationals Women’s Day, especially now during the post-Oscars period where there has been a buzz surrounding women and marginalised groups with Greta Gerwig being considered the best director in that category, Daniela Vega of ‘A Fantastic Woman’ became the first openly trans woman with a lead role in history to win an Academy Award and Get Out, which satirises the hidden racism of ‘good white liberals’ also won multiple awards making Jordan Peele the first Black director to win best original screenplay- the thirst for films made for and by PoC are at an all time high.

(Hold the applause guys, Historic achievements are a slippery thing: A ceiling is shattered, but the noise reminds us that the ceiling is there in the first place)

It’s time to recognise the extraordinary work of women behind Hollywood’s cameras; and, though this list is only a tiny portion of those contributions, these women’s creative achievements are certainly worth the celebration so I thought to create a list of films I personally find inspiring and empowering about the journeys of PoC made by WoC.

 

Real Women Have Curves by Patricia Cardoso (2002)

Real Women Have Curves is a charming and warm-hearted look at a Mexican-American teenage girl coming of age in a boiling cauldron of cultural expectations, class constrictions, family duty, and her own personal aspirations that defies popular notions about immigrant families. Brown girls, this is for you.

 

Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye (1996)

“I’m working on being a filmmaker, the problem is I don’t know what I wanna make a film on, I know it has to be about Black women because our stories have never been told”. Cheryl Dunye tells us on the trailer as she’s candidly speaking into a camcorder about how queer women of colour should be represented in movies. And she does just that, writing and directing the first feature-length film to focus on African-American lesbians 20 years ago. So if you fancy a very 90s film, shot in a very fun style by a black lesbian specifically about black lesbians (even more specifically black lesbians in film) then add this on to your list.

 

Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair (2001)

Following her sexy yet controversial Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, Nair releases her strongest film yet, shattering stereotypes while being colourful, loud, feel-good and fun as hell. Sharing traits from Bollywood yet not being Bollywood at all, it’s a refreshing look at Indian life and is in a league of its own. Even better, it addresses globally relatable themes and concerns including the bonds of family and, most importantly, love.

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)

Just when you thought there was no gas left in the tank of revisionist vampire cinema, along comes this feminist semi-Iranian masterpiece. Combing horror, westerns and film noir, Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a unique take on feminism, sex and obviously, vampires.

 

Belle by Amma Asante (2013)– Discussion about race, especially when you’re bi-racial is not something that is Black or White- literally. The mention of biracial people in history is seriously lacking and left me asking a lot of questions growing up about what certain time periods were like for those that were mixed race for years with no real feeling of belonging. Luckily, Belle is a very good historical piece tackling slavery, race and the class system in Enlightenment Era Britain. It’s also based on a true story, some closure for y’all.

 

Pariah by Dee Rees (2011)-

A personal favourite of mine; this movie tells an involving story that’s both urgently progressive and skilfully relatable. Although it adheres to the formula that comes with its genre, “Pariah” is a compelling and necessary study of a black, gay woman having to fight against prejudice to find happiness and acceptance. Dee Rees beautifully tells the story through pictures that is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking and always tender.

 

Women Without Men by Shirin Neshat (2010)

This Farsi-language novel adaption gives a glimpse at Iranian women’s history and the richly cosmopolitan, intellectual culture that you never see on screen, it tells a story about a bunch of women with different background stories in Tehran during the 50’s who manage to a escape a life dominated by men throughout Mohammad Mosaddegh nationalist government’s power. One woman leaving an arranged marriage, a prostitute whose driven frustrated by her work, another leaves her home to join the street politics she hears outside, and eventually joining the Communist Party and an upper-class woman, married to a general, leaves her husband to live in a house in a fruit orchard she has bought. Go figure.

 

Thank you to all the women (trans women, femme identifying, queer, etc) who continue to work every single day – even by just getting up. Some days it’s hard, its always been hard – these past couple of years especially. You and your feelings are valid and real. But here’s a thank you to those who have opened up about their lives, who’ve been vulnerable and brutal and honest. This world couldn’t go on without you so keep telling your stories because they’re viral and there are so many of us who need to hear them and will miss them immensely if they’re not told. I know I will.

Jessie Maple