Recap Feminist Assembly Month
In September 2022, Het Nieuwe Instituut organised a series of activities with the aim of bringing together different generations of feminists for a month of inspiring, urgent conversations, situated around the exhibition room Feminist Design Strategies. The initiators of the theme month, architect-researcher Setareh Noorani and typographer-researcher Tabea Nixdorff, look back on their Feminist Assembly Month.
14 December 2022
In this recap we, Tabea Nixdorff and Setareh Noorani, look back at the Feminist Assembly Month (FAM), which took place in September 2022 at Het Nieuwe Instituut. It was a month of inspiring, urgent conversations, situated around the exhibition room Feminist Design Strategies, when we were able to expand the conversations and connections created during research into (and with) both institutional and personal archives. During Feminist Assembly Month, we were fortunate enough to welcome many of you physically to connect and reconnect, and take you along with us, while this digital space gives us the opportunity to share, document and reflect on those encounters.
"We rely on encounters with other feminists in order to build a network of solidarity, sorority, and kinship."
The Feminist Design Strategies room is an invitation to further research - each of the presented archival images leads to a whole set of references and questions, in part paralleled in the sister project Collecting Otherwise. With the Feminist Assembly Month, we aimed to emphasise the importance of personal encounters. We rely on encounters with other feminists in order to build a network of solidarity, sorority, and kinship - and in such a way to better resist and exist in spaces preferring normative, white, able-bodied, cis, hetero, and male-presenting persons.
We kicked off the month with a rearticulation of our collaboration with DIG IT UP, the heritage lab and gallery for local histories in Rotterdam, in the form of the pop-up exhibition Hear Her. We would especially like to thank Dig It Up's director Simone da Silva, and the two curators of the pop-up exhibition Hear Her: Marjan Beijering, oral historian and founder of Geschiedenislab, and Anouk van Mil, designer and part of the wider Dig It Up project Gerse Vrouwen.
The focus of the month-long pop-up exhibition was the Feministiese Filmgroep Storing, a Rotterdam film collective which challenged the representation of women in the media in early 1980s. On 1 September, we held a feminist dinner which was followed by a short talk by former Feministiese Filmgroep Storing member Mieke de Wit, and a screening of the queer cinema milestone The Watermelon Woman, directed by Cheryl Dunye. The movie, which comes off as a documentary, ends with the poignant statement: "Sometimes you have to write your own history. The Watermelon Woman is fiction."
Tineke E. Jansen, Sumati Nair and Jenneke Arens holding a poster with the title “Who is responsible?” designed by Sumati Nair, printed by Vrouwendrukkerij Virginia, 1989(?), during Roundtable #3 on Posting as a feminist design strategy, Feminist Assembly Month, September 18, 2022, at the Nieuwe Instituut, photo: Simaa
Roundtables -- create and hold a space
During five intergenerational roundtables, we talked about (re)claiming, and learned from each other's different experiences in relation to that strategy - for example, what it means to make explicit an invisible disability by using the word crip in an affirming way - and the power of claiming symbols, for example by merging the antifascist triangle and the female symbol as a sign for Black women.
During the roundtable on Building, we agreed that the reductive definition of architecture, limited to planning the construction and design of buildings, is a way to dismiss interdisciplinary or grassroots activities in the field to uphold patriarchal systems of power. We looked at and shared material testifying to the plurality and continuity of feminist efforts. We also asked ourselves: what design values are worth reconsidering, keeping, or abolishing?
We also asked ourselves, how can the archive, or the national public collection, reckon with counter-normative, abolitionist, and emancipatory struggles, to include these in their full spectrums amid that which is more easily recognised, as 'worthy of keeping'?
Expanding a network / Wiki Edit-a-thon and Feminist Assembly Radio
We also held a Wiki edit-a-thon, a collective writing session to create articles to be published on the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Supported by members of Wikimedia Nederland, we collectively drafted the first Wikipedia article to describe the work of the Dutch feminist network Vrouwen Bouwen Wonen.
In collaboration with the P1 (previously Biennale Gelderland) curatorial team, we also went to Nijmegen and co-hosted Feminist Assembly Radio with our very special guests Mo Salomon and Tineke E. Jansen. They shared how their friendship intertwined with their political activism as Black feminists in the 1980s - you can listen to this moving conversation again via the digital platform of P1 Projects.
FAM Finale - the joys of an intersectional feminist life
During the FAM Finale, we were graced with the company of Gloria Wekker, who recounted the beginnings of her engaged work - for instance, in the Black lesbian collective Sister Outsider during the 1980s. Her talk also focused on transnational feminist community building and the role of Black lesbian joy and poetry in her later academic trajectories. Wekker reflected on "what it means to lead an intersectional feminist life and the joys of that life", following Audre Lorde's question: What have I taken to be my work? The reading was preceded by an introductory video contribution by Chandra Frank that related Gloria Wekker's work to current research and the challenges of living an intersectional feminist life. Chandra is someone who, with her research and published article on Sister Outsider, exactly brings to the forefront the practice of seeing with fresh eyes.
With the Finale, we rounded off a month of nourishing conversations. They were, to quote Gloria Wekker during her closing address, "the conversations we should be having right now."
The video recording of the talk can be watched below (unfortunately without Chandra Frank's contribution, due to copyright issues).
The shared collective moments during Feminist Assembly Month were energising, and we see a great need for a recurrence in time and space to find feminist kin. We therefore invite you to think along with us about how we can continue giving space for these conversations, with the network that we managed to bring together.
The desire to document the research and built connections for the Feminist Design Strategies project, as well as making it accessible to a wider public beyond the museum, gave rise to the idea for the publication series Archival Textures. With Archival Textures, we aim to make archival research on feminist design strategies - as developed and employed by previous generations in the Netherlands and through transnational solidarity - available in print and in English translation. Several small printed publications will each focus on a strategy such as 'amplifying', '(re)claiming', 'building' or 'mapping,' through the lens of archival textual and visual material from the so-called Second Wave Feminist Movement, with a focus on queer, anti-racist, intersectional initiatives. Reproductions of the archival materials will be accompanied by English translations, editorial notes and transcriptions of intergenerational conversations. The first issue is planned to be published in early 2023.
Acknowledgements (or, naming is political)
We'd like to give thanks to and acknowledge all the work done by a wonderful team in and outside of Het Nieuwe Instituut, namely Flora van Gaalen and Ina Hollmann. Additionally, we'd like to shout out to Niek van der Meer, Ester Martens, Jane Szita, Malou Zumbrink, Michelle Boon, Amanda Kemp, Nohely Koeyers, Kim van Zweeden, Taco de Neef, Soner Arslan, Delany Boutkan and Carolina Pinto, who all helped make it possible with their skills as editors, producers, translators, communicators and so on. Also, thanks to our dear collaborators from DIG IT UP (Simone da Silva, Amanda Wams, Marjan Beijering and Anouk van Mil) and from P1 projects (Alexander Godschalk, Claudia Schouten, Nathalie Hartjes and Matt Plezier).
And of course, all the fantastic people who participated in one of the roundtables, as speakers for the public gatherings, or co-initiators of programmes, including: Tineke E. Jansen, Mo Salomon, Gloria Wekker, Chandra Frank, Mieke de Wit, Anne Krul, Tieneke Sumter, Garjan Sterk, Tamara Hartman, Noah Littel, Philippa Driest and Catherine Koekoek. Lastly, a special thanks to Simaa Al-Saig, who was present for all events to document Feminist Assembly Month with her camera.
We (Tabea Nixdorff and Setareh Noorani) couldn't be happier to have co-organised Feminist Assembly Month. For a detailed overview of all activities during FAM, you can access the full programme announcements here.