Month: December 2014

Free to view: sister to sister: developing a black British feminist archival consciousness by Yula Burin and Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski

In this article we explore some of our experiences within feminism over the last decade, our experiences as black women working in grassroots organisations and on the frontline, and through this we explore our connection to our black British feminist heritage and our understanding of activism. We have chosen to take an autoethnograpical approach to our piece, following the black feminist tradition of describing what we think in regard to our condition, reflecting on it and using that reflection as a basis for change.

Amos and Parmar (1984: 4) state that ‘accounting for their historical and contemporary position does, in itself, challenge the use of some of the central categories and assumptions of recent feminist thought’. We know that the work is already under way, for black women are ‘not only making history but rewriting it’ (ibid.). This work of recording our experience, as Amos and Parmar assert, is crucial ‘for us Black women, for our experience is the shared experience of Black people, but it is also the shared experience of women within different class contexts. Our political responses have been and will always be shaped by that duality …’ (ibid.: 5).

Read the full article here:

Feminist Review (2014) 108, 112–119. doi:10.1057/fr.2014.24

Open Space Feminist Review (2014) 108, ‘The branch on which I sit’: reflections on black British feminism – Heidi Safia Mirza in conversation with Yasmin Gunaratnam

Heidi Safia Mirza’s work has been concerned with the local and geo-politics of gender, race, faith and culture. She has researched educational inequalities, including young black and Muslim women in school, and the workings of racialisation in higher education. Her recent work investigates current debates on multiculturalism and diversity, as well as cultural and religious difference, Islamophobia and gendered violence. Mirza’s numerous works include Young, Female and Black (London: Routledge, 1992), Black British Feminism: A Reader (London: Routledge, 1997), Race, Gender and Educational Desire: Why Black Women Succeed and Fail (London: Routledge, 2009) and Black and Postcolonial Feminisms in New Times (London: Routledge, 2010). The following conversation explores Mirza’s experience as one of the few black women professors in the UK and her involvement in black British feminism over three decades.

Here is an extract from Heidi on intersectionality:

Rather than accepting intersectionality as a descriptive term, more critical questions are being asked of what the discourse of intersectionality does at different times and in different circumstances. Has intersectionality become, as Jasbir Puar (2011) suggests, ‘an alibi’ for the re-centring of white liberal feminist projects?’ Puar’s argument is an important one. She makes the point that despite decades of feminist theorising on the question of difference, racialised women are seen in ‘a prosthetic capacity’ to white women because of the fundamental premise that difference continues to be a ‘difference from’ the white woman. It seems to me that this is precisely how intersectionality is being ‘done’ within some contemporary feminist circles. Black women’s ‘difference’ is interpellated into the hegemonic whiteness of liberal feminist and multicultural post-racial discourses of inclusion, where it is ‘cooled out’, absorbed and accommodated. As Puar concludes, ‘much like the language of diversity, the language of intersectionality, its very invocation, it seems, largely substitutes for an intersectional analysis itself’.

Read the full conversation here:

Thinking Flowers? Floral Installation and Floral Donation – Lauren Craig

I first became fascinated with the use of flowers through rituals and ceremonies, especially at the many funerals that I attended of young black youth. At these funerals, I looked at the bright, colourful flowers as they danced in life with their frilly skirts as though in celebration of the gift of creation. If they are here again, but were once seed, once earth, then there is a rhythm, a cycle that is greater than me and what I know. Despite the oppression I was experiencing – manifested in racism, sexism, class discrimination and exclusion due to having a learning difference – I knew there is light, mystery and wisdom in life and for me these were accessed through flowers. Thinking Flowers? is a process that is both a circle and cyclical in nature.

When I set up Thinking Flowers? in 2003, having studied marketing, advertising, enterprise and management for the creative arts, I wanted to find ways to engage people with alternative ways of viewing and doing business that are more in harmony with the natural resources used to produce the products and services I was delivering. I enjoyed the challenge and process of creating a disruptive brand. The use of the question mark was disruptive. It interrupted conventional thinking about how things are or should be, especially thoughts on why and how to change the floral industry’s harmful practices with a more holistic approach.

At that time, there were no fair trade flowers and no artists who worked with flowers and called their work ‘floral installation’ – there were floral decorators, designers or florists or artists making installations with flowers. Despite my research, travelling and campaigning I knew of no floral donation schemes, no florist recycling schemes, no creative organisation that focused on the ethical use of flowers in design and definitely not one making the connection between underprivileged communities and the activities of global corporations and the highly bred plants and flowers they used. Thinking Flowers? was the start of this, designing the demand for these products and services and providing an exit strategy for our dependency on exploitation.

The term ‘floral installation’ allowed for growth and for possibility, imagination, expansion, sensation, intensity – most easily described as affect. Floral installation as an art form allowed for the ethical design principles ‘modern, minimal and meaningful (3M)’ to be displayed, considered and created and for an opportunity for an appreciation of beauty. The notion of using few resources to have a high-impact aesthetic was essential to the work, inspired by Ikebana and a deep sense of a relationship to the Earth’s resources. There was also the symbolism and the signs that could be communicated visually, using certain shapes and colours, not to mention space, including negative space.

I have also always needed to make sure flowers are re-used and so developed a floral donation scheme, with the first three donations to the funerals of young black boys, killed as a result of violent street crime and whose families could not afford flowers. After designing for corporate banks and accountants, large social enterprises and charities, we would deliver the arrangements to the Karibu Centre, a long-standing community centre in Brixton. This re-purposing gave the work a deeper meaning, one that brought me back to why I had started working with flowers as a young adult.

I believe that all things are connected and my lens for showing this has been flowers. I believe we should all have access to a place to grow them, and if they are to be sold we should all be able to afford to participate in rites of passage that honour the lives of our dead, the plants themselves and the people involved throughout the supply chain. This also applies to the flowers and so the composting of the flowers used in my work has to return to the earth. This has been the process at my allotment. Flowers give us the hope to continue living a life in the presence of beauty; the strength to become part of life again.

I feel as though my artistic practice has outgrown the floral installation form now, but it will always be an integral part of the Thinking Flowers? process. Recently, it has allowed for others to develop businesses focused on single parts of the whole process, such as floral installation and floral donation or re-purposing. These developments make all the hard work worthwhile. It has been lonely being the first. I had to live with feelings of insecurity, as you have to be strong to either reshape or to carve out new markets. But Thinking Flowers? set out to become obsolete as the industry incorporated the holistic approach. I think these parts are at least the start of a wider shift.

These same notions and philosophies are part of my artistic practice today and charge the social practice elements, public performance and participation, needed to deliver my work to national galleries and museums. My work has grown to include a focus on our health alongside that of the planet’s and a place to celebrate nature’s sacred beauty.

In all cycles there comes a time to cleanse, recuperate and start again, with a little more experience. This transition is by far the most challenging and yet the most exciting, as I am opened to new discoveries.

read more in the Feminist Review Issue 108

many chants, continued . . .

Diva%20For%20Site_1J I think there is definitely a certain look that has arisen in the past five or six years that is almost entirely to do with not looking like lesbians anymore.
S Mm, I agree.
J In terms of clothing, in terms of attitude, style, all the rest of it.
C This isn’t close to my experience and I’m really interested in what that means.
J Well, Diva not too long ago did a whole piece on this, about the fact that fashion has really changed the lesbian community and lesbian politics. I mean I remember
and it’s not even that long ago, I was fifteen, in the space of a decade so much has changed, but I do remember there being this time when I used to think to myself that lesbian was about plaid and doc martins and stonewashed jeans and you wore these garish rainbows and it was a political look, it was politicised, it was about not looking like women, the way women are supposed to be.
S Double denim, white vest…
J Yes, exactly, like spiky hair or if you were black you had this weird sort of lumpy Afro.
C Things that you can say.
J Yes, I say it with love, because I love the way that looks now. I actually dressed up.
S Me too!
J Exactly, you look at pictures of yourself and you’re like what were you thinking? And yet it was such a liberating thing. I remember the first time I went to Pride and
I was wearing cargo pants, which I wouldn’t wear ever now, I wouldn’t touch that shit, and these cargo pants and trainers and a vest and I had this fake labrys thing around my neck. It was disgusting, it was disgraceful, yet it was so brilliant and liberating in so many ways.
S I remember, I would have to do this sort of ‘dressing up as a lesbian’ thing for Pride. And that was very exciting. I couldn’t possibly have worn those things where I grew up, because they said ‘lesbian’ so loudly that it would have just been like lying down in the road.
J You may as well just beat yourself up.
S Exactly. It wasn’t an option.
J But isn’t that interesting that this is a concern for us, you know, looking like a lesbian and not looking like a lesbian. Looking gay now means a really different thing, because I see people on certain bikes with certain kind of haircuts and certain clothes and like oh yeah, you’re probably queer, but it’s not a political statement anymore, it’s more a fashion …
S It’s aesthetic, yeah. And the aesthetic has a very different relationship to fashion more generally than it used to. A queer (not gay male) aesthetic has a much greater influence on fashion for everyone than perhaps it used to, and it takes more from fashion more generally than it used to. And the lesbian aesthetic that you and I just described lovingly…
J Mm, I love it, I love it.
S …was deeply anti fashion, like its entire point was to be anti fashion.
J Absolutely, but also I think it was also a time when queerness hadn’t been commodified in any way and so to be anti-fashion and to look like you were a lesbian was political, could still be political, whereas I feel like now you just look a bit silly, you know.
S There’s an amazing bit in NW by Zadie Smith where she talks about Nike Airs and about how it’s this really audacious moment in which this thing that people previously thought was freely available for the consumption of all was suddenly encapsulated in the sole of a trainer that you had to pay £90 for… that the audacity of this is incredible, that Nike had taken what circulates all around us and made us pay for it.
C Well, they were basketball shoes, they were for bonging about and playing basketball in. The thing about aesthetics and visibility is two fold. One thing is this
always comes back to gender norms, the gender norms of male are I am not interested in fashion, because that’s a bit sissy, so the gay male norm is protesting
that gender norm. It goes backwards and forwards, the relationship, the comfort of gay scenes to effeminacy kind of ebbs and flows hugely and sometimes it’s very
macho and compensatory and sometimes it isn’t. And the lesbian norm rejects the idea that women are consumable fashion objects.
J But the point is that now we’re in a commodity culture where to reject something …
S Can be commodified.
J Can be commodified, exactly, so how do you get outside of it?
C There’s a Bill Hicks thing about ‘Ah, you’re chasing the anti-commodification dollar.’ No, I’m not! no, I’m not!
S Yes, it’s ‘no logo’, the ‘stealth’ Starbucks.

read more in the Feminist Review Issue 108
many voices, one chant: 30th anniversary roundtable FREE