What is holding back the agency of women today? Can we name the forces erasing or hampering women’s full participation in public life. However complex or varied the issues at hand may be, there is an urgency to reclaim spaces, address our histories differently, and open up dimensions.
© Safâa Erruas, Talon Aigu, 2006. Porcelain and metallic thread, Ekwc production. Courtesy of the artist.
We asked 11 phenomenal women – intrepid academics, artists, writers, and curators – to join us for the 6-part Commentary Series of the ‘In/Visible Voices of Women’ project. By fleshing out a diverse terrain of thoughts and opinions, they name some of the most pressing concerns faced by women at large, and the states of being invisible, and becoming visible come to light.
#2 Are there still places and spaces where women are not welcome? and in which domains are they behind?
Malala Andrialavidrazana is a visual artist with a background in architecture. She is interested in notions of frontiers and interactions within cross-cultural contexts. Primarily through photography, she digs behind scenes in a succession of back and forth between private spaces and global issues to explore social imaginaries. She invents a language whose approach is resolutely turned towards History but whose engagement in the City remains active. In her collection of visuals, examining the in-between space in a multitude of heres and nows, she proposes an open frame where borders do not exist.
Angèle Etoundi Essamba
Yes there are spaces/places such as education where women are still considerably behind. Education is a basic need, yet it is still not accessible to women in many African countries. As for higher education, they are still very few women in the domains of research, science and technology. Women should also be more represented in decision-making positions in politics, as well as in executive management positions. Actually, as women are known as problem-solvers and contribute to building a safer and more sustainable world, it would make sense to involve them more in decision-making in all domains.
Angèle Etoundi Essamba (b. Cameroon, raised in France) graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam where she lives. Since her first exhibition in 1985 in Amsterdam, her work continues to be exhibited in museums, institutions, art fairs, biennales and galleries in Africa, Europe, the United States, Latin America, Arab Emirates and Asia. Essamba’s work lies at the intersection of the social/gender and the artistic field. She joins the spirit of humanistic photography with a strong attachment to the values of communion. She is a committed artist involved in a reflection on the identity of the African woman. Keywords for Essamba’s work are: pride, strength and awareness.
N’Goné Fall graduated with distinction from the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. She is an independent curator, essayist and a consultant in cultural policies. She has been the editorial director of the Paris-based contemporary African art magazine Revue Noire from 1994 to 2001. Fall has edited books on contemporary visual arts and photography and curated exhibitions in Africa, Europe and the USA. She was a guest curator of the African photography encounters in Bamako in 2001 and the Dakar contemporary art biennial in 2002. As a consultant in cultural policies she is the author of strategic plans, orientation programmes and evaluation reports for national and international cultural institutions and art foundations. Fall has been an associate professor at the Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt (master department of creative industries) from 2007 to 2011. She is a founding member of the Dakar-based collective GawLab, a platform for research and production on art in public spaces and technology applied to artistic creativity.
Tamar Garb is an art historian and curator. She is Professor of Art History at University College London and was curator of ‘Figures and Fictions, Contemporary South African Photography’, (V&A 2011) and ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive’ (Walther Collection, Ulm, New York, Berlin 2013.14). Amongst her publications are ‘The Painted Face: Portraits of Women in France 1814-1914 (YUP 2008) and ‘The Body in Time’ (Washington 2008).
Euridice Getulio Kala
For ages, in the Western world, the black woman has been represented negatively. It does not help that she continues to be objectified in popular media in an effort to reduce the experience of being a woman, to a contemporary socio-construct.
Today for many young [black] women practitioners, to even have a chance to practice in this “man’s world”, they have to go through a series of shows and exhibitions that have the sole intention of highlighting, how few the opportunities are for us to exist. And, if for some reason some of us make it into becoming, then a series of not so clear deals are offered disguised as opportunities; it starts to move us away from this sisterhood space/place.
There is surely nothing wrong with sisterhood. However, if it starts to represent a lack instead of subsiding the current testosterone-filled environment of the arts, then that is rather fallacious and it should not be supported. This is almost equivalent to the UN’s programmes. Those designed for young African girls constructed with the message to keep them from not leaving school by focusing on teenage pregnancy, and that are bizarrely funded. For instance, I would not be eligible coming from a middle-class upbringing.
If I write that I have had sexual relations with more than 20 people in my lifetime, that will be deemed negatively – as promiscuous, but how is one supposed to deal, gauge, question, repair, their sexuality? Is it by negating it? By oppressing it with religious belief systems (most of them brought upon us in traumatic circumstances)?
The black woman, has never had a chance to be promiscuous without the objectification of her body. Eve, as the bible counts, only realised that she needed to cover her body, after the revolutionary action of eating the forbidden fruit – or forbidden truth.
Euridice Getulio Kala (b. Maputo, Mozambique, 1987) is an artist currently based in Maputo, who’s interested in historical cultural metamorphoses, manipulations and adaptation across the period running between the late 1400s and the early 1900s, converging most times with the contemporary context. Kala employs her personal narratives and further delves into her interests, which includes her life in Johannesburg, having been a married woman and being feminist. She works with various media to achieve the finality of her ideas, from performance, video, sculptural-lyrics, installations and photography. Kala was trained as a photographer, and has shown her work in South Africa, Maputo, Amsterdam, Dakar (Off), Apt, Lisbon, Douala and been awarded residencies, both on the continent and internationally.
It is still ‘easier’ to be a woman artist if you remain within ideas of what is acceptable for women to do. It is accepted for a woman to be a demure, sexualised singer, for example, to dance elegantly, to be an actor – but not a director. There is still bias around work considered ‘men’s arts’ and expressions – like working with metal, expressing rage and anger, and overseeing artistic processes. I remember a Nigerian woman sculptor speaking about how the men in her sculpture class in arts school doubted her capacity to do the heavy lifting
Today though, it feels as if we have and are doing everything as African women. Name an endeavour – and you will find an African woman doing it.
I am fascinated by the way that African feminist creatives and activists have embraced the Internet. It has almost been a leveller, as the only gatekeeper online is your ability to access an Internet service and your knowledge of how to create digital content, and upload it. On Twitter for example, African feminists have created the #afrifem hashtag which connects and helps amplify African feminist thinking and expression online. Online subcultures have developed around African women’s creative expression – so it is now easier to build an audience, generate discussion and engagement, and find out about new work.
Jessica Horn is a writer, doer, interpreter of the ordinary; heiress of a lineage extending into the Ruwenzori Mountains of western Uganda and the shadows of New York’s Yankee Stadium. Horn has worked for over 15 years with NGOs, donors and the UN on the intersections of women’s health, human rights and freedom from violence. Jessica takes her passion to theorise, cultivate and engage love as a force for revolutionary transformation into activist and artistic spaces, including at TedX Euston Salon and co-curating the blog Our Space is Love. Her poetry pamphlet Speaking in Tongues is included in the Mouthmark Book of Poetry. @stillsherises
Zimbabwe is by general standards quite an open and liberal society. It is also a very tolerant one, notwithstanding general conservative tendencies due to the predominance of Christianity. It is not a case of women not being welcome but rather a moral code, which says that decent women do not go to bars and nightclubs, but rather to church. Women traditionally have rather boisterous social lives but in women-only environments.
Valerie Kabov is the Director of Education and International Projects at First Floor Gallery Harare, Zimbabwe, which she co-founded in 2009. Valerie holds a Masters in Curatorship and Modern Art from University of Sydney and is a doctoral candidate at University of Paris 1, Sorbonne in Art History (Cultural Policy and Cultural Economics) and is a lawyer with more than a decade of practice in international transactions, with a focus on emerging markets and intellectual property. As researcher and educator, she has focused particularly on the relationship between local and the global in the art market, as well as cultural policy and audience engagement. Kabov is the founder of Art & Dialogue, a professional continuing education programme for curators and cultural practitioners focusing on building skills in engaging diverse/multicultural audiences, and the Editor at Large for Art Africa Magazine.
Yes, there are still places and spaces in society where women cannot enter. These may stem from cultural and societal institutions of the past which place expectations on the role of women. I think in order to move forward we must carve our own unique path while being inspired by how others have tackled their problems.
Marcia Kure is a Nigerian artist who lives and works in the USA. She trained at the University of Nigeria and is an alumna of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Kure’s work was shown at the 11th Dak’Art, Senegal (2014) La Triennial, Paris (2013), International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Seville (2006), and Sharjah International Biennale (2005). A Research fellow of the Smithsonian Institution (2008), Visual Artist in Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2014) and winner of Uche Okeke Prize for Drawing (1994). Kure’s work is in the collection of major museums in the United States and Europe. Her work was part of BODY TALK: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of African Women Artists, WIELS Contemporary Art Center, Brussels, Frac Lorraine, France and Lunds Konsthall, Sweden (2015-16).
On the Ides of March, a creature with a fiery afro was born. Small in stature and withdrawn in nature, she led a reclusive life on the green highlands of Kenya, overlooking the savannah seas. Receiving her primary education under the instruction of Catholic nuns, she left her home to experience the Century’s Superpower. She later passed many moons, prancing in the Queen’s country, nibbling on crumpets and searching through the dense fog. Today she can be found armed with a pressure-sensitive stylus, and a macro lens. She spends her time between Nairobi and Tsavo, animating little children, photographing dung beetles, and running away from scorpions. Ng’endo Mukii is a graduate of the Royal College of Art (2012) and the Rhode Island School of Design (2006). She works in Nairobi as an independent filmmaker. She is a Berlinale Talents and Design Indaba Alumni, and has received several accolades for her films
Mónica de Miranda
Mónica de Miranda (b. Porto, Portugal, 1976, of Angolan descent) is an artist and researcher. PhD in visual art from the University of Middlesex (2014), she has received support from the Foundation for Science and Technology. de Miranda is one of the founders of the artistic residency project Triangle Network in Portugal and the founder of the Project Hangar (centre of artistic research in Lisbon, 2014). She has exhibited in Lisbon, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, Rome or Singapore, and was included in the 10th Bamako Encounters, the 14th Biennial of Architecture in Venice and the Bienal de São Tomé e Principe. She has participated in various residencies in Mauritius, London, Maputo and more.
There has been progress, with a greater concern shown by the government on women’s issues. However, according to UNDP  “gender considerations are systematically inadequately taken into account in decision-making at all levels. Government programmes and policies have failed to address gender issues properly.
 “Promoting Angolan Women´s Empowerment through CSOs.” UNDP in Angola. N.p., n.d.
Suzana Sousa (b. Luanda, 1981) is an independent curator and writer. Her recent curatorial projects include ‘Seeds of Memory’, Angolan Pavilion (Expo Milano, 2015) and ‘Love me Love me Not – Art from the Collection Sindika Dokolo’, Biblioteca Almeida Garreth (Porto, Portugal). Sousa contributes to Contemporary &, Art+Auctions (NYC), the Goethe Institute Magazine and Arterial Network/ Arts in Africa. She is currently developing the cultural collective Pés Descalços with a group of Angolan independent spirits.
In spring 2016, Another Africa will launch In/Visible Voices of Women, a long-term publication project. Conceived by Clelia Coussonnet and Missla Libsekal, it focuses on women artists operating within Francophone and Lusophone Africa. The first stage of the project is the online publishing of short-form English interviews here on Another Africa. Followed by bilingual artist monographs with long form interviews and essays (English/French), to be made available in print and e-Books.
Foregrounding the artist interviews, in which the artist Safâa Erruas (featured image) participates, the following commentary series raises 6 urgent questions, posed to academics, artists, writers, and curators. Join in the conversation using the #AFRIFEM, #VISIBLITYNOW hashtags.
The Commentary Series
Q1 | What are the most pressing issues facing women, and women practitioners today? [Read more]
Q2 | Are there still places and spaces where women are not welcome?
STAY TUNED! and find out what the next questions are . . . .
We would like to express our deep thanks to all the commentary series participants: Malala Andrialavidrazana (France/Madagascar), Angèle Etoundi Essamba (Cameroon/Netherlands), N’Goné Fall (France/Senegal), Tamar Garb (South Africa/UK), Jessica Horn (Uganda), Valerie Kabov (Belarus/Zimbabwe), Euridice Kala (Mozambique/South Africa), Marcia Kure (Nigeria/USA), Mónica de Miranda (Angola), Ng’endo Mukii (Kenya) and Suzana Sousa (Angola). It is through their generosity, support and above all excellence, that this series has materialised.