About wearesweetart

Sweet ‘Art is dedicated to the promotion of artists through the delivery of regular site-specific exhibitions. With a specific emphasis on working with artists who are marginalised from the marketplace, Sweet ‘Art aims to provide an accessible and inclusive space for looking at, thinking about and debating art.

Sweet ‘Art Intersect Project For WOW Festival London by Corrina Eastwood

Some of you may well have read the post I wrote in December titled I learned A Lesson Today About Feminism.  It was fueled in equal measures by frustration and inspiration but most importantly and despite the challenges to Sweet ‘Art as an organization we took away from this time a new found energy and passion for our mission and values, to be a truly inclusive, intersectional feminist organization.

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Part of this new energy and self reflectivity resulted in us looking out and reaching out in ways we maybe hadn’t done before in an attempt to join others with different perspectives. We wanted to share experiences and partner with organizations to help and be helped in furthering our mission. This has resulted in us linking with some incredible organizations for upcoming projects including Black Blossoms, the Bernie Grant Centre, WIA, Vout –O Reenees arts club and the Vagina Museum. So watch this space, exciting times ahead!

This also resulted in us being introduced to the awesome and inspirational Claudia Merhej, the curator of WOW Festival London, who asked us to join the festival this year with something visual arts based and interactive to take place at the Royal Festival Hall. We were super excited at the thought of being part of WOW after years of enjoying this incredible festival on London’s South Bank and after much coffee and many phone calls the Intersect Project was born.

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Big thanks to GreatArt for their sponsorship of this project!

 

Intersect acted in its first incarnation as a live art portraiture project exploring and challenging the male gaze in art from an intersectional feminist perspective. We decided this would be the perfect way for us to celebrate women’s month this year and its debut at WOW London felt like the perfect place for us to join with other women to develop this collaboration to continue in the future, while also archiving the project. As many of you know, at Sweet ‘Art we have a passion for the importance of archiving artists projects carried out by marginalized groups in accessible ways such as the SHE book, our responsive zine publication T’ART and this blog!

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Aims and Objectives

 The Intersect Live Art Portraiture Project set out to explore the following:

  • The concept of the ‘female gaze’ in art.
  • Subverting the concept of the traditional ‘male gaze’ in art and society (that of women as objects, often sexual objects, in the passive role of the observed only)
  • The concept of intersectional feminist perspectives (the idea that even if we all call ourselves feminists we all come from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexualities and socio economic positions which effect the way we see feminism and what it needs to be for us.)
  • Female solidarity (we know from past projects and exhibitions the importance of women joining together, talking to each other and having fun with a common aim.)

 

How Could Intersect do this?

Four female identifying artist (find out more about them here) were selected by Sweet ‘Art for the Intersect collaboration due to the exploration of feminist issues in their practice from very different social, personal and political perspectives.

The artists each worked at one of four stations on a portrait of a female identifying sitter for a set period of time.

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The sitter was asked to fill out a questionnaire before starting that asked a simple question set by each of the participating artists. This was to help the artists get an insight into the sitter beyond their physical appearance if they so wished.

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When each artists’ time slot ended, they were facilitated to move to the next station to continue working on the previous artist’s portrait, and so on until each artist sat at each of the four stations; creating a collaborative visual dialogue of an intersecting female gaze.

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We were really excited to see how this very simple way of giving female identifying artists an opportunity to focus on a female identifying sitters, would affect the resulting artworks while artists were given the opportunity to challenge their own gaze as practitioners. Artists were facilitated to move literally and conceptually, to observe from different perspectives, something that is vital to intersectional feminist thinking and values.

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We felt that the resulting artworks did act as an unpredictable representation of differing feminist and female perspectives, exploring the female gaze. However there were many ways on various levels in which the activity was evocative and challenging.

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Some artists focused on the collaborative aspect of the project as an important take-away; female artists working together on a shared project that felt inspiring yet on occasions uncomfortable. The assumption that as women and intersectional feminists, collaboration will always be easy felt pertinent, as the artists found ways to negotiate difference and work together. It can feel a bit like this when navigating feminist activism.

“….the thing that stood out was that you have to let go of your own vision, and accept that there are others and after a while you begin to sync and start to work more with what you have. I noticed that Asia for example towards the end did only a small detail and left something for me to continue with (I was behind her) so we kind of built the woman up between us, but Ting would often dominate over what had gone before – both were interesting contributions, and perhaps related to personality but both situations you had to be cool with to maintain the group – I wonder how men would have reacted to this and performed this exercise!” 

Dannielle Hodson

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The idea of challenging a male gaze, of a women traditionally being passive and the observed in art practice and this being replaced by a more active, dominating female gaze, did feel to be something that the artists were able to explore.

Dannielle mentions feeling her normal gaze in life class was challenged. That of the sitter purely as object, which maybe enacting the traditions of life drawing and the objectifying of women in this forum. However Dannielle also mentioned concern for the sitter’s feelings in relation to how she may look physically. An empathic ‘female gaze’ or a response to traditionally patriarchal dictated beauty standards?

“I also found myself at my last station erasing what had gone before and trying to ‘fix’ it, also a kind of domination but I was concerned that it looked nothing like the woman and she could be upset.  I was very conscious of the woman’s feelings where as in a life class usually I’m not really thinking about this, just the bodies angles and shape etc.” 

Dannielle Hodson

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We had such an awesome response from guests to WOW London prior to and during the event with people emailing in the approaching weeks asking to book a slot to be part of the project. We had a first come, first served sign up sheet on the day this time around and all slots were taken very quickly, it was super exciting!

It was interesting to see the different ways in which sitters chose to interact with artists and the project, and overall there was a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity with all sitters leaving with their portraits expressing that the process felt both unique and special.

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“Thank you for such a beautiful experience. Please do it again, it’s an incredible idea!”

Shiraz Engineer

 

Some women were keen to share the sense of trust and being attended to and privileged in the position of sitter, this feeling important and valuable.

“It was lovely to just sit still and be allowed to be still. I loved the concept of the rotation and the resulting artworks were wonderful!”

Anna Godsiff

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Others felt empowered by the concept of being under a ‘female gaze’ this bringing up considerations of the abuse of power or lack of consent often felt in relation to being more typically under a ‘male gaze’, as a women in society.

“…..as I was waiting for my turn, reading that I would be the ‘object of the female gaze’ felt immediately empowering, flattering and ‘sisterly’. A welcome change from being the object of the male gaze, which is more often than not, a highly unpleasant experience because we seldom give our consent. Sometimes when we do, the male gaze takes the piss into leering, and worse. So flipping that on its head – female artists, and giving one’s consent – was very exciting, and I automatically trusted them completely, not to take advantage of the powerful position they were in…”

Shiraz Engineer

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A well earned drink when fished and ready to enjoy the rest of the evening at WOW!

 

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The project not only involved the Sweet ‘Art team, our talented artists and the sitters but became a place where others visiting the festival could come and sit and watch the action, chat with us about art and feminism and have both fun and important conversations.

We cant wait to do it all again!

 

 

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A Women’s day Experience by Sian Matthews

I had a bad experience for International women’s day and it helps prove how far we still need to go.

A friend and I decided to spend IWD at a few galleries in London which were holding exhibitions and tours about women artists, the female gaze and the influential women who helped shape certain institutions. I hadn’t seen my friend for a while, I was looking forward to celebrating women and art with her.

The day started strong with a coffee and a catch up before moving on to the newly opened Richard Saltoun gallery in Mayfair. The first exhibition held at this new gallery space, ‘Women Look at Women’ explored themes such as feminine identity, censorship, gender stereotypes, sex and relationships through the work of thirteen international artists. The exhibition included beautiful but honest black and white photography by artists like Renate Bertlmann, Francesca Woodman and Annegret Soltau, as well as sculptural works by Helen Chadwick.

It was great to experience an exhibition, curated by a woman, working with female artists, feminine themes and the female gaze. You know, other then when Sweet ‘Art does it. For the most part I was impressed by it. The exhibition felt refreshing; it was clean and well thought out, and most importantly for the viewer, it was insightful and thought provoking. Of course, any exhibition has space for improvement, to learn and ensure you do things better the next time. ‘Women Look at Women’ could have been more inclusive. It could have included a wider, more diverse group of works, but it did what it was meant to do well enough for me.

After such a great start you will understand my disappointment and, honestly, outrage at our next visit.  This year for International Women’s Day, the Royal Academy intended to celebrate with ‘Feminine Futures’, a series of events and tours from the 1st – 10th of March.

We got to the RA at noon for the IWD tour, which was billed as an event that will “explore the lives of some of the important women in the history of the RA”. What we were greeted with however was anything but!

Before I explain why I was so disappointed, I should point out that this tour was one of six or seven delivered over ten days. The tour is presented by a different guide each day and therefore is different every time. For all I know the rest of the tours were spot on.

To start, the male guide took us into a small corridor next to a staircase which was decorated with photographs of the current eighty academicians. He pointed out Tracey Emin and Cornelia Parker and briefly spoke about them (they were the only female artists mentioned for the whole tour). He then spent the next 5 minutes talking about several of the men on the wall.  He made no effort to mention any other female academicians, he didn’t even mention Sonya Boyce, the first woman of colour to be made a Royal Academician, as recently as 2016.

Moving on he spoke about two paintings depicting some of the life drawing classes at the RA many years ago. These paintings showed female models being drawn by male artists and were themselves by men, although I cannot remember who. While standing in front of these paintings we were told that at this point in the RA’s history, women were banned from attending life drawing classes because it was thought that it objectified them. The guide also informed us that all female life models were from local brothels as it was inappropriate for women other than prostitutes to model nude. But according to him, all of that was ok… because they were paid a little more than their male counterparts.

Throughout the rest of the tour the guide spoke about not only the building it currently occupies, Burlington house, but also when it occupied the top floors of Somerset House and the National Gallery. He spoke about the architects, the owners of buildings and artists who have worked within the RA: all men, including Constable and even Churchill. It would have been far more interesting to tell us the little-known fact that’s among the 34 founding members of the RA there were two women! Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann.

A few times other members of the group asked about the role of women at the RA, which was met with the guide asking if any of us were artists and what our practice consists of. Both myself and my friend answered, explaining that we are installation artists with an interest in the work of the YBA’s. So we were already familiar with Tracey Emin who’s work he promptly explained to us as if we had no idea who she was. ‘My bed’ he said was a “product of her realisation of the mess around her” not exactly what I would call an in depth, insightful or accurate description.

'My Bed' by Tracey Emin

Right at the end of the tour, after someone asked about them, he briefly mentioned the suffragettes, how they had “slashed a couple of paintings in protest” basically referring to them as trouble makers who had ruined a precious painting. There is a lot of information to be found about this incident at the 1914 RA Summer Exhibition on their own website, surely a tour guide at the RA should be able to talk freely and in a respectful manner about this event?

Reading back through this it probably sounds like I am making this up. But I can promise I am not. You expect to come away from a tour of influential women at the RA feeling proud of what these women achieved in an industry that wasn’t always accepting, I expected to hear about how the women before me helped to pave the way for myself to be an artist and work in the arts today and instead I was told about how women had been mistreated by the RA until after WWII. I left feeling deflated, like we had gone backwards for an hour and honestly, I was angry.

Another point I feel I should add here is that on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the same day I was trying to celebrate with a friend. An exhibition opened at Tate Modern, all about famous “ladies man” Picasso.

After all of this I had just one question on my mind. How did such a small gallery in Mayfair, and countless other small organisations manage to get their shows and messages so right when the big institutions with all their money and resources get it so wrong? Do they not care? Do they not listen? It seems ridiculous to me and it highlights just how far we all still must go in not only getting, but understanding and respecting equality.

Threesome – an exhibition of three women painters, by Charlotte Elliston

As it was recently the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People act, which gave women who were over 30 and property-owners, the right to vote in the UK, and will soon be Women’s History Month (including International Women’s Day on 8 March), the Sweet ‘Art team will be trying to see, and post about as many relevant exhibitions and events as possible.

First up was a visit to New Art Projects gallery in London for a panel discussion about their current exhibition Threesome. Threesome is an exhibition featuring artists Roxana Halls, Sarah Jane Moon and Sadie Lee, and has been curated by Anna McNay. The focus of the exhibition is the female gaze; each of the artists are figurative painters, female, and identify as queer.  This follows on from the recent Tate show Queer British Art, which was a show timed to coincide with the anniversary of the  1967 Sexual Offences Act.  This was a great show of art by gay white men, but was a bit lacking on other forms of queerness. Threesome was partly intended as a response to this – showcasing the work of three contemporary lesbian artists. I knew in advance that the premise of the exhibition was that each artist was painting each other as well as themselves, and had also each painted a nude study of performance artist Ursula Martinez. (Along with Corrina, and some of the fab WIA group, we had recently seen Ursula in discussion with Sadie at the National Portrait Gallery for their Queer Perspectives Lates).

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Sadie Lee and Ursula Martinez in conversation at Queer Perspectives

So I was excited to see the full exhibition, and the works ‘in the flesh’ (pun intended) rather than just as images. The event featured all artists and Ursula Martinez in discussion with Anna McNay, and the gallery has said that the full transcript of the discussion will be added to their website in due course. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for this! The discussion began with Anna McNay inviting each of the artists to discuss their works in turn, before moving on to the portraits of Ursula and finally opening up the discussion to encompass more general themes from the exhibition.

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Portrait of Sarah Jane Moon, by Roxana Halls

 

Each of Roxana Halls’ portraits use heightened colours (in the discussion she mentioned positioning her subjects within a set of neon lights to create the effect) and stylised poses reminiscent of dolls, to create what I would describe as a ‘nightclub’ effect. Her subjects are flanked by mannequins dressed as iconic lesbian characters from films and are posed almost as if they are mid-dance. For most of the discussion I was facing the portrait of Sadie, and (I don’t think it was just the fact that she was wearing glasses), I was reminded of some of the iconic images of Grace Jones. I attributed this mental link to the almost luminescent skin tones Roxana created, and to the strength and power of her images.

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Bulletproof Heart album cover.

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Ms Jones in 1984 in London, by Adrian Boot

In the discussion, Roxana said that she often uses mannequins within her work, not always so explicitly. Her reason for doing so is that straight male film directors will often use mannequins in their films to represent lesbian women; somehow implying that lesbian women are not quite ‘real’ women, or not quite human. Judith Butler says in her essay Imitation and Gender Insubordination “I suffered for a long time, and I suspect many people have, from being told, explicitly or implicitly, that what I “am” is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real”. This was echoed by the ideas present in Roxana’s work

The discussion of the use of the mannequin to represent lesbian women also made me consider the myth of Pygmalion, and the use of this trope in art and culture. Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the figure of a woman he had carved, and she was brought to life with magic and became his wife. The myth has been widely used in painting, film and literature.

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Pygmalion and Galatea, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

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Still from the film, Mannequin, dir. Michael Gottlieb

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Still from My Fair Lady, dir. George Cukor (They changed the ending from the original play to add ‘romantic’ interest)

In both the straight and queer versions, these tropes appear to be created with the fear of the unknown, and the desire to impose control by not just objectifying, but actually making the woman into an object. The myth also places the creative agency in the hands of the male, whether that be the sculptor Pygmalion, shop-window dresser Jonathan Switcher, or linguist ‘Enry ‘Iggins. In these instances not only a creative, but a sexual power is also conferred to the male as in each instance, the bringing of the ‘mannequin’ to life results in sexual union.

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Portrait of Roxana Halls, by Sadie Lee

 Sadie Lee’s work focuses on the ideas of intimacy and sexuality. Her three artist portraits are reclining figures, shown in their underwear, on rumpled beds. Within the discussion, Sadie said that her aim was to use (and I think to subvert) the traditional Venus pose, where the subject had one arm bent over her head, and another around her waist.

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Venus Anadyomene, by Jean Dominique Ingres (with a barbie-doll genital area)

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Venus Williams, taken by Hirakawa for ESPN Magazine

Her portraits were created by looking at the subjects from a position between the legs (described by Sadie as a position a lover might see them from), lit from below with a harsh raking light. They pick up qualities of the skin like dimples and stretch marks. The underwear is everyday; big knickers, 100 denier tights, bras with the label sticking out. In the discussion, Sadie said that she wanted the portraits to be real and mundane. She deliberately used a harsh light, to challenge traditional notions of female portraiture equalling female beauty. Her aim was to contest the thought that a portrait of a woman has to be flattering.

The portrait of herself was based on Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, where the model is purportedly using her hand to hide her genitals, but could equally be masturbating.

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Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione,

Sadie’s self-portrait replicates this pose, but turned away from the viewer in order to make the pose “more threatening”. She explained that by turning her back on the viewer, she removes complicity in the voyeurism. The subject knows that the viewer is there, but is performing the act for herself and not them. Sadie’s portraits lie in direct contrast to the European tradition of the female nude, in which the subject displays her nudity for the observing male’s pleasure. John Berger sums this up in Ways of Seeing “In the art-form of the European nude the painters and the spectator-owners were usually men and the persons treated as objects, usually women. This unequal relationship is so deeply embedded in our culture that it still structures the consciousness of many women. They do to themselves what men do to them” – I really hope Venus Williams actively sought out her nude photoshoot of herself as a Venus!

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Portrait of Sadie Lee, by Sarah Jane Moon

Sarah Jane Moon’s portraits were created with the aim of giving her sitters agency. The fact that they are all painters was important to her, and she wanted to show them as creators in their own right. Each of the portraits was painted from visiting the artist in their own studio, and the studio features as a backdrop. Each of the artists is also featured holding a tool of their painting. The subjects all stare back at the viewer, making eye contact which is direct and unapologetic and could even be described as challenging. The paintings show that in each case the viewed is also the viewer.

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Self Portrait in a Straw Hat, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Sarah’s portraits made me remember the self-portraits of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, the 18th century French painter, and the thoughts of Griselda Pollock on this piece in particular. The artist has painted herself with the tools of her profession, but she is also portrayed as unambiguously female. She is well groomed, well dressed and beautiful. The shadow of her hat across her face and her gaze avoid confrontation. Her mouth is slightly parted in a demure smile. Pollock says that the aim of the piece is still to create a spectacle for us, the viewer, as through Western art history there has always been “an insuperable distance between the notion of the artist and the notion of a woman”.

Sarah’s pieces also critique the tradition of portraying the male artist in his studio, with his female (nude) model. In two of her portraits, we see completed works, or works-in-progress depicting naked female bodies. Within the discussion, it was revealed that one of the pieces behind Sadie was actually a self-portrait, further subverting the idea.

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The Artist’s Studio, by Gustav Courbet

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Lucian Freud, shot for Vanity Fair

Although each of the Threesome painters has a very distinct style, and is aiming to explore different things within their work, the discussion also drew out common themes. The idea of agency seemed very relevant. It seemed important to each of the artists that they were not simply producing a passive image of someone, but were creating a piece where the subject was active, dynamic and powerful – in some cases, stripping the viewer of their agency and relegating them to the role of passive consumer.

The discussion ended with the questioning of what is different about the female gaze. The panellists mentioned ideas of empathy, truth and respect; possibly even love, certainly from a queer female perspective. The point was also raised as to whether defining the female gaze was reductive. Is art created by women inherently different to that created by men? Should differentiation even be employed between art created by women and that of men?

 

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Anna McNay, Sadie Lee, Sarah Jane Moon, Roxana Halls and Ursula Martinez in conversation

There was also the acknowledgement that the idea of the female is seen through a history of the male dominated society. Notions of femaleness, and queerness are both linked to notions of otherness, perpetuated in the Western art tradition, so what does being ‘female’ even mean – how can this be defined in a society which has always just seen ‘female’ in opposition to ‘male’ and ‘queer’ in opposition to ‘heterosexual’.

The theory of there being a somehow unified female gaze also implies that there is a shared way of looking which links women through history and across the world. Griselda Pollock also references these kinds of theories that art produced by women has commonality, saying that this idea will “…efface the fact that although women as a sex have been oppressed in most societies, their oppression, and the way they have lived it, or even resisted, has varied from society to society, and period to period, from class to class. This historicity of women’s oppression and resistance disappears when all women are placed in a homogenous category based on the commonest and most unhistoricized denominator”.

Many of these discussions and debates are far to large and unwieldy to continue here, but I am sure that we will touch on them again in our various exhibition visits. I also again recommend getting down to see the show for yourself before it closes. It is also running on conjunction with 3X3, also curated by Anna McNay, which is a photographic show from 9 queer female artists.

Threesome opened on 11 January 2018 and runs until 4 March 2018 at New Art Projects, London.

I learnt a lesson today about feminism… by Corrina Eastwood

I learnt a lesson today about feminism; particularly about white feminism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always learning; I always try to be open to learning. I try to accept that the more I know, the more I know nothing, in everything I do. I try hard at this; I’m always making mistakes. Sometimes I’m more open to accepting I’ve made a mistake than others. Sometimes I can’t admit it at all, but today I really learnt something important and I want to admit it openly.

Sweet ‘Art was and continues to be something that I have put my all in to. Along with Charlotte, I have worked endless hours with no pay. I have borrowed money for Sweet ‘Art and lent money to it, to ensure every show was right, back when it wasn’t able to sustain itself. I have asked good, capable people deserving of fair pay to work for free, which is hard and which they have done. I have endured abuse, from white men who feel we leave them out due to our values and mission to privilege the voices of women and those marginalised in the arts. I have suffered abuse from artists who are frustrated that despite our tireless efforts, we just somehow didn’t get it right for them. I have also endured criticism from artists who we have not been able to accept into our shows, as we keep artistic standards very high, despite the difficulty we experience in rejecting artists. We hate excluding anyone but we are passionate about good accomplished art and about critical intersectional feminist thinking. We don’t just exhibit the work of everyone, despite this being a way that we could be more financially stable. Of course we have also endured nasty misogynistic abuse from trolls on the BBC online, but that was actually quite fun!

Despite it all I have kept going because although we always have so much to learn, I always felt it was doing something important for activism, for the arts and for women. I really truly believed in it.

Sweet ‘Art launched in 2012 on International Women’s Day with Show #1. I decided I wanted to create an art event that celebrated women’s day as there were none in London at the time, at least that I could find to attend. I wanted it to be a show that addressed women’s issues and I wanted to make vagina cupcakes. That was it, that was my plan. I think we did well; over 400 people came out to the opening, everyone was buzzing; we had booze sponsors and press interest, but we also fucked up some. I only made white vagina cupcakes as it didn’t cross my mind to make vagina cupcakes that may belong to women of colour, and the idea that not all women have vaginas, or that not everyone who has a vagina is a woman was nowhere in my consciousness at all at that time. Not at all. My black friends didn’t mention the cupcakes, the utter lack of my even considering a skin like theirs. A skin that wasn’t like mine. An experience that wasn’t like mine. I noticed this myself half way through the event as I proudly handed them out, I was mortified. On INTERNATIONAL women’s day!

I still make the vag cupcakes for some of our events; some women do have vaginas and we like the cakes. I make them in all different skin tones now and froth when I order the fondant icing online, with the off-pink being categorised as ‘skin colour’ and the brown as ‘teddy bear brown’. NOT ALL SKIN IS PINK! But I was there once. I did that once.

So that was one lesson out of many but the one I want to share now, like most lessons well learnt had to come at the expense of my feelings, not that of anyone else’s. Ironically, considering the lesson.

It was a lesson learnt through realising that there can be a type of feminism that only serves a certain type of person. That it can be well-meaning but it comes from a place of privilege and a complete lack of outward-looking; a lack of acknowledging one’s privilege and keeping it in check; a lack of consideration that what is good for you may not be good for others; a lack of realising that feminism is about all women (and men coz ya know patriarchy sucks for us all right?). That if it doesn’t serve us all then it doesn’t serve any of us. I knew this before, but I’m not sure I totally KNEW it. I always felt anyone calling themselves a feminist was a good thing; that any type of feminism is a good thing; any action in its name is good. Lets not in-fight, I always thought.

As I have noted we struggle as an organisation, we are a feminist not-for-profit arts organisation, I mean of course we would struggle, the struggle is the point right?

Well when one of our interns pointed out that an arts organisation run by two white guys, on our doorstep in Shoreditch were calling for artists to take part in their next Nasty Women exhibition, that will take place this time on International Woman’s Day 2018, I struggled with this news, actually my heart sank. The last Nasty Women exhibition this organisation hosted as far as I can tell was a great success in terms of turnout. As far as I know all artists are exhibited for free. I also believe that all art that is submitted will be exhibited.

Firstly if all artists exhibit for free the money must come from somewhere and this organisation, that sprung up a couple of years ago seems to have a lot of it. Good for them I say! They also seem to have good contacts, good sponsorship deals and even give profits for the Nasty Women shows to charity. Good for them I say! I’m sure they work hard but I know for a fact that they won’t have had to work as hard as us and they will have had privileges we haven’t…. but ya know….good for them!

…but unfortunately it will be bad for us. Despite the fact that we have been doing this for years, that we are women that live the feminist cause (I write on the subject and lecture on integrating feminist intersectional thinking into art psychotherapy practice. I have worked front line with women who are survivors of all that the patriarchy has had to throw at them and been a casualty myself.) Despite the fact that we curate seriously, we don’t just exhibit everyone, because a naïve belief that all art by any women is feminist art is dangerous in terms of activism. We don’t just pop #feministart next to all of our insta posts and hope it makes it so. We actually do a fair bit of thinking.

Despite all of this, of course artists will not pay to exhibit their work with us, so we can cover our costs, when the big boys are doing it for free.

So…the irony that a rich white male run organisation will host a ‘feminist’ exhibition on International Women’s Day and sink and ultimately silence an actual women run feminist not-for-profit arts organisation in the process, does not escape us. You have got to love that patriarchy right?! In fact this organisation seems to be hosting quite a few ‘feminist’ exhibitions now, it seems to have become their thing.

Nasty Women was and will be curated by a woman, it isn’t all men at the helm as I’m sure they will argue. I am of course glad a young women is interested in feminism and wants to host this show, but surely I can be forgiven for being slightly irked when I read her instagram posts, naïvely asking if people have been watching the news lately about Harvey Weinstein. “It’s so relevant right now. (heart eyes emoji) It’s important in society today and bringing this to London, it’s important to me that women have their voices heard”

It’s so relevant right now…. Let’s listen to women’s voices….. Well listen to this….

This is what privilege does, it makes you feel everything is yours for the taking and every thought you have is the first; that you are doing it all for the right reasons and that you will save everyone with your idea. It makes you throw money at a fashionable skinny white girl version of a ‘movement’ that actually silences the voices of some women, of the people who have been slogging away for years at this so “relevant now” cause, and it enables you do it all without even noticing, because you haven’t looked further than your own instagram likes, read a book or acknowledged the shoulders on which you stand that laid the foundations for you to do it all in the first place.

So as I pondered the situation, of two white men taking our thing for the lols, it suddenly hit me, all of a sudden I KNEW, something that before I had only known, and I felt a bit ashamed.

I knew that this is what it feels like to be silenced by your lack of privilege by people who have that privilege and just don’t see it, in the name of a movement you thought could do no wrong. I wondered if at Sweet ‘Art we ever did that. I wondered if I ever did that. I thought about women of colour who talk about white feminism. I thought about trans women and sex workers who talk about feeling excluded from a certain type of feminism.

Its not the same, I’m in no way saying it’s the same but it none the less made me KNOW a bit more.

We may or may not host our own women’s day show again in 2018, but what ever we do, we will do it with this knowledge and if we continue we will continue to honour our values. We will try harder to reach out more, to look out more, and we will continue our dedication to partnership. We will try and build stronger relationships with other feminist arts organizations, particularly those that are run by women of colour and trans women. We will do better, because we have a lot to learn.

I’m sure the Nasty Women IWD show will be a great success. I hear from lots of sources that the curation and organization of the last one was, well, interesting! It takes experience to get it right, it takes years of getting it wrong, and I hear the curator is very new to feminist art show curation, so let’s give her time. If only she had a women run feminist arts organization with years of curating experience, just on the doorstep that could have and would have been happy to help!

 

 

 

If you are an organisation that would like to partner with Sweet ‘Art, if you would like to make a donation or would like to get in touch about the content of this blog post please do so via our website wearesweetart.com  

Why are there so few Womxn Gamers? Written by Gwendolyn Faker

The sexism and discrimination we see in gaming is a self fulfilling prophecy; while video games and advertising were initially gender-neutral, advertising began to narrow its focus to young boys as a target market following the video game crash of 1983. Since then a toxic culture has grown up around a mandate of exclusion and discrimination.

The sexism and discrimination we see in gaming is a self fulfilling prophecy; while video games and advertising were initially gender-neutral, advertising began to narrow its focus to young boys as a target market following the video game crash of 1983. Since then a toxic culture has grown up around a mandate of exclusion and discrimination.

Where critics and curators are the gate keepers of the art world, in gaming, well, it’s just dude bros (also known as broflakes). They’re the gamer archetype we all know and loathe; the straight white man aged 13-35 shouting obscenities into a headset ‘schooling newbs’ and shouting about how he’ll ‘face fuck your mum’. For the past 30 years we’ve watched as womxn and womxns bodies used as bullseyes, objects of sexual desire, props, plot-points, trophies and decoration. Honestly it’s tiring, and a big turn off for many would be gamers.

Hi, I’m Gwendolyn, I’m 30 years old(so I was born just after the Atari Shock of ’83). I identify as queer and non-binary/gender fluid and I’ve been gaming since I was 4 years old. I’ve been plugged into a NES, a SNES, a Sega, a Gameboy, a N64, a PlayStation, or an Xbox console for most of my life, playing adventure, role playing, puzzle, and PVP fighter games. I’ve whiled away hours in front of a computer screen! Playing old school DOS games when does games were still new school. I’ve played Myst, Oregon Trail, Sims, and in my late teens had a brief but passionate tryst with the MMORPG World of Warcraft that culminated in a 26 hour long binge and the resulting re-evaluation of where my life was headed. I’m no stranger to board and table top games and have known to throw down in Settlers of Catan as well as RISK despite my abhorrence  for colonisation and war and I once sustained a concussion while playing a Monopoly.

Nowadays I don’t play as often as I used to, but I make a point of staying up to date with what’s new, and what’s happening in the industry, especially when it comes to technology, and issues of diversity and representation.

The latest statistics show that 48% of females play games, and 50% of males play games, so why does it seem womxn are still being excluded from gaming?

“Statistically gaming is very male dominated in terms of whose making the games … and how the subject of the games are swell… so you have these groups of dudes who don’t think women should be involved [in] gaming or think we’ve only just got interested in gaming so they have this sense of well we played games because we were bullied in school and it was a way for us to escape being the geeks, how dare you come in all of a sudden and care about games and try to change them, this deep sense of entitlement [of] this is our den our boys club and how dare you try and infiltrate them.”Anita Sarkeesian, Feminist Frequency

If this sounds familiar it may be because these same attitudes exist about womxn and ART. Sylvia Stone, when answering the question posed by Lina Nochlin ‘Why have there been no Great Women Artists?’, wrote of there being ‘…a sneaking fear of being called a man hater or having the label of penis envy slapped on them in this Freudian age, perhaps they just enjoyed being one of the boys. But these feelings are slowly turning around…’ this self policing, and self doubt, are direct results of this exclusionary culture and it’s disparaging of attitudes towards womxn in gaming(and art).

In terms of evolutionary psychology we know that “female-initiated disruption of a male hierarchy incites hostile behaviour from poor performing males who stand to lose the most status” and it’s been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN “men who harass women online are actually losers” but that isn’t little comfort when you’re being told to ‘show your tits’ in exchange for gold on the busy a market streets in Ironforge.

The changes we’re seeing (growing diversity and representation) haven’t come about on their own. They’re not a benign development. They’ve been fought hard for.  Thanks to critics and academics like Anita Sarkeesian, Kishonna Gray, Emma Vosen, Kellee Santiago and Jennifer Jenson, we are finally starting to see the industry evolve past it’s caveman attitudes.

But like all social change there is backlash: #GAMERGATE.

While industry professionals have pointed the finger to condemn the #GAMERGATE ‘for damaging the video gaming community and the public perception of the industry’ they’re also partly responsible. In 2007 a study by Miller and Summers (2007) found that, “Of the 49 games included in the analysis, 282 male humans and 53 female human characters appeared, indicating 1 female for every 5.3 male characters”. They’re the ones creating homogenous content, and they’re the ones marketing it. A 2016 study showed nearly 75% of the industry was male. They as the makers of games are reinforcing the idea of gaming as a ‘boys club’ with just about everything they do right down to their hiring practices.

Admitting there’s a problem in gaming is the first step, the question is where do we go from here? The industry itself so far seems unwilling to admit the role they’ve played and would rather point the finger elsewhere. If they could I’m sure they would take #GAMERGATE, and everything it’s dredged up and brought to the light of day, and have it buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in New Mexico like so many unsold video game cartridges.

Thirty years after the Atari Shock, and the subsequent shift in the marketing of video games(from something for everyone to something just for boys), the industry has FINALLY begun to accept what the statistics that have long shown; WOMXN PLAY VIDEO GAMES. It took something as extreme as #GAMERGATE to get the industry thinking about how it treats womxn and the effects that has had on broader cultural attitudes.

Sweet Art put together a panel of womxn gamers and get their ideas and opinions on gaming, their experiences with gamer culture, and what changes they’d like to see;

  • Bernadette, is 31, a Writer for a popular online gaming media outlet, and a Mom.
  • Sarah, is 27, is a lesbian, and works as Theatre Artist.
  • Kelly, is 30, a hairdresser and creative. She has OCD, depression, and Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Penelope, is 23, is studying for a Bachelor of Design (Games), and currently works for a technology company that develops free-roam virtual reality systems.
  • Laura, is 28, an Artist and Arts Educator.

What’s the first game you remember playing? How old were you? How did it make you feel?

Sarah: My mother has a photo of me when I’m incredibly young, [maybe] 2 years old, with my brother (6 years my senior) playing a game on the NES. In this photo, I’m happily sitting next to him with a wide smile, clutching the controller for player 2, and clearly have no idea what I’m doing. I’m willing to bet my brother let me button mash my way through my early childhood. I also remember going to my Aunt’s house for family dinners, where my oldest cousin had a SNES, and I’d be allowed to play it for a while after supper, usually playing Yoshi’s Island, probably because I thought Yoshi was a cute character. I’d have been around 6 or 7 at this point. The first time I remember gaming leaving a lasting feeling with me, though, is when Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out for N64. I was at the house of a friend whose father owned the local video store, so they always had access to the newest movies and games. They’d hooked up a projector to the system, and I remember standing in the basement as my friend’s older brother rode around Hyrule, showing us Link’s moves, Epona, and the songs you could play on the Ocarina. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The graphics were beautiful when I compared them to anything else I’d played, there was a cute horse you got to have as your companion, and the melodies on the ocarina had me entranced. Needless to say, I was hooked, and the rest is history.

Bernadette: I’m 31, have had a mild obsession with games since I can remember and find that it both alienates and brings me closer to people. I’m not great at making friends my age and find that is often due to a lack of mutual interests: I don’t care about your kitchen remodel, and you don’t care about my speed run times! It’s hard. My 11yr old son is on the spectrum and has always had a knack for strategy games and video games. It makes having something in common so easy for us while also giving me joy to see my little nerd excel at something. I don’t play online anymore; I have kinda been scared away. I get addicted and spend too much time so that when I end up having a negative experience in something I have invested so much time and energy on, it really bothers me and turns me off the game. I write for [an online gaming media outlet] and have for several years, but I struggle to break into anything more in the game world as I’m not tech savvy, I’m a writer but don’t know how to get more involved. Games are life!

Laura: I never actually grew up with any games. My parents refused to buy me and my sister any gaming consoles apart from a shared original game-boy. It was technically my sister’s so I could only play it every now and then, until she quickly lost interest (being 3 years older than me). I collected more and more games and defeated each and every castle and saved every princess with vigour. When my parents visited their friends, I’d go just so I could sneak up to their attic and play on their SNES (that I still pine over). As I got older I would sneak onto my father’s laptop to play wheel of fortune or “you don’t know jack”, even though I never truly enjoyed trivia games. Basically I got my unknown fix wherever I could. By the time I was a teenager I had developed a taste for gore. Being a goth-y teenager in a small town, I was frequently teased… So I would play PC games to try and escape the reality that was my teenage years. Now that’ I’m an adult I always feel the pang to play, but feel like I rarely have time to actually play. I still stick to PC games, simply because I kick serious ass in them, and I tend to fumble a bit with console controllers. Looking back on my childhood I now realise that gaming was a means to deal with General Anxiety Disorder, which I was officially diagnosed with in my mid twenties.

What games do you play most (RPG, PVP, MMORPG, BOARD, etc)? What are you favourites? How do you chose which games to play?

Sarah: I’ve had so many favourites over the years. These days I would say I mostly play RPG or MMORPG games. Some old favourites include Harvest Moon 64, Ocarina of Time, all Pokemon games, Majora’s Mask and a good game of Smash Bros. or Mario Party when with a group of friends. Recent favourites in the last few years have been The Last of Us (the story of and bond between Joel and Ellie had me in tears by the end), Skyrim (for the vast landscape, epic story elements and immersive sense of fantasy), Witcher 3 (I was really invested in Geralt’s story both as a Witcher and as a man struggling with the relationships he has with those around him), Uncharted 4 (the gameplay was so fun, and the sense of adventure and excitement was incredibly addictive) and, most recently, Horizon Zero Dawn (for its look into mankind’s use of technology/how far is too far, the examination of mankind’s connection to the Earth itself, and also for its feminist protagonist.) I’ve always played other games like Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Just Dance, Guitar Hero, Destiny and the like, but those are more titles I play for fun or with friends. The ones I’ve talked about more thoroughly in these answers are the ones that keep me playing week after week, and really fuel my passion for gaming.

Laura: Typically the games I chose are based on reviews, or how it looks. I know the saying “never judge a book by it’s cover” but sometimes you just want something with dark hallways and crazy weapons, not fields of butterflies. That being said, I like user reviews. If it’s extremely popular and seems mentally challenging, I’ll give it a try. It has to have a good story line or purpose. I don’t like doing super repetitive things with little outcome. I tend to like creepy-ish games. There’s a cool one that’s coming out soon that I’m really excited for, called “We Happy Few”. It looks exactly like the type of thing I’m into.

Penelope: I like a range of game types. My favourites tend to be social party games, or PvE games of any platform. I enjoy spending time with other people and those games enable that. I also love sim games such as the Sims or Animal Crossing. I like making things and personalising them. I look for games that have an appealing art style, interesting story, or are based around an interesting idea. It also depends on how socially progressive the game is (how is gender portrayed? Does is reinforce negative stereotypes of race, gender, sexuality etc?)  For example Dragon Quest looks super fun and cute, but I hate the way the people are drawn and so only tried it once. Games that reinforce negative stereotypes of any type (gender, race etc) through art/design I’ll also be less likely to play, or feel comfortable with. Games with exceptional design (characters, animation, art, everything) such as Overwatch and Breath of the Wild I am extremely attracted to.

Gwendolyn: I have never been able to play first person anything, it makes me so nauseas, I have dyspraxia so that may have something to do with it. I’ve lways preferred games with a story, something that let me be someone else for a few hours and see and do things I’d never done before. Games like Harvest Moon, Monster Hunter, Ōkami, Fable, and Monster Rancher are my favourite titles. That being said I love PVP Fighter games like Eternal Champions, Bloody Roar, and Street Fighter, mostly because as a kid they allowed me to beat the shit out of my siblings. I like cute games, and I would be lying if I didn’t say art didn’t play a HUGE part it what I chose to play. Now I am more discerning about what I play than I was as a kid or even as a teenager, I won’t play games that rely on tropes or perpetuate stereotypes.

What has changed since you first starting gaming?

Kelly: My view of games and the kinds of games that I like vs the type of games I thought I would like. I really like The Darkness and Farcry which are pretty horrible in terms of story and all that. I don’t believe in “putting aside your feminism” to watch/play/whatever, basically consume something that doesn’t align perfect with your feminism. I mean, let’s be real, if I were to do that I’d literally watch nothing. I guess I’m a lot more into violence that I imagined and also I’m a run straight into the danger vs hide n’ wait until it passes type which surprises me.

Gwendolyn: When I started gaming everything was so basic, clunky 2d 16bit was the newest thing and now we’ve got these games with totally immersive 3D world. We have virtual reality games now! I think though, the really disappointing thing is that while the technology has been hurtling into the future faster than the speed of light attitudes about gaming and gamer culture hasn’t progressed passed dial-up. It’s old fashioned, and if you do something you’re ‘not supposed to’ like play while female you get this horrible non-sensible screeching sound. Games are still marketed almost exclusively to men and boys, most titles are still shoot-em-ups and when we actually do get an expansive sandbox game(GTA) it’s full of sexism, rape, and racism, which means I sure as hell am not playing it. I think now post Gamer Gate we’ve seen game makers start to recognise that they’re part of the problem, and have started to make changes.

Penelope: Games are getting a lot more inclusive. For example Pokemon Red was also one of my first games, now in Pokemon I can choose my gender and skin colour where I could not before. There is also a little bit more diversity in the main characters of AAA games. Games companies are being held more accountable for lack of diversity. With indie games and the increased choice around games, there’s no one way to be a gamer anymore, and it’s easier to find diverse games in both gameplay or characters.

Laura: I think the community has changed since I first started gaming too. It’s more acceptable now for literally anyone to be a gamer without being pressured or tested regularly on how much they know. People realise now that it’s fun. It’s a release, an escape. You still get the idiot that tries to call you out, but I think there’s more variation of people with access to games now, which not only widens demographics, but also makes gaming more acceptable and less challenged in society. It’s like reading Fifty Shades of Black on the subway: Everyone knows you’re reading porn, but it’s totally acceptable. Does that analogy make sense?

Do you see yourself represented in Games? Do you feel included in the ‘Gamer’ community? What still needs to change? What would you like those who create games to know? What would you like to see in the future?

Penelope: I tend to avoid most gaming communities. Most public gaming events I’ve attended I have felt uncomfortable at, being almost always the only girl. Also being queer, non-monogamous, and not-white leaves me feeling safer and most comfortable gaming with friends or people whom I know are good. I sometimes see parts of myself being represented, and each time is like a breath of fresh air, and I feel a little more like myself. I generally see this through custom character customisation allowing me to be female or have dark skin. I never see my non-monogamous side portrayed in a positive light.

Laura:  I always felt sort of strange. Boys would hit in my in-game because I was a girl, or they’d make fun of me and I’d gank the shit out of them. In real-life a lot of people saw it as a ploy I think: “fake gamer girls” and all that. More so now than when I was a teenager. Back then I was a huge tomboy. I didn’t fit in with most “stereotypically girly” things. It just didn’t feel right. As I grew older and discovered more about myself and what it meant to be me, I learned to embrace them. As a (mostly) straight cis female (still wear all black and looove makeup by the way) I tend to get picked on when people find out I’m a bit of a nerd. I read comic books, play video games, (I also play roller derby, and the bagpipes). Those things help make up who I am. Yes I have people challenge them all the time, particularly guys. I get asked typical questions to “challenge” us apparently “fake geek girls”. Just because I don’t know the exact name and clip size of every single weapon in all the games I’ve ever played, doesn’t prove anything. I feel uncomfortable telling big gamers that I like to game because since I got a “grown-up job” I don’t play as much. That makes me judge myself, assuming that they’re judging me. Plus I hate looking like an idiot by not being able to follow along chit chat on games I don’t know anything about. It just perpetuates the “fake gamer” stereotype, like I’m supposed to know every game. It sucks because I do like talking about the games that I play, and that fear of bringing it up to people definitely hinders me.

Kelly: I’d love less slurs, [and] more gender diverse characters – especially if you’re creating a character physically – why should the first thing you have to choose be “male” or “female”? It’s outdated and boring. If I can be purple with green spikes a square jaw and GIANT tits what the fuck does gender have to do with it? If you’re telling a story, or you want to tell a story but that story isn’t your experience for the love of satan please either don’t tell it or find people who’s story it is to make sure you’ve got it right. I would like men to stop being gatekeepers. I would like more Ashly Burch… that’s just me being a sucker for funny, smart, nerds. I would [also] like Fallout 4’s township building element to not suck.

Sarah: There are many games on the market today that I’ve played and raved about afterwards. I think the tech is sitting in a good place these days. Game controls (for the most part) feel intuitive, the graphics are cool, there’s a lot of good design work and attention to detail in many of the titles I’ve played in the past year. I think the industry has to be careful about getting a bit complacent; I’ve played games recently where I’ve had the thought of “oh this bit of gameplay here is exactly like what so-and-so did in that other game.” That’s all just from a mechanics point of view, though. In video games, as in TV, movies, real life in general, the main thing I’d love to see is more representation. Of all people, of all genders, races, sexualities, classes, etc. It could be my identity as a gay woman, but I want to see more ladies kickin’ ass and takin’ names! So many developers are taking time to really flesh out characters and give them compelling story arcs, it’d be nice to see this diversify and continue to be a part of what makes games so great.

We’ve spoken to the players, the makers, and the critics and there seems to be consensus; games are important, they’re a big part of a lot of womxns lives, but the culture and attitudes around womxn in gaming are lagging.

There are still battles to be fought and as we’ve seen; womxn are playing to win. With more and more womxn entering the industry everyday from all sides it won’t be long before we’ll have defeated the final boss(sexism).

Written for We Are Sweet Art by Gwendolyn Faker

Sources/Resources

Ama-zine!; A Zine Guide to London. by Gwendolyn Faker

We’ve been building a zine library and working on our very own Sweet Art Zine. As we approach our zine release we thought we’d share our favourite hot spots! If you’re a collector or a maker or even if you’re entirely new to the medium there’s a zine out there just for you. Now let’s see if we can’t help you find it.

Wikipedia says; “A zine (/ˈzn/ zeen; short for magazine or fanzine) is most commonly a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via photocopier. Usually zines are the product of a single person, or a very small group…”

Now as much as we love wikipedia we prefer to get our knowledge direct from women with real life experience and first hand knowledge. We got in touch with Grrrl Zine Fair founder Lu Williams to talk about zines, zine culture, and what the Grrrl Zine Fair is all about.

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We visited the last Grrrl Zine Fair event where we were able to meet the makers and pick up a few TREASURES to add to our growing zine library. We did a little walk through to share with you, because it sucks to miss out!

 

Now, if you just can’t wait until the next zine fair we’ve got you covered. We’re going to take you across London to all the spots we know, are you ready?!

We’ll start in East London for the first leg of this zine odyssey.

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The Anarchist Book Shop; can be found with a little work at 84b Whitechapel High Street in the East End of London. Founded in 1886 is the largest anarchist publishing house in the country and oldest of its kind in the English speaking world.‘The book publishing arm (Freedom Press) has a history stretching back almost 150 years and has brought pamphlets by luminaries of the time to London audiences and beyond. In the modern era it has published every year since 1984,’ 

 

…except for between 2012 and 2013 following an arson attempt on the building.

It’s secreted down a narrow alley so it’s a little hard to find, obscured by a KFC sign next door. What you’re looking for is a narrow alley a few meters West of the White Chapel Gallery… it’s under the KFC sign. Now once you’re inside the effort you’ve put into finding it will be well worth it. It’s full (literally from floor to ceiling in some places) with flyers, manuals, books, pamphlets, zines, patches, stickers, badges, and much more. Everything you could ever need to start a revolution can be found between these walls. They have an extensive selection of titles on a huge variety of subjects(our favorite being ‘What About the Rapists?’). *You can check out a small selection of what’s in stock from their online shop, but we recommend visiting for the full experience.

Whitechapel Gallery as we mentioned, is literally next door to The Anarchist Bookshop. The gallery is pretty notable; with displays, commissions and archive galleries that are free and open all year round, six days a week. The Gallery also hosts ticketed shows and past exhibitions have included work by Sarah Lucas, Keith Sonnier, Hannah Höch, and a recent takeover by the Geurrilla Girls.

The gallery shop is mostly books with zines here and there. Because it’s a gallery shop what’s on offer changes pretty frequently depending on what’s being shown. In the past we’ve found more than a dozen zines on the shelves.

From there it was on to Brick Lane Books, it’s on Brick Lane(duh!). A few blocks away there’s Beach on Cheshire street. Visiting the area in the week it’s pretty quiet, visiting on a Sunday when the market is in full swing is a whole other story…

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You can continue heading east into Hackney where you can get a real bang for your buck (pound?). If you visit Broadway Market you’ll find Donlon Books, Broadway Bookshop, and Artwords; three small but well stocked shops, all of which have some pretty rad zines. If you make this a destination on any given Saturday and as the name suggests you’ll find another market in full swing.

 

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The final stop in East London is pretty conveniently located as Banner Repeater happens to be on platform 1 at Hackney Downs train station. It’s an Artist-led contemporary art space: a reading room, and experimental project space, founded by Ami Clarke in 2010. Their reading room holds a permanently sited public archive of Artists’ Publishing which you can browse, and a shop that’s always changing but always filled with independently published books and zines.

Heading into the West ; you can visit the ICA, aka The Institute of Contemporary Art. Founded in 1946, the ICA ‘promotes and encourages an understanding of radical art and culture‘. Usually running a varied programme of exhibitions, films, talks and events. The book shop is usually pretty well stocked with a selection of independently published magazines. What you’ll find on offer here is a little glossier than your regular zine fare, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a good old fashioned xerox’d zine on the shelves.

IMG_7040Near Tottenham Court tube you can also stop into Claire de Rouen. Focusing on art, fashion, and photography, the shop in another nearly secret spot (look for the all black door next to the betting shop). Selling beautiful print products in all forms, zines included. Once you’ve managed to find the entrance and make your way up a flight of stairs you’ll find a bright and cozy little shop. With soft light, fresh flowers, and music drifting from a record player at the back this place is hashtag aesthetic.

If you want to indulge your nerdier side(who doesn’t?) hit GOSH! and Orbital comics. Two of the best comic shops in London. Both stock a wide range of new and vintage/collectible comic books and a selection of independently published work. Whether you’re looking for that Archie VS. The Punisher cross over comic, a first issue Spiderman, or trying to get your hands on a copy of SNOTGIRL both of these spots will have you covered, they’ve even got offerings for the manga connoisseur.

Down South there’s The Feminist Library. Started in 1975 as a small collection of contemporary material it is now considered to be the most significant library of feminist material in England contains 7500 books of which 5000 are non-fiction, 500 poetry publications and 1500 periodical titles; many self-published, spanning more than 85 metres of shelving. The Feminist Library Book Shop is open on Saturday (12-5pm). They sell new and used books, periodicals and zines. They also serve coffee and cake and host readings and events.

There’s also 56a which got it’s start when the building was squatted. More of a political centre than a bookshop 56a calls itself an ‘infoshop’. It’s staffed by volunteers and they stock countercultural press. With works that explore everything from (trans)feminism, anti-colonialism, anti-globalisation, environmentalism, squatting, anti-fascism, No Borders, queer politics/organising, anarchism, situationism, autonomism, anti-civilisation, anti-capitalism, radical pedagogy, DIY, bikes, self-care, cooperatives, permaculture, consensus organising, to armed struggle, this place is a pretty radical (literally). They also have a zine library, open ‘til 8pm on Thursdays.

This barely scratches the surface of where you can find zines in London, those are just a few of our favorites.

Did we miss something? Would you like us to check out your zine or zine event?

x Gwendolyn Faker

‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’; a graphic take on the counterculture – by Sarah Kingham

‘Records and Rebels’ at the V&A applies their house style of curatorial ‘cluster-fuck’ to the 1967-70 period, when psychedelia ruled avant garde and pop culture, and mainstream media and advertising rushed to jump on the bandwagon. The aesthetic of the show is more; disparate objects clustered in arbitrary groupings, and headphones (previously utilised in the phenomenally successful ‘David Bowie Is’ show) releasing blasts of various music of the era as you approach the display cases. On one level, this jumble of sound, colour and imagery is justified as appropriate to the times; densely layered and vividly hued visuals were a signature of the graphic design work of the counter culture, as were collages of images or sounds in the arts, and multi-media ‘happenings’ that utilised light shows, sounds and performance.

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Unfortunately some of the connections are just too obvious or gauchely executed to be effective. In one of the several rooms devoted to protest inspired art and objects, Guy Debord’s ‘Society of the Spectacle’, the seminal Situationist attack on visually mediated culture, is displayed as a (presumably first edition) copy inside a gutted old fashioned television. As you approach this the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ blares through the headphones. It’s too gimmicky, too obvious, which is somehow disquieting; you can all too easily imagine a group of creatives around a table throwing out ideas; ‘radical’ exhibition as a precursor for a well-stocked gift shop (which of course there is). The tune ‘Revolution’ doesn’t even seem an appropriate choice, as the ambivalent lyrics advise the imagined young wannabe-revolutionary it addresses to change their head, not their surroundings; and that ‘if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow’. All of which makes this viewer (and listener) wonder if the show is even more vacuous (or possibly much cleverer) than it appears. Along with the crumpled fencing hanging from the ceiling alongside blow ups of Lenin, Marx, Stalin and Angela Davis (despite her commitment to Communism, I’m not sure how she would feel about sharing the space with Uncle Joe), it reads as a strangely garbled retelling of the preoccupations of the day.

Displayed alongside posters advocating gay rights, black power and women’s liberation, and protesting the Vietnam War, is an original, skimpy, costume from space-opera/sexploitation movie ‘Barbarella’, with a quote from director Roger Vadim claiming Barbarella’s disinhibited sexuality as a triumph not just of free love but for women generally. This juxtaposition of genuine politically engaged objects with a supposedly politically ‘justified’ relic of a piece of cult, pulp culture is rendered even more bizarre by its contrast with the other mannequin on display nearby, decked in a ‘recreation’ of a Black Panthers’ uniform of black leather jacket, beret, and trousers.

To be fair on the V&A, they are a design museum, and attempting to reify concepts, especially those as simultaneously charged and vague as ‘rebellion’ or ‘youth’ through objects is problematic at best. The pieces on show include relics of the era; the wicker, high backed chair Black Panther Huey Newton posed in as an armed and radicalised post-colonial African Prince; two of the Beatles ‘Sergeant Pepper’ satin coats displayed in a re-creation of the album cover, disappointingly gaudy and hideous in the flesh. These share space with the ephemeral, mass produced art-meets-design of the album cover and poster, whether it be advertising a festival or sharing a political or philosophical sentiment.

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Huey Newton seated in wicker chair, 1967: photography attributed to Blair Stapp (shown here reprinted in contemporary poster)

Although the one of a kind objects have an and authenticity and the glamour of celebrity – though more ‘street style’ and less stage costumes and designer wear of the rich and famous might have been truer to a coherent vision of Rebels as well as Records – the strongest objects in the show are often the collisions between the avant garde, graphic design and countercultural and radical politics. Some, like the …and Babies anti-Vietnam poster on display, are so powerful and disturbing that 50 years on they are still painful to view, and hard to imagine living with as ‘decorative’ objects (albeit as serious displays of the political commitments of those who hung them), between pinups of Che and Dylan on the walls of squats and teenage bedrooms.

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‘And babies’ creaated by the AWC, a group of New York based artists whi oppsed the war, using an image of the My Lai Massacre taken by US combat photographer Ronald L. Heaberle in 1969, overlaid by a quote from an interview with US soldier Paul Meadlo who participated in the massacre.

Others show the cornucopia of influence, both on and by the alternative in the graphic arts. The historic inspiration, combining Fin de Siècle and Art Noveau swirls, Dada-like cut and paste and explosions of Victorian circus and Art Deco style lettering, rendered in vivid rainbows of colour is still recognisably present in current design and media.

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Alphons Mucha’s ‘Job’ rolling papers pin-up goes pshychadelic. Poster for Jim Kweskin Jug Band at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, 1966.

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The Acid Test, avertising late 1960’s happening, facilitated by Ken Kesey, by Californian artist and designer Wes Wilson.

These aesthetics are still with us today, as is that of the witty and politicised advertising and media style shown in images like Cramer/Saatchi’s 1969 ‘Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?’ campaign for the Family Planning Association.

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‘Would you be more careful it it was you that got pregnant?’, created by Alan Brooking, Bill Atherton and Jeremy Sinclair for Cremer Saatchi advertising agency, London, 1969.

There is plenty to enjoy here; the sheer exuberance of the graphic design’s elaborate and colourful detail is exhilarating, and the idealistic belief displayed in images and objects of protest is profoundly moving. There are contemporary photographs of protestors at the Pentagon, including a youth poking chrysanthemums into the muzzles of guardsmen’s rifles (the first recorded instance of this kind of protest, and the origin of the term ‘flower power’) and earnest young peaceniks in Grosvenor Square tussling with bobbies in capes and domed helmets, who despite their now endearingly anachronistic appearance seem to be dolling out some fairly brutal treatment. Iconic objects are plentiful; not just that photo of Christine Keeler, but also the contact sheets of the shoot, and the original Establishment club chair she straddled in the picture.

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‘Flower Power’ Antiwar demonstrators, Pentagon Building, 1967 by Bernie Boston.

Unfortunately, the combination of the high price of entry (£16 for a full price ticket), uncomfortably dense crowd, mostly of baby boomers, presumably here on a nostalgia trip, and the incoherent nature of the hang strikes a discordant note with the overarching vision of the era the show attempts to communicate. The mandatory gift shop, overflowing with overpriced objet tenuously linked to the era (and an admittedly cheap selection of reprinted protest badges) only serves to heighten this impression.

‘You Say You Want A Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ is open at the V&A, London until 26 February 2017

Sarah Kingham is a London based artist, writer and academic. Trained in art history, theory, and fine art, she is currently engaged in a Masters in Cultural and Critical studies at Birkbeck University.