Author: Demi Duenes
Los Angeles is an ideal place for artists, as there is never a shortage of inspiration. However, the city still has a long way to go before it can cater to the needs of its female residents. During their three-day residency, cyberfeminist art collective subRosa led a workshop Nov. 9–11 to engage students in discourse on the intersections of feminist art and health movements in Los Angeles.
Founded in 1998, subRosa is made up of cultural researchers dedicated to combining art, social activism and politics to “explore and critique the effects of the intersections of the new information and biotechnologies on women’s bodies, lives and work,” according to its website. The organization produces artwork, publications and public forums that highlight the interconnections of feminism and global capital, new medical technologies, women’s health, and technology and gender. With the comprehensive theme “Sex and Gender in the Biotech Century,” subRosa has visited, performed and exhibited across the world, including stops in Spain, Britain, Mexico and Holland, and has lectured at many other universities and colleges.
subRosa artists Hyla Willis and Faith Wilding led a production workshop in Mullin Gallery Nov. 10 and 11 named “Knowing Bodies-LA,” which included consciousness-raising groups, research and art-making sessions to explore the intersections of feminist art and health movements. The workshops were put on by OxyArts and the Art History and Visual Arts Department.
According to Willis, the idea of consciousness-raising groups was taken from an early radical women’s liberation group in New York City and is now used throughout the U.S. A form of activism, consciousness-raising is about considering personal experience in the larger realm of social and political conditions. The group conversations allowed students to actively listen and express their thoughts on campus and community issues, such as getting student’s voices heard on campus, what qualifies a space as feminist and political agendas within feminist institutions.
Haarika Reddy (junior) thought that consciousness-raising groups created an interesting space to voice concerns and learn about past and future feminist activism.
“It provided a safe space to speak about second wave feminism in comparison to modern day intersectional feminist movements,” Reddy said.
For the research component of the workshop, students from the “Power Play” course, taught by the 2015–16 Wanlass Artist in Residence CamLab, helped subRosa in their feminist mapping project in teams. The project called for the research of two off-campus Los Angeles sites related to women’s health, women’s safety or significant sites for feminism. Information gathered by the students was given to subRosa for their own use in a later mapping project.
All “Power Play” students attended the consciousness-raising group Nov. 11 and discussed with subRosa the ways the sites they visited both succeeded and failed to create inclusive environments. Feminist sites ranged from lingerie stores to Highland Park’s women’s health clinics to female-owned art galleries. Many students felt that, although these organizations are marketed toward women, they are often more concerned with earning profits. The participants also discussed the different ways women interact within those formal spaces and their spoken and unspoken rules, and they brought up their own leadership roles and the dynamics within feminist groups on campus such as Vagina Monologues and the Womxn’s Art Collective.
Allison Wendt (sophomore), a student in “Power Play” who attended the subRosa workshop, thought that the consciousness-raising groups and mapping projects were productive in encouraging students to think about how feminism operates in the outside world.
“Identifying safe spaces for women in Los Angeles is important in making the city more accessible to students. It also partly served as a lesson on how to create safe spaces oneself, whether they’re temporary, as in the case of the workshop, or permanent, like the places we visited,” Wendt said.
Wendt appreciated that the workshop allowed students, especially women, to discuss and disagree on the places where they felt welcomed or uncomfortable.
“Being able to say that you find a space unwelcoming is so validating because a lot of women are frequently in spaces where they feel unsafe or taken advantage of in any of a multitude of ways,” Wendt said. “It would be great if there were opportunities on campus to voice this.”
Willis hopes that those who attended were able to learn more about themselves and how to productively interact with others.
“We hope that students got new strategies for articulating their own concerns and understanding concerns of others; we hope their consciousness is raised and that they have ideas about how to facilitate raising each others consciousness,” Willis said. “And with the art workshops, the way we work as artists is pretty unusual, so we hope that we opened up some new opportunities for people.”
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