On Saturday, I dropped off my husband and daughter at the AGO for some family fun time and stopped in on the Feminist Art Conference at OCADU. Only in its second year, the conference has enjoyed two fully sold-out events (with 350 attenders this year) and was endorsed by participants such as acclaimed photo artist Suzy Lake, and artist/activist d’bi young anitafrika.
Talking to conference founder Ilene Sova, the story of the development of FAC is one that makes it hard to disbelieve in synchronicity. Due to the highly charged nature of her Missing Women Project, then set to be shown at the Creative Blueprint Gallery last year, She sent out a call for submissions to set up a kind of discussion forum around the work. After a somewhat surprising and sometimes international response to a call for submissions, She decided to plan an entire conference, which was held at the Foundry for its inaugural year. FAC moved spaces after an OCADU student suggested it might be a better venue. Upon speaking with the student union, it turned out that OCADU’s students had expressed strong interest in feminist courses becoming a part of the OCADU curriculum. By the youthful gloss on the faces of most attendees, it seems we are no longer in any sort of “feminist backlash.”
The conference took place on the weekend of International Women’s day this year, March 7th and 8th and consisted of a show of visual art work at OCADU’s Beaver hall, artist and community panel discussions, and performances in dance, performance art and spoken word.
The show at Beaver hall underlined a core philosophy behind the conference with art by newly emerging artists was shown alongside works by more established artists. The artists were then invited to speak about their work as it related to a series of topics such as: well-being and patriarchy; body politics and language; division of labour; and others. She is quite passionate that the show and panel discussions being an opportunity for some of the younger artists to have a chance to participate in the kind of event that would normally be reserved for much more established artists.
The vein of feminism supported by this conference seems to be a healthy one. There are strong underlying values of mentorship, community, and health behind the larger idea of promoting and guiding various feminist art forms. This overall theme was nicely summarized in the keynote address by d’bi. Unignorably passionate, it seemed at first to be an all-too-familiar rant designed to stir up a bit of frenzy, until she challenged the audience to commit their lives to their own self-care rather than “fighting a revolution” at the expense of themselves. It was a refreshingly realistic and achievable overall message that cuts into the core of challenges faced by many average women.
In my opinion it is this kind of wise simplicity, devoid of Mary Richardson style anger, that will make this conference productive and accessible to all.
Header image by Nikki White