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Allied Arts & Media

A Bridge to the Past: Flashes of Activism from rabble.ca

“Everything On (The) Line: 20 Years of Social Movement Stories from rabble.ca." Photo via rabble.ca's website.

I don’t remember 9/11. 

Maybe that’s because I was a Canadian toddler, rather than American, or was just too young — but opening to the first story in Everything On (The) Line: 20 Years of Social Movement Stories from rabble.ca I am transported back by the moving words of Monia Mazigh and Barâa Arar, mother and daughter of Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian who was arrested on September 26, 2002. 

This transportive ability — to travel back in time and to live something you have a different memory of — is the primary accomplishment of rabble.ca’s  compilation of stories from the last twenty years. 

rabble.ca is an independent, nonprofit  award winning left wing media outlet with 1M unique readers annually worldwide, based in Vancouver (original territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations). They aim to extend and amplify the work of social movements and front-line activists in Canada.  

Everything On (The) Line is a collection of stories, but also the fossilized voices of journalists and activists during high-intensity moments in Canadian politics. Editors S. Reuss and Christina Turner have unearthed articles from rabble’s archives which capture the concerns and opinions of the activists, feminists, and fighters before us —concerns that still exist today. 

The articles speak from Indigenous rights to climate change; personal accounts of protests and violence; outrage and critique for the government. The collection focuses on the personal lives of Canadian citizens impacted by these threats, while also panning out to inspect the governments of the early 2000’s, tying traumas from the violent injustices occurring around the world together: uniting pain but also hope across two decades. 

The aim of the collection is not only to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Rabble, but to allow the past and present to converse; articles from 2001 in tandem with essays from 2020. 

It is an opportunity for readers to “reflect on the social movements that challenged capitalism, racism, settler colonialism, and patriarchy over the past two decades.” (5)

Readers hear the personal stories from Monia Mazigh and Barâa Arar, to personal accounts of when Black Lives Matter Toronto turned the Pride Parade into a protest. Words from protestors of the G8 Summit burn with anger still, 19 years later. 

In her piece “What Do We Want and Where Are We Headed?” Pamela Palmater expresses how “ultimately, we want to be free to govern ourselves as we choose; free to enjoy our identities, cultures, languages, and traditions; free to live the good life as we see fit.” (129) This desire for freedom and respect echoes throughout the twenty-four pieces in the book. 

Anger and fear and distrust bubble up within these essays. 

Amber Dean writes about attending Robert Pickton’s trial in 2007 for the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, and Georgina Papin — asking how colonization can be over when the violence persists?

Michael Stewart picks apart the Harper government’s inability to “cope with the tender, patient, ironclad solidarity of Indigenous people in Canada.” 

Murray Dobbin asked in 2009 how the government would face their denial and complacency in the face of crisis. 

All are systemic issues still present today; the final section with pieces from 2015-2020 carry ghostly echoes of the first section from 2001-2005. This disturbing parallel calls for transformative justice, addressed by Walters and Zellars in their 2020 essay on abolishing the police and collective care. They call this turbulent time an “[opportunity] for reflection and growth [which] must be central to our abolitionist imaginings” and to “have the courage to dream, try, fail, try again, and fail better.” (173) 

The collection also contains new essays from esteemed writers such as Nora Loreto. In her piece “Real Change Meets Radical Tactics” Loreto traces the resurgence of feminist action in recent years, raising the point that “for what remains of the mainstream feminist movement, the dominant frame is still firmly white. Whiteness obscures the fact that women do not experience systemic violence in the same way. It creates a tent so large that feminism becomes a matter of self-identity […] feminism has become slippery and toothless.” (145) This comment spoke to me as a reader, as a feminist, and as a member of LiisBeth, because whiteness is a barrier in the feminist organizations I see and participate in. 

LiisBeth’s masthead is primarily (some queer) white women; “Everything On (The) Line” was compiled by two white women; LiisBeth partners with rabble.ca’s, putting together a monthly roundup. A white, queer woman is writing this review, the last in a funnel of white voices. 

That being said, 35 per cent of LiisBeth’s contributors are women of colour and over 50 per cent of the articles written in the last year featured enterprises and projects founded or operated by women of colour, queer women and trans folk.  

When rabble.ca was founded, a UNECE study found 40 per cent of journalists in Canada were women, and 97 per cent of journalists across all media were white, according to a study done by Laval University in 2000. This statistic from Laval University, as well as the point that there was (and still is) no current study to compare this data to, was mentioned in a rabble.ca piece in 2016 by Joanna Chu titled “The face of Canadian Journalism is still white — and it’s time to push back.” 

The collection spurs questions and invites reflection not just on the state of our world, but also journalism — those who wrote before us and how future writers will curate, cultivate and uplift all voices. 

It’s an opportunity to see how far we have come, but also look at where we still need to go. 

Everything On (The) Line is not perfect, because history is not perfect. What we glean from these reverberations of rallying voices is that the next twenty years should be equally as action-packed, as fueled by the desire for change. We should read about and reach for change, as the voices of rabble.ca have. 

The fifth section of the collection is titled “Activism and Indie Media: Pasts and Futures”, where publisher Kim Elliot and Mathew Adams call rabble.ca a bridge for the social movement, and reflect on how the launch of rabble.ca in 2001 gave them the focus of “[amplifying] the voices of resistance struggles and movement-focused news.” 

Hopefully, Everything On (The) Line can be the bridge to the past that lays the foundation for the next twenty years of rabble.ca.

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Allied Arts & Media

Anthropology for Non-anthropologists

Photo by Milton Ramirez

 

The first time Anya-Milana Sulaver (she/her) went back to visit her extended family in former Yugoslavia, she was trampled by a herd of pigs while picking tomatoes with her grandmother. It was the early ‘80s. Her grandmother had taken her there for the summer. She recalls how different the whole experience was for an urban girl who grew up in the West. 

Years later, the culture shock from that first trip made her realize how different her family’s upbringing and context had been from her own. 

This realization fascinated her. On subsequent trips there, Sulaver found herself increasingly interested in culture and communities. The duality of her experiences, that she was living through two cultures, drew her to “spaces of translation”— where she could understand the interconnectedness of her family’s history and identity with Yugoslavia and her own identity as a Canadian.

Anya-Milana Sulaver, founder at Peeps Magazine. Photo by Franzi Molina.

After completing her first degree,  Sulaver started working as an associate producer for a company that focused on telling the stories of Indigenous communities in Canada. The documentary she’s most proud of investigated the signing of Treaty 7 by speaking with elders from the Blood, Siksika and Peigan reserves who retained the treaty’s oral history. The final documentary was broadcast nationally and shown to students from Blood 148, a First Nations reserve in Alberta that was established under the provisions of the treaty.

“The course of the work that’s followed has supported [my] lifelong ambition to ensure that when you’re speaking about a culture or peoples that those people [are] given the opportunity to ensure that representation is true to their values.”

The path that followed included getting two more degrees: a BA in International Development and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies (Anthropology, Humanities and Film), culminating in the founding of Peeps Magazine in 2015. An independent digital publication, Peeps shares insights into people and cultures around the world. 

 

Photo by Christopher Pike for Peeps Magazine.

Tapping into Deep Research

Peeps, supported by Ontario Creates funding and a membership subscription ($21 quarterly/$70 annually), is produced by a team of 14 design, development and editorial staff, along with two curatorial managing editors who are experts in medical anthropology, and race and gender studies. Initially a print publication, Peeps transitioned to an online platform to reach a wider audience, providing readers with long-form articles that are often described as anthropology for non-anthropologists.

Sulaver founded Peeps because she wanted to bring knowledge to lay readers that was trapped in academic conversations, journals and conferences. Peer-reviewed and verified research takes years to trickle out to mainstream media—she estimates five to 10 years. She had a hunch that people were hungry for the information, especially published by an organization that takes care to verify the facts. So she built Peeps to help fill this gap.

A Peeps story, based on solid research and verified information, provides context and history to help readers gain that understanding.

Examples of this include the ways residents of post-apartheid Johannesburg, South Africa, confronted social inequalities in shared spaces; how “a clan of femcees” or female rappers were united by “a drive to dismantle gender stereotypes” in Iceland; or the role superheroes play in understanding contemporary society and how women are perceived. Authors bring hyphenated experiences – anthropologists/artists/filmmakers – to the writing of the stories.

The magazine was shortlisted for the Stack Independent Magazine Awards in 2016 in two categories—best launch and best original non-fiction story, “Winning and Losing in Modern China,” which investigated online vigilantism and gaming culture in Hangzhou, China. Written by Graham Candy, a PhD candidate for anthropology at the University of Toronto at the time, the article was also awarded Best Special Interest Story by Magazines Canada.

Sulaver describes Peeps approach to story telling as “participant observation.” Writers are usually historians, ethnographers and anthropologists who have spent decades in a particular community, bringing an academic rigour to frame their understanding of their experiences. Accurate analysis coupled with empathy, personal accountability and discipline are hallmarks of their storytelling.

A recent feature looked at the New Zealand government’s recognition of the Whanganui river as a living being, possessing human rights. Written by Anne Salmond, a distinguished professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland, the article recounts her personal relationship with the Maori community and how Maori chiefs, mayors, ambassadors, and local residents pressed to have the world’s first waterway gain this “person” status, considered revolutionary in placing the vital waterway “in a new relationship with human beings” and securing economic and legal support to protect it.

Sulaver says the editorial team confirmed permission from the Maori community, especially elders, to publish photos from Salmond’s time there. The Peeps team, led mostly by feminist women, are focused on building relationships, empathy and trust through their work. “We don’t want to prescribe solutions for people with the information—do with it what you will,” says Sulaver. “We’ve given you the information. We’ve given you resources to learn more about this. You know who the expert is on this. You can ask them on our website. But by not being prescriptive, the point is still there: the point is learning about other people and being an active listener to how they are in the world and how they see themselves in the world.”

She adds, “The goal is to have a product that people read and go, ‘I feel like I know those people so much better.’ Rather than, ‘Okay, this is how I invest my money, or this is how I can do this.'”

Combatting disinformation

As the publication enters its sixth year, Sulaver says Peeps remains devoted to verification as antidote to the exponential growth of disinformation in journalism. “We knew that fake news was a big problem six years ago—soon to be seven years—when we first started developing the core concept for the magazine. And it was something that I was adamant that we have an answer to in our infrastructure.”

The problem of fake news began long before The Donald was elected president of the United States, and Sulaver believes it will continue to exist long after Trump leaves. “This conversation is not new. I think that Trump is simply the giant snowball at the end of an avalanche. And [it] isn’t just the media—it’s politics, it’s academia, it’s all of our institutions that have been run by people who look the same, and who forgive the same flaws and sins in themselves. And over time, cumulatively, that adds up.”

For Sulaver, combatting disinformation moving forward involves giving people the power to share their stories and culture in a way that’s research-based and verifiable. With a small, devoted membership, she believes Peeps provides a platform to do just that.

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Activism & Action Allied Arts & Media

The New Measure of a Womxn: Wielding Power

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

Yesterday, while at a local theatre, I waited in line for the gender-segregated washrooms. As usual, the queue for the women’s went straight out the door and halfway down the hallway, while the men’s looked almost empty.

Most of us have grumbled about this poor architectural planning, but after spending this past week with Lauren McKeon’s No More Nice Girls: Gender, Power, And Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules, I labelled the problem differently: this is yet another example of how the world is designed for cis men.

No More Nice Girls, Lauren McKeon. Released March 2020 by Anansi Press

No More Nice Girls is a well-researched and infuriating (in all the right ways) book about power and how women’s and non-binary people’s power is routinely undermined. It’s packed with statistics on how marginalized people are taught to shoehorn themselves into a system intentionally designed not to fit. With an intersectional lens, the author lays out the way power inequities play out in politics, the economy, law, media, science, technology, city planning, and other areas.

McKeon challenges the myth that more women need to just work harder (and be “nice” while doing so) to reach for the top of existing power structures. Here’s one of the shocking statistics: when women CEOs do manage to reach the top, they earn $0.68 to every dollar their male colleagues make.

She also takes on the #GirlBoss trend, which encourages women to contort and bend instead of working to change the system. “They must be a boss, but not bossy; authentic, but Insta-trendy; real, but not harsh; beautiful, but effortless; killin’ it, but not thirsty; busy, but glowing with Goop-ified self-care; vulnerable, but just the right amount; tough, but just the right amount; confident, but not extra; warm, but not weak; decisive, but not rude; your bitch, but not bitchy.”

What interested me most about No More Nice Girls were the examples of how power might be reimagined and redefined, and how this power can lead to social equity.

For example, what if we viewed power as breaking silence and healing from trauma? Citing Tarana Burke, #MeToo’s founder: “What we’re doing with #MeToo is building something that doesn’t exist. Literally. It’s an international survivor-led and survivor-focused social justice movement.”

Power can also look like projects that intentionally decentre cis men and focus on the needs of women and non-binary people. McKeon offers anecdotes about the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the co-working space The Wing, all of which were created to be safe spaces and “where men no longer write the rules.”

But feminism is a work in progress, and McKeon raises essential questions about who gets included and excluded in these spaces, urging feminists to challenge their intersectional praxis: “In many ways, the women-only movement has mirrored the challenges of feminism itself: the centering of biological definitions at the expense of transgender women; the exclusion of Indigenous women and women of colour from its most visible and influential positions; claims of battling tokenism while institutionalizing that same philosophy in its own histories and organizations.”

Another chapter is devoted to the power of feminist entrepreneurship, such as Ali Ogden’s Bon Temps Tea Company, which gives micro-grants to women to encourage and support their feminist work, and Taran and Bunny Ghatrora’s Blume, a chemical-free period-product subscription box that includes politicized information about menstruation. These and other examples spotlight ways in which “a feminist-first enterprise that’s built with sincerity can phenomenally change the economic landscape.” They can create kinder workplace cultures that value mentorship, collaboration, staff wellness, and are trauma-informed. Among other things, they can include breastfeeding rooms, child care, and be more intentional in their hiring practices.

McKeon ends with reflections on Women Deliver, a global feminist conference that took place in Vancouver in 2019. Moderators closed main-stage panels with a question about how speakers would use their power. McKeon optimistically writes, “This question was a way of reminding everyone there that they did have power, now, even if it didn’t always feel like it—even if their power didn’t look anything like traditional power…. All of it put a drop more power into this new bucket. It evened things out. It remade the world.”

No More Nice Girls made me ponder the ways I use my power. I’m an author working within a publishing industry context that is still racist, sexist, ableist, and heterosexist. I do my best to mentor, share space (and when appropriate, make way for others), amplify the work of marginalized writers, collaborate to create opportunities, and push from the outside to help steer the slowly moving literary ship in the right direction. It’s easy to grow cynical, to question whether these efforts drive real change, or are just drops in a bucket. But McKeon’s optimism made me reconsider the power of this work. Could it remake the world?

I know that it’s possible to design washrooms to be accessible, safe, inviting, and not segregated by gender. It’s possible because people have done the advocacy and work to design them. Now it’s time to use our power to disrupt oppressive systems and create a world that includes all of us.


Farzana Doctor is the author of four novels, including the forthcoming Seven (Dundurn, August 2020).


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THE END OF FEMINIST MEDIA? 

 

Image adapted from Media Blog NewsWire

On December 8th, the New York Times declared the end of feminist blogging in the US adding “Now many of those [feminist] sites are dead or dying, and Jezebel is under new management, part of a stable of publications run by the hedge fund-controlled ownership group, G/O Media….”. The deceased or absorbed by mainstream media list continues.

Closures and mergers are traumatic for all stakeholders including founders who likely worked for free much of the time, and wage dependent staff impacted by change. But are acquisitions or onboarding of established editorial teams into larger media brands all that bad? One could argue it’s great that mainstream media finally recognizes that feminist narratives are important to 50 per cent of its readers. In some circles, the fact that someone even wants to acquire a feminist enterprise in the first place is a kind of win–like when Walmart decided to go green.

However, we all know what happens when corporate culture takes over a successful indie startup. The values that underpin financial maximization doctrines ultimately change the nature and editorial voice of the once loved enterprise. Think Ben & Jerrys. Whole Foods and Amazon. And NOW magazine, Toronto’s feminist leaning news outlet led for 38 years by Alice Klein. NOW Magazine (25 million readers) was purchased by an all-male led publicly traded investment group just two weeks ago, Media Central Corp (a long running investment vehicle/enterprise formerly named IntellaEquity Inc. who in its exchange filings, describes itself as a diversified investment and venture capital firm focused on providing investors with long-term capital growth by investing in a portfolio of undervalued companies and assets).

Frighteningly, NOW was bought for a mere $2M, roughly the cost of two Mikimoto Empress pearl necklaces ($996,000 USD each). As a long-time fan of the publication, the aquisition price is bewildering given the paper’s important role, reach, and impact in Toronto. It tells us something about how GDP style metrics fail to capture the true value of a social purpose enterprise. It also says a lot about how today’s alt media companies are valued—even by savvy investors. Media Central Corp plans to buy up to 100 “undervalued” or stuggling alt media assets in the next five years. You have to ask yourself, why.

Is Feminist and Indie Media Dead?

While it’s true that many publications are closing or being acquired by financial maximization driven corporations, it is also true that each year, more and more new indie sites are launching. Recent success stories in Canada include Village Media which owns and operates 11 local digital news sites and 15 (and counting) additional partner sites.  Feedspot’s 2019 Best Feminist Blog list has grown from 10 to 20 (LiisBeth is on the list too!) in the feminist media space, and new publications pop up almost as quickly as others close. From a feminist perspective, its concerning that most of the new outlets are male-led and majority owned.

Notwithstanding, clearly there is an appetite for indie journalism and media. So, what’s the real problem here?

The fact is, surviving and flourishing as an indie media enterprise takes more than passion, crackerjack content, clicks and coin—it requires a resourceful founder with attitude, and the willingness to swap big for bold—more Ani DiFranco, less Warner Bros. It will also a design thinking approach to core legal, governance,and capital structures.

It also takes an effort to boldly rethink the revenue model. From afar at least, it seems to be that while these important feminist blogs (I read them too) had awesome content, most were set up as traditional non-profit or for-profit enterprises. Millennial in the front, old school at the back (largely advertising or influencer dependent). The reality is that media outlets can no longer compete for advertising revenue with rapacious social media giants like Facebook and Google (The Discourse reports that today, a mere ten cents per advertising dollar spent in Canada goes to actual media publications).

I know this sounds depressing. But I personally believe there is a way. It it starts with being super careful and intentional about growth and an interest in alternative legal forms (cooperatives, collectives) plus capital structure innovation.

Here at LiisBeth, we have an annual budget of about $35,000 after three years of operating (hey, it was $5,000 at first). Approximately 30 per cent of our revenue comes from reader donations (you). The rest comes from conferences, seminars, events, and consulting gigs related to feminist enterprise development. We do not sell ads, accept sponsored content, or generate influencer income. This fall we invested $7,000 into our Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC) initiative (we wanted to get off of Facebook groups and provide readers with a place to communicate and support each other without being in Zuckerberg’s eyes—and make the unbridled organization richer with our data). Approximately 85 per cent of our spend goes to paying for articles and editorial work. The rest covers the cost of digital licenses we need to publish (WordPress, InDesign, Mailchimp, etc.) and stuff like accounting and legal. As the publisher, I am the only volunteer staff member. We have no investors. No bank debt. No credit card debt. Last year we received our first grant ($10,000) from the City of Toronto to publish ten profiles of feminist entrepreneurs in Toronto. We watch every penny. We re-invest every dollar that comes in. We have an awesome advisory board and steady list of contributors. And about 19 000+ unique annual readers.

New initiatives for next year include building up our Feminist Enterprise Commons, raising funds for an Emerging Feminist Journalism Scholarship program, and test driving an experimental correspondent program in either Vancouver or New York. After taking a deep dive look into alternative governance and capital structures, we are also working to transform LiisBeth into a multi-stakeholder cooperative by June 2020.

Some might say that given our meager top line and spend we are not yet a “serious” business. At which point I quickly remind everyone that Bust, Shamelss, Bitch, Herizons, Ms, Rabble.ca, AdBusters, and other status quo busting media were once a startup like ourselves. After 20 years, these survivors are still serving millions of readers collectively via both print and digital offerings. Despite existing on the equivalent of starvation level, vegan diets, they have grown and learned to competently surf wave after wave of tech driven disruption with the help of a loyal and committed core reader community.

So sure, a bunch of feminist blogs succumbed to what feminist business thought leader CV Harquail describes as the “Stargate” like “the magic circle” of business, but that doesn’t mean feminist blogs or indie media is disappearing. It means the sector is evolving and healthy. New blogs and outlets will appear to fill the void. Existing ones will change. Others will close or get bought out. Activity like this is the hallmark of a living, breathing sector.

The big media sector at present, is in a state of a gut-wrenching macro level transformation. It looks bad from industry heights above.  But here on indie’s ground level, I see signs of regeneration. Many of those now out of work editors and journalists energized by moral outrage will be bitten by the spirit of entrepreneurship. Having learned a lot in the trenches, I have confidence they will reemerge to reinvent the industry in ways previously unimagined.

And all you need to do, dear readers, to accelerate that change, in the name of an informed, robust, and accountable democracy, is to support them (and in particular womxn-owned/led outlets) not only with your attention and admiration—but also with your dollars.


Creating researched and inspirational content to support and advocate for feminist changemaking takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find value and nourishment here, please consider becoming a donor subscriber or patron at a level of your choosing. Priced between a cup of coffee or one take out salad per month.

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Allied Arts & Media

Stuff Your Stockings With Feminist Joy

 

Photo: Champagne Thompson

Most practices of the Christmas season contradict my feminist values, the gendered narratives of Christianity conflated into the season of “giving,” with women carrying the burden of holiday shopping, cooking, and social coordination. Then there’s the “give and get”—giving a charitable donation in time to get a charitable tax receipt by year end.

For me, holiday giving and celebrating should not be powered by a capitalistic consumer agenda but by love, thoughtfulness, kindness. During the holiday season, winter solstice in particular, I focus on hope and gratitude for female* energies rather than the pinging of POS machines in shopping malls driving us into debt. Do our loved ones really want that? I don’t think so.

This year I endeavoured to find a way to engage with the festivities, in ways that make my heart happy. I visited three events featuring feminist makers and changemakers: the Made by Feminists Market at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel; Ottawa’s Feminist Fair; and the Indigenous & Ingenious Show and Sale in Toronto. You can check out their crafty arts online, as I am sure they will inspire you to new ethical shopping heights, as they did me.

Here are some of my feminist faves that are sleighin’ it!

 SaSa Naturals, Toronto

This powerhouse family team walks the feminist talk! Sisters Sarai (22), Jahdiel (25), Kristine (27), and their mom, Carolyn, run SaSa Naturals, an ethical, all-natural approach to self-care that emphasizes the power of women’s bodies. The co-founders are incredibly knowledgeable about each product and ingredient as well as traditional hygiene and wellbeing practices of women around the globe. They source goods directly from female-run shea nut farms in Ghana and even visit regularly to ensure female farmers are being treated equitably and that plant-based products are produced sustainably and free from chemicals. Products include all-natural deodorant alternatives, delectable soaps, bath bombs, lip chap and Yoni steam kits (unlike Amazon’s selections, these vaginal cleansing kits use herbs that honour the sacredness of womanhood). By using traditional medicinal practices rather than chemicals, the SaSa team is building a sassy brand that reminds women that our natural selves are our true selves. Check out their Instagram page to place orders that can be shipped to both Canada and the United States.

 Radical Roots

Kristen Campbell, an ecological restoration maven, founded her company almost two years ago as a way to make beautiful change in the era of climate crisis. She handmakes seed bombs—ethically sourced native plant species balled up in clay—that you can chuck at any barren patch during your morning walk or your own garden for that matter. Add rain, and flowers spring up. Bees and butterflies will love you, as native habitat springs from these flower bombs. Beautifying the world has never felt so therapeutic as hucking an enviro-friendly bomb of life to Mother Nature! An excellent gift for the outdoorsy, flower-loving, tree-hugging types in your life or for anyone who just wants to drop an f-bomb—and feel great about it.

 Read My Flowers

 

Helena Verdier discovered a love for transformative upcycling while studying at Carleton University. Now 26, she has made a business of repurposing some of our favourite literature into works of visual and wearable art. She creates paper flower crowns, centrepieces, and floral decor, showcasing and selling her flower-power pieces on her Instagram page. Seeing Verdier’s artistry highlighted on the Feminist Twin’s page enticed me to make the trek to their Feminist Fair in Ottawa for their sixth annual event where I discovered plenty more feminist gift-giving ideas.

 Hand Stitched by Claire

Remember those framed embroidery pieces hanging in grandma’s house, greeting you with cheesy, sentimental sayings, like “Home is where the heart is” and all that? Well, Claire DePoe-Collins’s embroidery art is not that. The 30-year-old stitches radical, feminist ideas into her hoops such as “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” and “Ovaries before brovaries” as well as slogans for the woke such as “If it is inaccessible to the poor it’s neither radical nor revolutionary” and “Hang on lemme overthink this.” She also draws on racialized voices for inspiration. From Serena Williams: “The day I stop fighting for equality…will be the day I’m in my grave.” Such soulful, gut-punching, and often hilarious affirmations gave me the most painful belly laugh—and sure to deliver the same kick to your pals. DePoe-Collins ships her work straight to your door—and accepts custom orders should you know exactly what will tickle a friend’s feminist fancy.

 Chief Lady Bird

At Indigenous & Ingenious, I visited Chief Lady Bird, an Anishinaabekwe artist who resists colonization through her mixed media prints, brilliant murals, skateboard decks and youth-focused projects that focus on Indigenous resilience, sex and body positivity, as well as calling attention to the importance of Indigenous women in our communities. She recently illustrated Nibi’s Water Song, a brilliant children’s book about Nibi’s quest to find clean water in her community, highlighting the need to listen to Indigenous voices and protect our planet for future generations. You can order Chief Lady Bird’s art on her Instagram page. She takes commissions for custom pieces too.


But the greatest
gift I took away from my foray into these feminist fairs? The knowledge that every dollar we spend casts a ballot for the world we want to inhabit. One maker told me that the money she made at the event will help pay her rent this month. When we buy from our brilliant sisters, we are also giving a gift of survival and support in the fight to dismantle the patriarchy. Now, I can deck the halls with that!


Creating researched and inspirational content to support and advocate for feminist changemaking takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find value and nourishment here, please consider becoming a donor subscriber or patron at a level of your choosing. Priced between a cup of coffee or one take out salad per month.

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This article was made possible thanks to the generosity of Startup Toronto!


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https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/11/22/merry-little-inclusive-holiday-season/

Categories
Allied Arts & Media Feminist Practices

The Art of Change

Feminist Art Conference 2014, OCAD University, Toronto

The process for art-making can boil down to something like this: Make art, get feedback, make art better. Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t for Ilene Sova. In 2012, the Toronto artist-activist was painting portraits of women who had disappeared in Ontario for her Missing Women Project. She wanted to talk about the hard issues she was tackling in her art—patriarchy, misogyny, systemic racism, violence against women—but there wasn’t a group of fellow feminist artists to turn to, at least not a formally organized one.

Sova put out a call for submissions and volunteers and got a rush of responses, including from people in Kenya and Colombia. On International Women’s Day in March 2013, she launched the first Feminist Art Conference (FAC), a multidisciplinary event that brought together artists, activists, and academics of different gender identities, ages, nationalities, and feminisms so they could show their work and use it to spark discussions around important feminist issues.

The conference sold out in two days, attracting 120 participating artists and 150 attendees. “Clearly what I had been missing in my own social practice was something that others in our creative communities were also yearning for,” says Sova. FAC’s subsequent annual conferences have been equally as successful, especially the 2017 event that happened the day of the Women’s March.

‘Ashaba’; No human can look at her directly by Karen White explores unseen oppression. By covering her face while staring straight at the viewer, the artist makes us feel both complicit and engaged in the exploration of colonialism and imperialism.

 Art That Moves

Feminists have been long fed up with the fact that women’s art continues to be undervalued, underrepresented, and often completely ignored. The feminist activist group Guerrilla Girls have been calling out the gender and racial inequality in the arts since 1985 when they picketed the Museum of Modern Art in New York for featuring only 13 women out of 169 artists.

That inequality persists today. Female visual artists earn just 65 percent of the annual income of their male peers, according to a 2018 report by the Ontario Arts Council. Since 2013, women have only accounted for 36 percent of solo exhibitions at Canadian galleries; it’s dramatically less for non-white women. Gender disparity also exists in the performing arts space, which FAC attempts to redress in their events.

FAC has heard all the reasons why feminist work is often shut out of commercial spaces and public institutions. It’s not mainstream or universal (i.e., not male). It’s too angry and personal (i.e., too female) to be good. No one (i.e., men) will buy it. FAC’s response? Carve out spaces to showcase intersectional work that might be deemed taboo elsewhere, for instance, on topics such as rape culture, transphobia, racism, ableism, domestic violence, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, media representation, cultural appropriation, environmental degradation, and Islamophobia. Nothing is off limits. FAC featured a graphic novel about trauma and abuse, Girl in the Attic by Hyein Lee, which contains such difficult subject matter that FAC added its first-ever content warning.

Girl in the Attic by Hyein Lee explores themes of trauma and abuse by drawing the viewer into the narrative.

According to Sova, people attending FAC events say they are really touched because the art reflects current social issues that affect them. “This creates a very impactful experience for those viewing art or experiencing a performance,” says Sova.

After hosting four conferences, FAC changed its name to the Feminist Art Collective to reflect its expanding mission. It now hosts artist residencies on the Toronto Islands. And its next event—the Feminist Art Festival, March 5 to 7, 2020, at OCAD University—will include a reception, conference, performances, film screening, makers’ market, and a two-week exhibition featuring the work of visual artists.

The Art of the Action

Since day one, FAC has operated as a grassroots organization run entirely by volunteers. Currently, the core team consists of 30 people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

Carissa Ainslie, who took on the coordinator role after Ilene Sova became the Ada Slaight Chair of Contemporary Painting and Drawing at OCAD University, describes their current organizational structure as non-hierarchical. “We try to be intersectional in terms of who we’re including in the conversations that we’re having,” says Ainslie. “Ensuring that everyone has a voice at the table is really important regardless of what their experiences have been.”

FAC’s biggest challenge is finding the time and money to put on events, particularly without a physical office or paid staff. It didn’t help that the Ontario government slashed arts sector funding from $18.5 million to $6.5 million earlier this year but, before that, FAC did not have much success getting grants as their conferences are so unique they don’t “tick all the eligibility boxes.” Instead, they’re exploring other options such as sponsorships with companies that align with their values.

For now, FAC relies on in-kind donations for printing services, food and beverages for receptions, and space rentals (OCAD University is a signature partner and hosts the festivals as well as committee meetings). Ticket sales (with pay-what-you-can options) and their annual Made by Feminists market at the Gladstone Hotel also brings in funds.

Despite budget constraints, FAC continues to grow. Submissions for the 2020 festival were up to 187 from 130 in 2017, coming in from Australia, South America, Europe, United States, and Canada. Ainslie says the political landscape has changed since their last conference in 2017 with the #MeToo movement encouraging people to talk openly about sexual harassment and gender inequality.

A voting committee of 11 people (artists, curators, activists, community members and academics) will select the final artists to participate at the festival, through a selection process that considers social justice issues, intersectionality, the collective’s mission and, of course, the strength of the art itself rather than the artist’s professional record.

Not Missing, Not Murdered by Amanda Amour-Lynx features the shirt the artist wore the night she was sexually assaulted. Photo: Black Umbrella Photography, Rebecca Tisdelle-Macias

With FAC serving as a spring board, past participants have gone on to show or perform their work in other venues and countries, collaborated with artists they met at FAC events, and even started conferences (see Black Futures Now and M.I.X.E.D) as well as a literary magazine (Living Hyphen).

Says Ainslie: “The world is a bit ridiculous and I hope people can come together and have some good conversations. We try our best to support the artists the way we can. We can’t always do that with funds but we can by creating a space where artists can build their CV and present work that may not be welcome anywhere else. We just want the best for all the artists involved.”

The Feminist Art Festival runs from March 5 to 7, 2020 in Toronto. Get your tickets here


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This article was made possible thanks to the generosity of Startup Toronto.


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