Whatever your opinion of Yoko Ono, I urge you to go and see her latest exhibition ‘To The Light’ at London’s Serpentine gallery whilst you still can. Just don’t go to see it with a stinking hangover (I’ll explain more later!).
Described by John Lennon as the world’s most famous unknown artist, this collection brings together works from the illustrious Japanese writer, musician and peace activist’s long career – spanning back to well before she was labeled a witch by mewling Lennon lovers.
Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots about Ono’s Beatles connection. I just think she’s a great artist. Take her instruction paintings, for example. The purest form of conceptual art, these typed up words ask the viewer to essentially create the piece within their heads. First published in 1964 in a book entitled Grapefruit, I am happy to note that there are a bunch of Instruction Paintings here.
Of course Lennon is always going to have a presence in her work, and he’s here at the Serpentine too – from the video of him smiling (film number 5 smile 1968) to the infamous stepladder leading up to the ‘Yes’ Ceiling Painting (1966) that was apparently central to their first meeting.
One particularly moving piece was a piece of paper smudged with the combined footsteps of Yoko and John (Footsteps we made) which they had, apparently, ‘got into doing’. ‘Now, 40 years later, ’ Yoko writes, ‘I held the paper and made the footsteps go from the floor towards the ceiling. I saw something I didn’t see then. We were walking to the sky.’ Call me a bit of a soppy Sally (or you can blame my Sunday-morning hangover for kicking in at this point), but this piece especially was testament to WHY it makes sense that Lennon is always in the background. There’s no doubt that these two creatives shared a massive and consuming love that still lingers, somehow, today.
Quite removed from romance, it’s Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ films that are undoubtedly the emotional highpoint of this show. Interpreted as one of her most feminist works, the Cut Piece is also one of the most well-known examples of performance art, and one that Ono carried out and filmed in both 1964 and 2003. In this exhibition, the two films sit across from one another, creating a quiet dialogue of their own.
Essentially the performance involves the artist sitting before an audience and inviting people to come up and cut a piece of her clothing away, one after the other. It’s an experiment in participation, trust, bravery and power… and the difference between the two films is remarkable.
In the ‘60s version, we are witness to a dignified yet slightly scared young girl sitting on the floor, wearing a calm expression like that of someone waiting for an injection to be administered. Slowly, people snip away pieces of cloth, until participators become bolder in their interactions. One man circles Onomenacingly, to laughs from the audience, before making his first incision. The piece comes to an abrupt halt soon after the one audience member addresses the audience with a smirk that he will ‘take his time’ and be ‘gentle’, before gleefully removing her entire camisole and slitting through both her bra straps. It’s a shocking and unsettling watch.
Feeling shaken from the first film, the second later version is somewhat of an antidote. This colour film from almost 40 years later shows the Yoko Ono we all know and…well, maybe not love, but…you know. She looks strong, experienced, tired. ‘It looks like someone who went through a shocking life,’ Yokohas said of it, ‘which is true.’ She seems open and accepting of her visitors and they, in turn, are compassionate and towards her. Often they talk to her before making their contribution, one participant pins a medal on her and kisses her on the cheek, another cuts off a piece of her own clothing and places it on Ono’s exposed leg.
As a piece of performance art, Cut Piece is important and thought-provoking , but as an exploratory piece challenging social norms, it’s an absolutely fascinating and very emotional experience… And absolutely too much to cope with on a hangover.
So, please PLEASE do go and see To The Light whilst it’s still on (it’s free!), just don’t do it the morning after the night before.
Like many East London ladies, I’ve started up a rather unhealthy obsession with nail art. With a steady hand, several eye-searing shades and more gems than a professional vajazzler, I’ve managed creations that would make even Jessie J jealous. Unsurprisingly, however, I’d never considered putting this (rather useless, let’s be honest) talent to good use. That was, until I heard about Spots of Time.
Spots of Time is an organisation (working with the My Home Life network) that arranges fun and creative activities in care homes around London and Essex. As it’s currently a pilot scheme, they are testing out activities that they hope will work well for people who are experiencing dementia – think tea parties, ‘bring-a-pet’ days, crafty fun… or pampering treats, like hand massages and manicures! The idea is that you go along to their website, pick an activity that interests you, and then sign yourself up to a place and time that’s convenient to you.
So this is how I came to spend a rather lovely portion of my Saturday taking part in Spots of Time’s The Big Pamper; a special day to really raise awareness of the organisation and their work. I was placed in an East London care home, along with around 15 others (and a dog called Pedro!) and there were apparently 7 other care homes around the area also playing host to Spots of Time pamper days.
Starting out the session was a bit awkward at first, as both sides were a little quiet and shy, but the volunteers had been well prepared by Spots of Time with conversational tips (including advice on talking to people affected by dementia) and soon everyone was chatting, playing games and painting nails. We were there for little over an hour (the idea of giving up a ’spot’ of time is just that; it’s a tiny portion of you day that you will hardly notice, but will make a big difference to the care home’s residents) and the time really flew. By the time we left, the atmosphere had become really lively and all the ladies were pleased with their newly painted nails.
I have never done any volunteer work like this before, but I think The Big Pamper really appealed to me because it sounded so fun and accessible. Signing up to spend time with people affected by dementia might sound a bit daunting at first but, given a fun thing to do, it all suddenly sounds a bit easier – after all, you’ve been provided with a great opener, you have an activity occupy you both, and you are also imparting a useful service. All of a sudden, there’s no excuse NOT to spend a spot of time!
Find out about the next big event, or sign up to something that suits you here. Ooh, and don’t forget to follow Spots of Time’s twitter!
Yesterday evening I headed into central London and to Bedford Square to observe the two very different protests taking place outside the BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) clinic situated there. BPAS is the UK’s largest independent provider of abortion care and offers a multitude of services including pregnancy testing, counselling, STI screening, contraception, sterilisation, vasectomy and vasectomy reversal.
For the last 40 days, a group of anti-abortion activists called 40 Days for Life have conducted ‘prayer vigils’ on this site during the clinic’s working hours. They have reportedly approached women who have entered the clinic, speaking to them and offering them literature in the attempt to dissuade these women from going ahead with an abortion (if, indeed, that is why they are attending the clinic). Staff and patients alike have complained of intimidation, and there have been reports of activists filming those who enter and leave the building – although 40 Days for Life have denied any involvement in this particular activity.
Although I have been on a lot of pro-choice demonstrations in the past, I honestly felt really conflicted about attending last night’s event. Firstly, I support the right of anyone to protest, to use public space as they wish and to express themselves freely. These vigils, as 40 Days for Life have been calling them, are not unlawful – but I do find them incredibly worrying.
40 Days for Life is an American-rooted campaign (launched on a national level in the US in the autumn of 2007) that has made the leap over to the UK fairly recently. I believe the campaign is a Lenten activity, said to involve prayer, fasting, vigils and outreach work. As Robert Colquhoun, UK campaign director for 40 Days for Life, told the BBC’s Today programme; ”Any assertion that there’s any harrassment or intimidation as part of our campaign is very inaccurate.”
However, reports of harrassment have still surfaced with complaints from staff and patients. One patient’s statement read; “The man by the fence followed me to the door with leaflets and asked why I wouldn’t speak to him. He waited until the intercom answered.” Whether intimidation is the intention or not, for women who may very well be in a state of stress, it is clearly the outcome. Personally, such an approach doesn’t sound very Christian to me.
I think Ann Furedi, chief executive of the BPAS said it best (when also speaking to the Today programme) with her assertion; “If you want to have a debate about abortion, that’s great, have one, debate me, debate my policy team, debate other people who have strong views on it, but for heaven’s sake leave the women alone who are coming to our clinic, because they’re not coming because they think abortion is right – they’re coming because they need medical help.”
The anti-abortionist tactics of groups like 40 Days for Life have become the norm in America, with protesters stationed outside clinics, approaching those who enter and threatening staff. In a lot of cases, the situation is so bad that clinincs have to hire people to escort women into the building for treatment. It really scares me that we are beginning to see this wave of activism come to our shores, even in its most subtle and peaceful incarnation, and the immediate instinct is, of course, to stand up against it and shout it down. But, whilst the gut instinct to drown out this group is immediate and strong, is this the right thing to do?
I was still asking myself this question as I arrived in Bedford square to the chants of “stop harassing women” coming from the large and loud mass of pro-choice protesters. The Guardian estimated that this group out-numbered those at the prayer vigil two to one, and they certainly made a lot more noise with chants, drums – even pan lids being bashed with spoons – drowning out the prayers and hymns. One pro-choice man, who had stationed himself nearer to the praying group, had an alarm on his bicycle blaring out whilst he joined in chants of ‘Shame on you’.
As the facebook page publicising the pro-choice event had said; ‘Obviously it would be a terrible shame if we were to disrupt 40DFL’s vigil, however I think that’s a risk we’ll have to take’… and I guess it was this snarky stance that had made me feel uneasy. I desperately wanted to mark my opposition to the intimidatory tactics of this anti-abortionist group, but I felt conflicted over shouting over them. What would being deliberately antagonistic towards these people achieve? But then, 40 Days for Life are ultimately the ones imposing their views on women who may be at their most vulnerable, which is definitely more damaging than making a couple of verses of Kum Ba Ya a bit difficult for those stood at the back of their group to hear.
But as James Ball wrote in The Guardian, the fear is that counter protests such as this one could make matters worse – heating up both sides to a point where more threatening US-style tactics become inevitable, with the debate polarised and the atmosphere for women trying to use abortion services becoming hostile. The last thing that the pro-choice movement wants is for clinics to become legitimised as a place of protest, as this will only make things harder for the women who are trying to access the services they need.
Questioned on this very point for the Pod Delusions coverage of the event, Deborah Hyde (editor of The Skeptic magazine) said; “I don’t think we have a choice…we have to react in this way, we have to make it very clear to everybody that we do like choice in this country.”
Clearly other groups felt there was ‘no choice’ too. On their own website, Abortion Rights said; ‘Pro-choice groups have not staged counter-protests against the 40 Days for Life campaign during clinic hours: it increases anti-choice numbers and often makes the situation worse for service users. But… It’s time for the UK’s pro-choice majority to say we’ve had enough of this kind of behaviour and to stand up for our right to safe, legal abortion.’ A spokesperson for the group, Darinka Aleksic , also told the Guardian; “We need to send a very clear message that we will not tolerate that sort of activity in the UK.”
Another factor that may have led pro-choice activists to decide to mount this counter-demonstration is that apparently the Bedford Square BPAS clinic is set to close, so any repercussions would not continue at this particular site.
So, did the protest heat up to US levels nearing boiling point? Well no, but I must admit the atmosphere was very strange. I have protested alongside anti-abortionist campaigners before, but that time our separate groups were both directing our attention towards the houses of parliament and those MPs entering it. This time, focussing attention directly at the so-called ‘pro-lifers’ brought a certain tension to the proceedings.
Still, the whole thing felt decidedly British, with people happy to engage in debate in a non-threatening, even banter-ish, manner. One anti-abortion protester (a man who I overheard stating that ‘contraception ruins the enjoyment of sex’ as part of his argument) decided to stand with the pro-choice faction, shuffling through his placards in a Bob Dylan-esque fashion whilst other protesters playfully put their own pro-choice placards in front of his.
As the time came for the protests to dismantle, police presence ramped up – a scary sight usually unseen at pro-choice demos. It was an ominous snapshot of what could happen if anti-abortionists insist on continuing to make direct contact with women who are essentially attempting to access a lawful service. Thankfully, those at BPAS have batted away any suggestion of a need for more strident measures against such groups (such as escorts for patients) since it still seems to be only a tiny minority of people protesting against their work.
All I hope is that in future, counter-protests such as this won’t be necessary because anti-abortion protesters will keep their activism to more appropriate avenues – leaving women who may well be in desperate emotional turmoil out of the picture.
One brilliant thing to have come out of all this is that a charity page has been set up for those who want to take a stand against 40 Days for Life, but who were unsure about joining the counter protest. The idea is that people donate an amount of money to BPAS for every day the prayer vigil is set up outside, and it has apparently reduced BPAS staff to tears of gratitude! Today (the 40th day!) is the last day to donate to the campaign – please do so here if you wish!
Right now, I’m feeling full of the joys that only a golden glow (one that didn’t come out of a bottle, mind!) and a good friend’s beautiful wedding can bring… amazing, then, that I’ve found yet more things to top up the juices for my happy helmet over the past couple of days. Please allow me to spread the love!
1. A huge ‘Hooray’ is most definitely in order as today saw 5 contemporary feminists profiled in The Evening Standard newspaper for a piece entitled March of The New Feminists. With the impending SlutWalk event in London this Saturday, it’s fantastic to see Feminism receiving media attention once more. Those racking up the ES column inches include UK Feminista founder Kat Banyard, Vicky Simister of Anti-Street Harassment UK and male feminist activist (finally a journalist acknowledges they exist!) Ralph Allen. Take a read here and be inspired by these hard-working activists.
2. With the appointment of the first ever woman executive editor of The New York Times, many are commenting that the move comes not a moment too soon. I was thankful, then, to read Jill Abramson’s own personal take on her new prestigious position in this piece from yesterday’s Guardian. Especially interesting is Abramson’s simultaneous admission of her new role’s significance whilst feeling weary of the whole ‘First woman to…’ line of questioning. Read up here on the woman who is set to become a huge force in the US media, a woman with a passion for hard-edged investigative reporting… and a love of West Highland Terriers.
3. And last, but by no means least, a bit of fun in the form of JD Samson’s MEN. I had the fabulous fortune of going along to their gig in Shepherd’s Bush last night and shared the audience’s rapture as, for their final song, they pulled a classic Bikini Kill cover out of the bag. The crowd all left with huge grins on their faces! Take a look at the vid above of their rendition of the same song at New York’s rather lovely Knitting Factory and see if it can’t raise a smile for you too!
Another Mother’s Day, another batch of awful Mother’s Day cards! How on earth can we show the mother-figures in our lives how much we appreciate them with these kind of lame offerings? With such patronising inscriptions, these sentiments are bound to fall as flat as the cardboard they’re printed on.
Every minute of every day, a woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, These deaths could be avoided if adequate resources and healthcare were available.
You can purchase a Safe Birth Certificate here, or read more about Maternity Worldwide in this blog post that Julia Kukiewicz wrote for us on behalf of the organisation.
Today sees us marking the first annual Anti Street-Harassment Day with a piece that is sure to invigorate and inspire! In our latest feature regular Uplifter Dearbhaile Kitt takes a look at the growing anti street-harassment movement. Speaking to some of the key figures working to put a stop to this most anti-social sexist practise, including Julia Gray of HollabackLDN and founder of LASH Vicky Simister, Dearbhaile gives us a clear picture of what we are dealing with on our streets and how we can work to combat it.
“Alright, darlin’!” shouts a builder across the road. Whilst wheeling my bike along, “I’d let you ride me” is the hushed comment from a man who passes me. And from a crawling car “Are you working?”
I’m not alone in experiencing encounters like this. Whenever I mention these instances of street harassment to my friends, they have just as many stories of whistles, cat calls and unwanted propositions to share. In the past women have had little opportunity to discuss these experiences with a wider circle outside of their friendship group, but this is changing. I spoke to the young women involved in a growing movement that is aiming to get not only women talking about their daily experiences of street harassment, but society.
International Women’s Day is just under a week away (it’s on March the 8th, people! Mark it in your calendars!) and this year’s celebrations are set to be bigger and better than ever! Why? Well, whilst last year saw women worldwide celebrate the passing of 100 years since Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) introduced the idea (to unanimous approval!) for an International Women’s Day, the first International Women’s Day event wasn’t actually held until 1911. This means that 2011 is the Global Centenary Year for the event – as if we needed any more excuse for a big celebration?!
This Saturday, London’s Feminist Library will celebrate a rather impressive 35 years of looking after and lending from their collection – no mean feat, since the library is entirely not-for-profit and run by volunteers! Taking on the vital role of collecting and safe-guarding women’s history, their archive brings together plenty of materials documenting the Women’s Liberation Movement, particularly second-wave stuff from the 60s and 70s.
I’m sure any gender studies student (or, indeed, anyone who has ever fancied flicking through an old copy of Spare Rib!) owes The Feminist Library a debt of gratitude – and long may it continue to feed feminist minds for years to come!
Still wondering what to get your slogan-shouting, disco-dancing, fabulously-feminist sweetheart for Valentine’s day? Whilst you’ve left it a little late, I’m going to forgive you anyway and let you in on a not-very-well-kept secret; MEN’s debut album ‘Talk About Body’ is released in the UK today! So, if your better half enjoys cutting a rug to songs about making gay babies, call off the search – you’ve found the perfect present!
I’ve been rather excited about MEN, the electro-music/performance collective fronted by Le Tigre’s JD Samson, since their gig in Soho over a year ago (Read Thomas Leadbetter’s review for Uplift here) and their album couldn’t come soon enough! Talk About Body is utterly danceable and engaging, packing in plenty of politics – all dealt with with positive enthusiasm.
MEN are not only making exciting and vital music, their videos are also pretty damned special too. Current single Off Our Backs (above) showcases sharp choreography, surely testament to JD’s Dykes Can Dance ethos, whilst the recently revealed Who Am I To Feel So Free has the ultimate in happy endings!
One of my absolute favourite conversations (please note that, for the purposes of this blog-post, italics equals sarcasm) to partake in often starts with the question; “So, if women are equal to men, how come there are no good female guitarists/chefs/artists/comedians…?”
If you’re one of those people who’s quite open about being a bit on the feminist side, you will most likely feel my pain. There you are, down the pub with a relatively new aquaintance, and the conversation will veer towards what you got up to over the weekend; “I burned my bra to symbolise my rejection of patriarchal beauty standards*” you’ll say. “Aha!” They’ll counter, “A feminist, eh? So, if women are equal to men, how come…?”
It’s hard to educate someone who seems to have a Masters in Derailing For Dummies (not that it’s your job to educate them, naturally), but it’s even harder when you find yourself asking “Hang on, how come there aren’t any…? That doesn’t seem right.”
Which explains my excitement at the news that The ICA are staging a discussion next week around women novelists. Best-selling author and co-founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction, Kate Mosse will be amongst those debating why, in an industry dominated by women, it is still the men who often win accolades for their penmanship.
It looks set to be a lively debate, with such questions being bandied about as;
What gets reviewed and by whom? What gets read and by whom? What is regarded as significant and event-worthy – and by whom? And why are we still having these conversations in 2011?
Yes! Why indeed? Perhaps if all us feminist types buy a couple of tickets each and take along our feisty pub aquaintances, we can put at least one of these ever-so enjoyable conversations to bed this year! Wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books?
Novel Women takes place at 7pm in The ICA theatre on Wednesday the 16th February. Tickets range from £10-£12. Book your place and find all the details you’ll need here.
*I know, I know. This tale of 7os feminist fury is a myth and never actually happened. Still, didn’t stop me doing it on Sunday evening ;P