Grappling with Hooks and Fall as a Female Artist: Reflections Post Asiko drawn from Group Reviews of Providing a space of Freedom and Being the Subject of Art on 16/07/2016 and 23/07/2016
I remember it like it was last weekend. It was a long day and I endured in its intellectually complex discussions. I was exhausted by the night before, but I couldn’t let fatigue rein its lazy terror on me. As we sat down in our seats and drank our tea and coffee, indulging on assorted biscuits, the session commenced and so did the conversations that accompanied it at the Meles Zenawi Foundation, Àsìkò’s Head Quarters for the duration of our programme.
It was the text reviews that stood out for me during our Saturday sessions. With valid reason, we would always go over time. We had looked at texts by Linda Nochlin (Why have there been no great women artist?), Ngoné Fall and Bell Hooks (separately). It was clear that our discourse was themed around women and the politics that come with being a female in the arts. This meant that she needed to navigate a sense of place and physically mark a space for herself in the present.
What struck me was this continuing (re)evolution of the woman, and the urgency for her to be visible in the post-colony. As the subject of art -I am thinking about the producer and the actual insertion of the body in the work- her efforts to be acknowledged become translated, communicated and performed, visually. She is seen depicting her struggles and her ‘women responsibilities’- these constructs that had been imposed on her, she must grapple with them to agitate existing narratives.
Meles Zenawi Foundation in Kazanchis, Addis Ababa ©MarianneHultmann
Through the text, I am made aware that she needs to navigate a balance between these expectations set out by patriarchy, her motherly roles, her faith and her identity. She needed to create her ‘space of freedom’, and also what Bell Hooks refers to as a form of ‘transgression’. That moment of vulnerability; where she interplays in between these two important roles: as a woman and as an artist.
On those Saturdays, we gathered at the Foundation -16 July 2016 and 23 July 2016 10am sharp! Creative tensions had been pushed and intellectual boundaries, overstepped. It led me into a series of introspections, where my practice was placed under a microscope, ready to be analysed. I had to place myself in the position of a critic regarding where I was in my current social and political context in South Africa. How was I creating a space of freedom for myself? And secondly, how was I ‘transgressing’ within these fields that I was operating in? and as a result, what are the implications involved as I exist in both of these roles?
Excerpt from Being the Subject of Art by Bell Hooks
These two occasions were turning points in my mind. I began to value the importance of a critically engaged conversation. A conversation that wasn’t ‘half-hearted’ because its discourse is set within an institutional space, where assignments needed to be passed in order to progress into the next level of one’s course. It was Genuine; the purest engagement that was had with a text loaded in theory. Bear in mind, this is not a devaluation of my academic training; in fact, it played a role in exposing me to a range of ideas, some of which I didn’t know could be written about. I went to art school and I had access to all the resources but I never took advantage of them because I didn’t have enough of a solid motivation, to truly develop my interest in them. I was despondent because my curriculum wasn’t ‘speaking’ to me.
I was in awe of our discussions and for the first time in a long time (several months after graduation, actually) the words of Hooks and Fall make sense to me. I realised that their research didn’t only stem from a theorized perspective that it actually draws its thinking from current, personal encounters, social exchanges and quiet observations.
“To transgress, I must move past boundaries, I must push against to go forward” (pg.133) says Hooks and I believe that it was done so in dialogue, an everyday process, in Kazanchis, around a formally arranged Asiko boardroom setup. I appreciated how simply the theories of Fall and Hooks were broken down for all to engage in. We were able to link it back to our current contexts
16 Àsìkò participants in Addis Ababa
To conclude this entry, I am in the process of Unlearning, Every Day. I have even stated this on my bio in most of my social media pages. As a female artist, I felt trapped within this illusion that it was okay; forgetting that I too had become comfortable in that noncritical framework. Like that moment of transgression where all guards are down, I envision a practice that is radical in how it interrogated my spaces of freedom. Through Asiko, I redeveloped my ability to engage with texts the way that I ought to; in a manner that my existing curriculum didn’t. Texts that were relevant then, are relevant now, as they should be. We are not separate from the forms that surround us. As much as it is the place of the artist to transgress, it is also important to note that we need to place ourselves meaningfully in this moment; the present. The space has been created, the dialogue has started…