The official birth of the feminist movement, which intertwined themes on the women’s discrimination and anti-slavery, can be traced back to 1848, the year of the Congress on Women’s Rights, in Seneca Falls (New York), although previously, in the Enlightenment context, there have been some signs of debate in this sense. The first battles were for the enlargement of the right to vote, which was followed by the request for the right to education and equality between men and women in the civil code. In this sense, the epicenter of these battles was Great Britain: it is here that the first committee for the extension of the right to vote was born in 1865, although it took decades to assert this right. Just to understand, Great Britain grants suffrage to women only in 1918, the United States in 1920, while Italian and French women waited until after World War II.
In times of returning feminism, of #MeeToo, as well as of the consolidation of natural, social and self-determination rights, it is good to point out an exhibition proposed by the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg and which, in collecting the testimonies of dozens and dozens of artists from the four corners of the world, proposes a whole series of works undoubtedly centered on uncomfortable themes or gender or denunciation or, more simply, conjugated mainly from a female point of view.
They range from names that are already known in the West, such as José Galindo and Pipilotti Rist, to emerging authors or collectives, such as Nacional TROVOA and Pacific Sisters. Some names are completely missing, which are too consolidated (and perhaps not entirely aligned or too tied to the star system) such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer, authors who, however, with their statements, had made the denunciation their own primary goal.
The sentence that is placed in the exergue (by way of proclamation) of this project is by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and is taken from the book “We Should All Be Feminists” (Einaudi Editore, 2021).
Here it is: “Yes, we want all people to have the same rights and opportunities! Yes, we want to use art to raise awareness and to enable sustainable and effective encounters! Yes, we want to contribute to equality and to encourage and empower people who are marginalized or affected by discrimination. And yes, the world would be a better place if we were all feminists “.
Of course, we all agree (in the West, more or less, it seems so); the key point is another: there is a whole part of the world where democracy does not exist and where women are, let’s say, with an euphemism, mistreated, but let’s also say that they are deprived of the primary right of free choice. And let’s go to the bottom, recalling the many cases of daughters killed by fathers or brothers (crimes that happened within families of immigrants from Third World countries and welcomed by a permissive and good-natured West) because they did not want to accept combined marriage or because they wanted to act and behave with a freedom that is not contemplated in those archaic, conservative and patriarchal cultures. But let’s also remember what happens in Afghanistan or Iran, where the primary freedoms to study and dress according to one’s personal taste are completely denied and those who try to oppose it pay the consequences, even in a definitive way, that is, lethal.
Therefore, this project, registered under the title “Empowerment”, is certainly commendable, because the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, in bringing together one hundred artists from fifty countries, offers us a global look at thought and instances (conjugated in aesthetic and political form) of women around the world. Speaking, writing, showing, highlighting these undisputed inequalities (not to say evident repressions of individual drives) up to the instances of relationship with a better and uncontaminated environment is not only commendable, but also necessary, a due act by the West that, also thanks to the Enlightenment thought, in recent centuries has made progress towards the rights of every individual, regardless of sex, race and religion to which they belong. Yet, we know well, that the struggle is never over: not only in some portions of the West there are instances of a return backwards (see the numerous attempts to put limits on abortion that go against the free choice of women), but in the extra-Western world not only women are often marginalized or looked at with suspicion or oppressed (and even killed), other genders also end up in the crosshairs of the oligarchs of the single thought: think of homosexual people, trans *, inter and queer. In short, a sum of denied rights, often denied with violence or abuse.
This exhibition (which also has the purpose of being didactic or instructive or indicative of a way to practice to improve coexistence between peoples and genders) is accompanied by a publication produced in cooperation with the Federal Agency for Civic Education; it consists of 500 pages (with about 400 illustrations), and can be purchased at the museum bookshop at the “political” price of only 7.00 euros: “Empowerment. Kunst un Feminismen”.
In order not to wrong any single experience, in an ecumenical way we indicate all the authors involved in this project: Ebtisam Abdulaziz, Stacey Gillian Abe, Heba Y. Amin, Maja Bajević, Natalie Ball, Yael Bartana, Mehtap Baydu, Alexandra Bircken, Benedikte Bjerre, Monica Bonvicini, Andrea Bowers, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Candice Breitz, Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčová, Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo, Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo, Birgit Dieker, Zehra Doğan, Anita Dube, Anna Ehrenstein, Ndidi Emefiele, Nona Faustine, Keltie Ferris, Regina José Galindo, Ellen Gallagher, Goldendean, Gabrielle Goliath, Jenna Gribbon, Shilpa Gupta, Nilbar Güreş, h.arta group, Hyphen-Labs, Irena Jukić Pranjić, Patricia Kaersenhout, Gladys Kalichini, Šejla Kamerić, Mari Katayama, Yuki Kihara, Seo-Kyung Kim & Eun-Sung Kim, Laetitia Ky, Jakob Lena Knebl, LASTESIS, Kitso Lynn Lelliott, Pixy LIAO, Ann Lislegaard, XIAO Lu, Mary Maggic, Senzeni Marasela, Teresa Margolles, Aline Motta, Shana Moulton & Nick Hallett, Zanele Muholi, Kresiah Mukwazhi, Marina Naprushkina, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Tanja Ostojić, Pushpamala N, Rosana Paulino, Lisa Reihana, Elianna Renner, Tabita Rezaire, Pipilotti Rist, Boryana Rossa, Mariela Scafati, Berni Searle, Selma Selman, Lerato Shadi, Tejal Shah, Melati Suryodarmo, Elena Tejada-Herrera, Mathilde ter Heijne, Pacific Sisters, Bussaraporn Thongchai, LIN Tianmiao, Wu Tsang, Kawita Vatanajyankur, Leafā Wilson & Olga Hedwig Krause, Anna Witt, Larissa Sansour & Søren Lind, Raeda Saadeh, Shevaun Wright, Ming Wong, LEI Yan, CAO Yu, Mia YU sowie die Kollektive AXA projects, Nacional TROVOA, Njabala Foundation, Sandbox Collective, What the hELL she DOin!
The project was curated by Andreas Beitin, Katharina Koch, Uta Ruhkamp, with the participation of Regine Epp and Dino Steinhof.
10/09/2022 – 8/01/2023
Partial view of the Empowerment exhibition, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 10/09/2022 – 8/01/2023. Photo: Marek Kruszewski, courtesy Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Kawita Vatanajyankur, Scale of Injustice, 2021, Video, without sound, © Kawita Vatanajyankur, courtesy of the artist and Nova Contemporary (the artist exhibits in the section “The Labour of Care”)
Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Will I still carry water when I am a dead woman?, 2013, single- channel video, 11:55 min, © Wura-Natasha Ogunji, courtesy of the artist, photo: Ema Edosio (the artist exhibits in the section “The Labour of Care)
Shilpa Gupta, I live under your sky too, 2004-ongoing, Animated light installation, 487 × 975 cm, © Shilpa Gupta, courtesy of the artist, photo: Kira Barlach (the artist exhibits in the section “Planetary Challenges”)
Laetitia Ky, pow’hair, 2022, © courtesy the artist and LIS10gallery (the artist exhibits in the section “Protest & Empowerment”)
He is editorial director of Juliet art magazine.