Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amnesty TV: global human rights show produced by 11 white men and 0 women

“To coincide with its 50th anniversary Amnesty International UK have launched Amnesty TV, an online 15-minute, fortnightly magazine-style show which blends satirical comedy, short documentaries, polemics and news around global human rights campaigns.”

The quote above is from Amnesty TV’s press release. Amnesty is a global human rights organisation whose work I admire greatly. They know, more than anyone, that gendered violence, oppression, exploitation and the consequent silencing of women’s voices are among the most common human rights violations. They know that the eradication of violence against women is a global human rights priority and say outright that women’s rights are human rights. They know that the world is more than half female and that still the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor, illiterate, exploited, violated and disenfranchised people are female. According to UN Women, women own just 1% of the world's land, despite our labour and productiveness. They know that women are not believed when we speak. They know that violence against women is endemic all over the world, in outwardly peaceful and civilised societies as well as in war zones; in refugee camps and supposed havens, suburban homes and rural idylls as well as regions whose infrastructure has been destroyed by conflict. They know what a struggle it has been to get international organisations to acknowledge rape and sexual violence as a war crime and a weapon of war. Even with this recognition, victims of these horrific violations are barely acknowledged or helped, let alone vindicated in their wish for justice.

Amnesty know that women all over the world desire to have equal participation in all areas of life, political, social and cultural, serious and silly, in work and rest. They know that we wish to be empowered, to play a respected role in the world, to testify to our experiences, to speak and to be heard. We are not just victims and survivors of abuse or stoical fighters against unending oppression, we are also creative, funny and interesting. We like activity, humour, television, film, art, jokes, participation, creation and recreation. Some of us might even dream of working on Amnesty TV one day, producing segments, directing, clowning about, forging a career, making people think and writing good lines, instead of being featured as grimly inspiring examples of how cruel the world is and how strong our resistance can be. Would that be likely?

Each episode of Amnesty TV focuses on a different theme and tackles different Amnesty causes from around the world. This, with no editorialisation, using information from the press release, is the permanent production team behind Amnesty TV:

  • Mike Bradley, former producer and director at Charlie Brooker’s News Wipe and Screen Wipe
  • Iain Morris, co-creator of the Inbetweeners
  • Neil Boorman, creator of C4 show Shoreditch Twat
  • Comic-strip creators Modern Toss, aka John Link and Mick Bunnage
  • Chris Atkins, writer and director of Taking Liberties and Starsuckers
  • cartoonist Robert Thompson
  • Writer/director duo Misery Bear, two men called Chris Hayward and Nat Saunders
  • Illustrator Anthony Burrill

Tally: 10 white men, 0 women.

Their human rights issues experience, gleaned from News Wipe, Screen Wipe, The Inbetweeners, Shoreditch Twat, Modern Toss, Misery Bear and Starsuckers: none, except for one person, Chris Atkins, who worked on a project called Taking Liberties.

Amnesty TV, whose first episode has already aired and can be viewed here, is an excellent idea. It is important that humanitarian issues reach as many people as possible, not just the small cohort of highly motivated activists who often give huge amounts of time and effort to a range of causes. Being an activist is a full time job, but it is unsalaried. Dedicated activists usually manage to live three or four lives simultaneously, such is their energy and commitment. But it shouldn’t be so. Everyone must work together now to change the world.

Amnesty TV has changed nothing and is a smack in the face for all activists and human rights workers, many of whom are women and nonwhite. As usual, the women work hard for free and the white men get a cushy job with their ‘mates’ (that dreadful disingenuous word: it means ‘other members of the patriarchy’) for a nice bit of dosh or at least a CV gold star. Amnesty TV could have overturned so many longstanding traditions regarding the way TV is made, how human rights issues are presented and how global themes are seen by national audiences. Instead, it was jobs-for-the-boys all the way. It has taken its budget and the excellent reputation and career perks that will follow from such a prestigious assignment and given them to a white men’s club whose past work demonstrates no interest at all in any kind of diversity, equality, internationalism or progressiveness, except for one past project by one of the group.

I have been sent information about Episodes 1 and 2 and have included the names of the contributors I have been able to trace.

Episode 1 is about internet freedom and includes the following:

  • Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a special message recorded for Amnesty’s 50th anniversary
  • Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, delivers a polemic on internet freedom around an Amnesty class where children compose a collage of China’s recent history
  • Internet pranksters Don’t Panic ask the embassies of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US to sign a birthday card for Amnesty, featuring actor Heydon Prowse
  • Harm on Removal – satirical recruitment/training video on security techniques used during deportation from the UK

In an interesting interview with Dazed Digital, Heydon Prowse, the actor in the embassy/birthday card segment, is asked for the names of more of the people behind the Amnesty TV project. He mentions all the men I’ve listed and adds one more name, Joe Wade. I have checked Joe Wade's Twitter page and found out that he actually writes for Dazed as well as working with the Don't Panic crew. Cosy! It's great when there's a chaps' network buoying - or should that be boying? - you up at all times.

Prowse does not mention any women as privileged power-players in the project, although he states that the eradication of violence against women is an Amnesty priority and says he admires the chutzpah of the Saudi women who flouted the driving ban against them. Unfortunately women's chutzpah is only to be used, for free, at great risk to ourselves, in situations where we are essentially powerless. Amnesty TV seems to like us as resilient and plucky victims of outrageous oppression... but as for the comforts, long term career benefits, creative fulfilment and enjoyment of a nice TV job, no, that is not suffering enough!

Updated tally of production power-holders: 11 white men, 0 women. Of the 11 men, one, Chris Atkins, has worked on one human rights project. If you want to include the named on-air contributors so far: 13 lucky white unoppressed men working in culture, the arts, tech and telly in the UK (I'm now including Jimmy Wales and Heydon Prowse from Episode 1); and one woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for years, whose husband died of cancer while she was there, who was isolated from friends, family and allies, a democratically elected leader prevented by male military force from leading her people, who can’t leave Burma now because she won’t be let back in. There is an obscene difference between the freedom and comfort these men have enjoyed and taken for granted all their lives and certainly all their careers, and the very serious trials that the one woman has faced.

Episode 2 goes live on 29th July and will focus on arms. It includes the following (I've highlighted new names in black):
  • Misery Bear have a specially filmed torture story. The press release tells me that MB “have just written a new Sky 1 sitcom”. Lucky them – keep the jobs rolling for the boys, boys.
  • Robert Thompson, cartoonist for Private Eye, Financial Times, Telegraph and The Spectator
  • How To Write A Dictator’s Speech, a satirical clip package that deconstructs the eccentric 3 hour monologues that dictators like to give during moments of crisis. I can't trace the contributors here.
  • Cassette Boy [Michael Bollen and Steve Warlin], famous for re-editing The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, re-imagines an Obama speech on torture and Guantanamo.
No women have been named as contributors for episode two, but we can add two more men to our list, Michael Bollen and Steve Warlin from Cassette Boy.

Final tally of all traceable and named contributors: 15 present white men, 1 absent non-white woman.

Speaking about the launch, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Brand and Events, Andy Hackman, said:
“Amnesty International’s aim is to connect people and unite them behind a common belief that people coming together can effect real, tangible change. Amnesty TV’s combination of entertaining content and inspiring stories will help us engage and mobilise a new generation of supporters.”

In creating Amnesty TV nobody at all has effected “real, tangible change” in a sexist British television scene in which women producers, directors, comics, writers, actors and contributors are brutally ignored with an obviousness that is breathtaking. Don't believe me? Hey - as Amnesty knows, women are never believed when we testify. Amnesty TV has been created by the 11 white men and 0 women who were invited to participate. In doing so, it has been made extremely clear to women just who is considered worthy of employing, whose ideas are worth listening to and whose creativity and wit are worth watching, and who is not. Of its episode contributors only 1 woman is named, and she is a towering political and social leader who has been persecuted and physically jailed by male opponents all her life, unlike the men, who have worked in comedy all their lives, with the one exception of Chris Atkins and his Taking Liberties project.

Amnesty TV, what the hell do you think you’re doing? You have created a white men’s club that has the temerity, with its collective background in puerile, sniggering light entertainment, to try to say anything at all about global human rights abuses. These human rights abuses are suffered by boys, girls, men and women; but women additionally suffer from an underlying and ubiquitous lack of respect, position and regard in societies, cultures and nation-states all over the world including this one. It is standard, all over the world, to ignore and belittle women, to mock women, to objectify women, to be snide about women, to abuse and betray women, to exploit women’s labour, to outwardly say all the right things but actually behave as though women are not important and don’t exist.

It is standard to withhold power from women. It is standard all over the world  to ensure that even when women are a part of working life, all the benefits of accreditation, profit, association, fame, success and integration into the dominant power structure go to men. Women's rights are not just about protection from the grossest abuses possible or acknowledging women only in relation to men's oppression and marginalisation of us; indeed, Amnesty TV have perpetrated yet more of that marginalisation. Women's rights are also about acknowledging and valuing women's potential and creativity in every part of life, in every industry, in every culture, in every country and in every project.

Amnesty TV can be watched here.
Amnesty UK is here and can be followed on Twitter here.
Amnesty also has a Facebook page, here.

UPDATE: I am writing this at 2.21am on Sunday 24th July 2011. Within 6 hours of the above article going online, it began to zoom globally. The below is a telling email from a woman affected by the issues I describe above. I have not cut anything or removed the final line compliment as I did not want to edit any of it. However, I have deleted the name of the writer.
Hi Bidisha,

I’m so glad you’ve written this about amnesty tv; I felt a surge of recognition. I work in the human rights field, directly with people seeking refuge; I’m paid to do this work, it’s hard, my life will never be the same again, I love it - and it occupies most of my waking hours, my head and my heart;  but it means that I don’t have much time and headspace to address issues such as these, which are key;  your article helps to spotlight the enduring powerful (and colonising) voices in this field which ‘speak out’ on behalf of others with a lot less power, position and privilege – such a difficult and often presumptuous / dodgy thing to do; and these powerful voices constantly mutate into new forms – media slick, with the same patriarchal and racist underbellies…..  I’m glad you’re voicing this stuff eloquently and passionately.


It is now 1.11pm on Monday 25th July and I have received an email from Neil Boorman, one of the Club of Eleven producing Amnesty TV. His email address is This is what the unedited email says:

Hello Bidisha
thanks so much for covering the launch of Amnesty TV, its very much appreciated.
I think it's a bit harsh to judge AITV's content on the basis of one show and the running order of a couple more. Looking forward, we have a film on a Palestinian Women's football team running in episode 4, we are following 3 female candidates in the upcoming Egyptian elections (Amnesty's key message for these elections is equal participation for women) for episode 5 and episode 6 focuses on the Taliban's return to negotiations in Afghanistan and the effect it will have on women's rights, specifically around education.
We are working closely with a wide range of journalists to help produce this content. If you have some stories that you'd like to propose, I would be more than happy to discuss.
Best of luck with everything.
Neil Boorman
Amnesty TV

Funnily enough, because of the 11 white men, 0 women Amnesty TV production team, I do not want "to propose" "some stories" even though they "would be more than happy to discuss" as I do not grovel to men's clubs. It is a demeaning waste of time. I work with men and with women whose existing track record demonstrates that when they are given an opportunity to create a team, they do not immediately pass all the power amongst 11 white men, 10 of whom have zero background in global humans rights issues, activism, diversity or campaigning and 1 of whom has worked on one relevant project in his entire career. Boorman has also helpfully pointed out that women only start making a significant appearance on Amnesty TV in episode 4. Thank you.

However, Boorman's email is clear, reasonable, courageous and decent. He does not make excuses or blame women. This was my response, completely unedited, all typos sadly original.
Hi there and thanks for your email, which I appreciate, which is civil and clear and free of the victim-blaming that greets so many of these 'where are the women' articles that I and many other women have to write, week in, week out, whether they are about charity TV or hollywood films, newspaper sports coverage, business, religion, book prizes or political representation. I am going to put your email, and this response of mine, at the bottom of the article. I will not communicate with you after this.

The items you mention for future episodes look excellent. They are lively, topical and reflect the urgency of women's situation as well as our proactiveness in challenging it. You represent women as heroic freedom fighters, tough advocates, strong victims, fearless campaigners, valiant survivors, We are! But women are not just oppression-fighters, victims or survivors. Women want to have good lives, to be on the inside, to enjoy success, inclusion, relaxation, power, influence, creativity.

My article is not about the content of Amnesty TV, it is about the make-up of the production team.11 white men with a comedy background and 0 women is not okay on any show and certainly not on a show about global human rights.

You have been given the power to assemble a team and you have chosen 10 other white men and no women. You are sending the message that you believe women are not good enough to participate behind the scenes in your project, that you are not interested in working closely with women as equals and that women do not deserve to share power with you. 
When the project is over, you and your 10 white male chums will benefit for a long time in your careers and you will go on to help each other, which is what men's clubs do and indeed what you have already done.

Women globally will still be fighting abuse and oppression with no money, resources or power. They will be dependent on men-only clubs like yours to give them coverage. More privileged women in the UK who wish to have similar jobs to yours will be excluded, maybe by you.

You close your email by saying, "Best of luck with everything." In choosing to put together a production team of 11 white men and 0 women on a global human rights TV project you have made it clear that any woman and any non-white person of either sex who wished to be involved in producing Amnesty TV as part of its central team would need a lot more than luck.

Next time you are given an opportunity to share power, do not choose to share it with 10 other white men only and then be forced to write squirming emails to strangers.

UPDATE: I am writing at 5.05pm on Saturday 6th August and have now received a long email from one of the 11 white men who create Amnesty TV, pointing out that of this all-male group, which I had earlier claimed had no human rights experience, he, one of the eleven, has worked on one major human rights project. I apologise to Chris Atkins and have amended the article throughout. Here is his email, unedited but for the omission of his email address, and my unedited response.

-On Sat, Aug 6, 2011 at 3:05 PM, Chris Atkins <EMAIL ADDRESS OMITTED BY ME> wrote:

Hi Bidisha

I read your interesting article on amnesty TV. I cannot speak for Amnesty or the other contributors you mention but I can speak for me. You accurately list my experience as “Writer and director of Taking Liberties and Starsuckers.” But, at the end of your list of contributors, you summarise that our collective experience is inadequate for the show: “Their human rights issues experience, gleaned from News Wipe, Screen Wipe, The Inbetweeners, Shoreditch Twat, Modern Toss, Misery Bear and Starsuckers: none.”
Unfortunately you have missed out the film you earlier acknowledged I made – Taking Liberties – which does qualify me in this area. This film, as the name suggests, is all about civil liberties and human rights. It is a feature length documentary that took me 2 years to make and I spent all that time researching all human rights and made a case that they were being eroded with several dozen case studies. Since then I have become an active campaigner on the issue, and have spoken about human rights in the British national media countless times, and have talked on the subject at schools and universities for 3 years. I also wrote a book about human rights, also called Taking Liberties, that has sold thousands of copies and is on the reading lists for both GCSE and A Level. I’m not listing this to blow my own trumpet, but to point that my human rights issues experience is greater than the “none” you state in your piece. If you let me have your address I will send you a copy of both the book and the film so you can gauge my experience first hand, though a quick google should introduce you to my output on the subject. The Taking Liberties website, for which I wrote all the content, is a great place to start:

I’m confident that you didn’t exclude Taking Liberties from your post in this way in order to make your point more powerfully, and will accept that it was just an oversight. If you could make a correction that acknowledges the above then it will set the record straight.


Chris Atkins

This was my response:
Hello and many thanks for your email. Yes, it's absolutely an oversight. Many apologies - I'll add it to to the Amnesty article, with an apology. Of the 11 men and 0 women named on the press release as the production team for Amnesty TV, you, one out of eleven white men, do after all have human rights experience! I am very, very glad to hear it. Now work on the other team members, speak up about the imbalance I have pointed out, change the status quo and bring more women into your team, not as assistants, not as subordinates, not as featured victims/survivors, not as volunteers, or freelancers, but as power players with equal status. Now I know how passionately you care about human rights, equality, diversity and equal representation, I too have total confidence that you will be the change we all want to see. Then, as I said to your colleague Neil, one of the gang of eleven, you will not have to write long, defensive emails to strangers.
I am tired now. The more this goes on, the more sordid it is getting, not for me but for them. These guys are having to email me in dribs and drabs, spits and spots, to  show that after all they have included some women from episode 4 onwards, one of the eleven does have human rights experience, they do care about these issues. Like I said, I am awfully glad to hear it. So it grates all the more that despite their professed interest, they are still part of an all-male, all-white team of eleven producers working on a global human rights show. Surely there is one member in this club - Chris Atkins, I am pinning my hopes on you here - who has the guts to stand up to this, to speak up to his fellows and to challenge cultural femicide in whatever way he can. You say you care, you say you are all for equality, you say all the right things. Now prove it.

I have now (6.20pm) received another email from Chris Atkins. I have printed the email below along with my response.
On Sat, Aug 6, 2011 at 5:16 PM, Chris Atkins <EMAIL ADDRESS OMITTED> wrote:
My email wasn’t defensive, it was pointing out a glaring factual inaccuracy in your post. I’m proud to part of this Amnesty TV team and I don’t agree with your conclusions. I could have a debate about how positive discrimination harms the very people it is supposed to support, but it seems your mind is very well made up.

Chris Atkins
My response is below, unedited.
Hi and thanks again - I'll put this onto the never-ending scroll of the Amnesty piece. I apologise totally for the inaccuracy, I should have looked up every project mentioned on the press release but after seeing so many I knew of well (News Wipe, Starsuckers, Misery Bear, The Inbetweeners, Modern Toss - all of which I like in their own way) I assumed, and was wrong to. However, it changes nothing about the reality of who hold the power in this project, which is what's depressing.
So, to sum up. There are 11 white men and 0 women in the topmost named roles on the team behind Amnesty TV. One of these men, Chris Atkins - ironically, painfully, gallingly, hilariously, the only one who has any human rights experience - has made it clear that he "could have a debate about how positive discrimination harms the very people it is supposed to support." Luckily, he will never have to have this debate, to fight for inclusion or petition for support. He is already supported, safely, happily, successfully, proudly, in the white men's club, with his 10 white male colleagues, all of whom are friends with each other. Bravo, chaps - and thank you, Chris Atkins, for making your position so clear. May you all help each other's careers 'til Kingdom come.

UPDATE: Six months later, Amnesty are at it again, putting together a huge comedy and music showcase that features more than 29 white men, 1 non white man and 3 women, in favour of - get this - global and equal free speech for everyone! Read my full report on that here. Oddly enough charities seem to be some of the worst offenders when it comes to misogynistic discrimination, the latest example being The Red Cross whose high profile 150th anniversary celebrations feature 5 white men and 1 non white woman. Read my full coverage of that here.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Edinburgh Art Festival: 400 Women. A major show protests gender violence in Mexico's Ciudad Juarez and globally

Women's cultural and political activism continues apace, in the strongest wave of the women's movement that we have seen for more than 20 years. Between 4th August and 4th September 2011 at the Canongate Venture, 5 New Street, Edinburgh, EH8 8BH, artist Tamsyn Challenger is showing her hugely acclaimed and important work 400 Women (click the link for images and for links to the thoughtful, copious and supportive press coverage the project has received). 400 Women responds to the brutal rape and murder of thousands of women in the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez and, more generally, to gender violence across the globe. Challenger has brought together a critical mass of nearly 200 international artists including Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling, Swoon and Humphrey Ocean in a site-specific portrait installation. First exhibited to great acclaim in 2010 in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, it is shown for the first time in Edinburgh in a dilapidated schoolhouse. 
Image taken from 400 Women site
 Curated by Gemma Rolls-Bentley, the exhibition will be installed in the Canongate Venture. The project began in 2006 when Tamsyn Challenger traveled to Mexico and met with some of the families of murdered and missing women, most of whom were extremely poor. Challenger was affected by her meeting with one particular woman, Consuelo Valenzuela, whose daughter Julieta went missing in 2001, when she was 17. Consuelo pressed postcards that had been generated as an aid to finding her daughter into the Challenger’s hands. She recalls, “Julieta’s face, looking up at me, was such a poverty of an image. It had been reproduced from a snapshot but the face was blurred and faded, she had no eyes really and a bleached out nose. I think I just wanted to bring her face back.”

On the flight home the artist formed the idea for what has become 400 Women. The concept relies on a large-scale collaborative force with each artist representing one of the murdered women chosen for them, in some way invoking her, so that she can challenge humanity. Each image produced stands as a statement against gender violence.

Challenger has obtained over 100 images through Amnesty International's Mexican team, the group Nuestra Hijas de regreso a casa, and the Casa Amiga Rape Crisis Centre in Ciudad Juárez. For some women no image is extant. For these cases Challenger has asked the artist involved to use the woman’s name as they wish within the piece. Each portrait is on a uniformly sized media of 14” by 10” echoing “retablo” (behind the altar), the iconic imagery of the Catholic Church that remains such a strong force in Mexico.

Explanations for the murders, which continue to this day, range from serial killers to organ fielding, the use of women as prizes for drug cartels and domestic violence. Most sinister of all is the possibility of so-called sexual violence tourism. The continued disappearance of women in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America demonstrates a culture’s disregard for the rights of women as human beings. Despite media coverage of the issue, the murder of 300 women in 2010 and the disappearance of many more attest to the fact that little is changing. The killers continue to enjoy impunity in the region, which has had a knock-on effect throughout the country. The Mexican authorities have seriously mishandled each investigation into these murders and in August 2006 the Mexican federal government dropped its investigations into the murders, concluding that no federal laws had been violated.

Event details:
  • Tamsyn Challenger’s 400 Women is installed at the Canongate Venture as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, 4th August – 4th September 2011 (private view 3rd August 2011).
  • Canongate Venture, 5 New Street, Edinburgh, EH8 8BH.
  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe Venue 167.
  • Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday, 11am – 7pm. Enquiries: +44 (0) 7870 935442
  • Events: Tuesday 25th August, Edinburgh Art Festival Art Late – open gallery evening event.
  • For further information, interview requests and high-resolution press images please email
  • For press enquiries relating to Edinburgh Art Festival please contact Louise Collins at Sutton PR,, +44 (0) 207183 3577.

Artist Tamsyn Challenger trained at Winchester School of Art and KIAD. Her work has been exhibited in the Truman Brewery and Candid Arts in London and with the Magdalena Festival in Barcelona. 400 Women received a great deal of press including being one of the Guardian Newspaper's top 5 exhibitions of the month. Tamsyn was interviewed for Radio 4, the World Service and BBC2's the Review Show. Her first solo show 'The Tamsynettes' was at Transition Gallery in Bethnal Green in March 2010. The Tamsynettes year 2 has recently been shown as part of the Beaconsfield Project's show 'Fraternise-the Salon'. This conceptual work encompasses her fascination with mortality, portraiture and self-portraiture and poses feminist questions revolving around beauty and the aging process.

Curator Gemma Rolls-Bentley’s projects in London, Edinburgh, Berlin, Warsaw and Sydney have presented international modern and contemporary artists. She completed a masters of art at both Edinburgh University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She has contributed in an editorial capacity to a number of publications, including Sarah Wilson’s The Visual World of French Theory, and was the art editor on the anthology The Wall in My Head: Words and Images from the Fall of the Iron Curtain. In 2006 she co-founded the not-for-profit organisation Polish Art Scotland that presented a number of exhibitions of new Polish art, architecture and design in Scotland and that continues to conduct a varied events programme. She is currently exhibitions and production assistant at Damien Hirst’s company, Science Ltd. and in 2011-12 she will curate Tamsyn Challenger’s 400 Women as it tours internationally.


Text taken from press release. Copyright is to the artist, curator and participants, not to me.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

"The opposite to a feminist is an arsehole."

Artwork by Sarah Maple

Artist Sarah Maple, hailed as the heir to Tracey Emin by the Independent on Sunday, has produced a new print to add to her series. The sneak preview above is pretty cool but the full print's even better, and cheap at £10 too. I like Maple's poster works, especially the one that goes "I wish I had a penis [Maple in hijab and scarf], because then I'd fuck you [Maple in red harlot's bikini] then I'd steal your job [Maple in business suit]." Visit her site to purchase all this and learn more.

I should add, by the way, that I don't believe the opposite of a feminist is "an arsehole" and I find the distinction crude, although it makes for a very snappy poster. I think the inequalities and injustices oppressing women are more important than discussing what word we call ourselves, and I understand that people do not like to be labelled or to label themselves, as they find it unnatural or feel that they have to have an academic or theoretical grounding in something before they 'qualify' to label themselves in such a way. I am a feminist, I always have been, I always will be and I'm the daughter of one, but I describe myself as a writer, critic and broadcaster because that is what I do - and my belief in freedom, justice, equality and emancipation suffuse what I do, write and say. No woman has to call herself by any name, as long as we have a common belief in a few core things: the absolute total and utter savage wrongness of rape, domestic violence, harassment, marginalisation, discrimination, exploitation, objectification and victim-blaming... Once we've fought outwardly on these issues and put the responsibility where it belongs (on the perpetrators and their apologists), then we can talk among ourselves about what the opposite of a feminist is. I'd say, a patriarch.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A great variety of art. Not a great variety of artists.

An image from the Hackney Hoard show at Galerie 8

This year I have written in celebration of the Max Mara Art Prize for women, showcased at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The Whitechapel has an excellent track record in supporting women artists: its comeback show after months of restoration featured the work of Goshka Macuga and Isa Genzken, amongst others. Even the thinking behind the Turner Prize, notorious within the art world for being awarded to such a small number of women artists over the long duration of its history, has transformed in the last ten years, with a marked increase in women shortlistees and women winners. This is all to the credit of the art world, which has been quicker on its feet than the literary and classical music worlds when it comes to crediting women for our creativity and intellect. Recent major exhibitions and retrospectives in the UK have given cultural space to Maria Lassnig, Polly Morgan, photographer Dorothy Bohm (at Manchester Art Gallery), Marina Ambramovich, Fiona Banner, Nancy Spero, Annette Messager, Eva Rothschild, Tracey Emin (currently on at the Hayward) and Susan Hiller and I have every hope that this trend will continue. In the last few years Emin and Barbara Kruger have represented Britain and America respectively at the Venice Biennale (Emin being only the 2nd female artist ever to do so) and I hope their presence counteracts somewhat the utterly damning art world statistics given on the Guerilla Girls' brilliant posters, which I saw at the 2005 Biennale.

It's heartening to see an entire international industry and a great and grand discipline with centuries of history change in so short a time. I feel hopeful...until I read Brian Sewell's openly misogynistic ripdowns of Tracey Emin and Susan Hiller, until I realise that only one of the major newspapers picked up on the Women Make Sculpture show at the Pangolin Gallery - and until I get a press release like the below:

Hackney Hoard
Opening celebration: Thursday 21 July 2011 / 6 - 9 PM
With a special performance by Doug Fishbone

GALERIE8 proudly presents Hackney Hoard, a project initiated by celebrated artist and amateur London historian Adam Dant. The exhibition takes the discovery and narrative surrounding the find of the “Hackney Hoard” as a starting point and what follows, is an inquiry of the value and status placed on contemporary art objects.

Including an introduction by finder Terence Castle, and artworks by Adam Dant, Le Gun artists, Matthew Killick, Annabel Tilley, and Gavin Turk.

The Hackney Hoard exhibition is part of GALERIE8's summer opening series of events entitled Launching Pad to begin its residency within the Arthaus building. This diverse exhibition, both visual and interactive, engaging and reflective, will include a series based on events, sound and performance art, a publishing fair, film screenings and theatre evenings.

Le Gun are a collective of illustrators whose work is exciting, fresh and original. The collective is made up of 8 men and 1 woman. Of the rest of the named artists invited to participate in Hackney Hoard, there are 4 men (Adam Dant, Matthew Killick, Gavin Turk and Doug Fishbone) and 1 woman, Annabel Tilley. I am sure that all are excellent - as well as Le Gun, I love Gavin Turk's work. But don't tell me that a grand total of 12 men and 2 women participants is anything like a free and fair representation of all the possible creativity, genius, artistry, insight, history, performance, collaboration, energy and thinking that the show's organisers could have accessed. The PRs for these exhibitions are always, of course, female. I wonder how they feel, working so hard to support projects whose perks and credit go only to the men in power. I have run out of interest in perpetrators' excuses, lies and victim-blaming ("it's women's fault - women are scarce - shy - small - unpushy - having babies - emotional - absent - less bothered about success/fame/money/career"). Don't tell me that it's just a funny and sad coincidence that all the really really great work is done by men and all the really really shit work is done by women and, hey, that's just how it is. I mean, the current Galerie 8 show features a woman artist, Mary Yacoob, so they obviously know some. The audience for all cultural events in all disciplines from dance to music to literature to art to design to theatre is always at least half and usually majority female. We deserve better. Turn it around.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Bristol Shortstoryville

During the weekend the lovely people behind the Bristol Short Story Prize put on Shortstoryville, their first literary festival celebrating the power of short stories, at the Arnolfini in Bristol. I was honoured to chair the opening session, which showcased the work of Sarah Salway, Alison MacLeod and Janice Galloway, all of whom are highly acclaimed novelists as well as short story authors. The rest of the day featured other equally wonderful writers including Helen Oyeyemi, Tania Hershman and Stuart Evers. I want to publicly thank Joe Melia and the BSSP team for organising an event that was so interesting, original, varied, diverse and celebratory. Thanks too to the audience, who asked such insightful questions and were so supportive. I hope this becomes an annual fixture and expands into a multi-day event. I for one will wholeheartedly support it.

First they don't smile. L-R Sarah Salway, someone who wandered in off
the street, Alison MacLeod, Janice Galloway.

Then they smile! So much funny hee-hee laughter time!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Culture Re-Veiled: A stunning roster of contemporary work by Middle Eastern artists

I've just discovered Lahd Gallery in Hampstead, one of the main Middle Eastern art galleries in London. Lahd means ‘blink of the eye’ in Arabic and was originally set up to celebrate Middle Eastern and North African women and act as a focal point for women artists from the Gulf. Unafraid to challenge stereotypes the gallery has already exhibited controversial works to great success.  The gallery is celebrating its first birthday this July with a round-up exhibition of the most popular works displayed which is in time for Shubbak, the first Arab arts festival organised by Boris Johnson. 

The show launched on July 8th and highlights the breadth of the region’s talents and communities – often rejecting stereotypes and providing an eye-opening view into the lives and thoughts of people within Arabic countries. Overall, the exhibition showcases artworks from Sudan, Kuwait, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Highlights include The Untold Truth of Society Girls, where each image is shot with a bullet from a M16 sniper to highlight society’s murder of the girls’ expression of sexuality and passion.
Also check out The Gulf Reveiled, a collective of female artists whose mixed-media works reject clichés and showcase different views of women in the region. 

Entry to the gallery is free.

For a full roundup of exhibitions featuring in the show see below.

< Pop Icons: Hamad & Ali
This is the first time contemporary art duo Hamad AlSaab and Ali Sultan have exhibited their work outside of the Middle East, ‘Pop Icons’ includes images of iconic figures from Arabic history and culture presented in a Pop Art style, formed from film footage, magazine covers and historic materials from flea markets.   

< The Untold Truth of Society Girls
Kuwaiti artist Shurooq Amin shines a light into the secret world of the Gulf’s society girls – contrasting the glamour and embellishment of their surroundings with the danger of their circumstances. Each image is shot with a bullet from a M16 sniper to highlight society’s murder of a the girls’ sensuality.         

< Rediscovering Sudan
Sudan’s rich heritage and diverse culture are showcased through this collection of landscapes and portraits incorporating textures, line and shadow as well as layered works. The four artists reveal the inner spirit of Sudan and its people’s multicultural makeup.          

< An Istanbul Legacy
Three leading Turkish contemporary artists are featured in this collection which includes modern, humorous interpretations of Greek gods, images exploring human consciousness through the depiction of battle scenes and 4D Lenticular works showcasing social discourse.  

< The Gulf Re-Veiled
Works from leading female artists in the region reveal a new perspective on women in the Gulf. Featuring photography, self-portraits and a multi-media installation, the exhibition forces people to rethink and question their understanding.               

The Lahd Gallery was founded in 2005 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to create a focal point for women artists from the Gulf. It soon became a well known exhibition space on the contemporary art scene in the Middle East and has exhibited extensively throughout the Gulf and North African countries. In 2010, Lahd Gallery moved to its present location in London and has since become the foremost gallery promoting contemporary Middle Eastern art.

The gallery is at 92 Heath Street, London NW3 1DP
Tel:  +44 (0)207 435 7323

Gallery Hours: Tuesday –Friday 10am –6pm; Saturday: 10am –4pm

Text and images taken from press release; copyright is to the artists and gallery and not to me.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

"I would rather be a rebel than a slave." Emmeline Pankhurst, happy birthday

Emmeline Pankhurst, mother of the British Suffragette movement, was born 153 years ago this week, on 14th July. To celebrate her legacy Charlotte Newson has created Women Like You, a photomosaic portrait of Pankhurst made up of 10,000 individual images of inspiring women - celebrities, mothers, daughters, politicians, scientists – all sent in by members of the public from all corners of the globe. The artwork took Charlotte two years to complete and stands 3 metres high and 2.5 metres wide.

To mark the date of Pankhurst’s birth on 14 July 1858, Charlotte has turned the Women Like You artwork into a virtual birthday card for women to either sign or post their image onto, creating a personal and very public birthday message to the woman whose legacy transformed the lives of women in this country. The e-card is displayed on Charlotte’s website, featuring the names and photographs of women from all over the world.

Living and working in Manchester, Charlotte Newson has over 20 years’ experience as an artist and has a residency at The Pankhurst Centre, a museum and women’s support space on Nelson Street in Manchester that was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Sylvia, Christabel and Adela from 1897 – 1907.

Charlotte says:
“The original Women Like You portrait was a hugely moving labour of love for everyone involved and it created a great community of women who wanted to share their stories with the world.  Now, using the internet and social media networks, we’re able to give even more women the opportunity to leave their mark and become part of the Women Like You story with this birthday card tribute to Emmeline Pankhurst.”
To speak to Charlotte about the portrait or the legacy of feminism please contact Emma Beck on 07932 763 015 or email
And in the meantime, enjoy and be fired up by these Pankhurst quotes:

  • Trust in God - she will provide.
  • Deeds not words.
  • Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it.
  • We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.
  • Justice and judgment lie often a world apart.
  • We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.
  • You have two babies very hungry and wanting to be fed. One baby is a patient baby, and waits indefinitely until its mother is ready to feed it. The other baby is an impatient baby and cries lustily, screams and kicks and makes everybody unpleasant until it is fed. Well, we know perfectly well which baby is attended to first. That is the whole history of politics. You have to make more noise than anybody else, you have to make yourself more obtrusive than anybody else, you have to fill all the papers more than anybody else, in fact you have to be there all the time and see that they do not snow you under.
  • I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion. I would rather be a rebel than a slave. I would rather die than submit;and that is the spirit that animates this movement…..I mean to be a voter in the land that gave me birth or they shall kill me, and my challenge to the Government is: kill me or give me my freedom: I shall force you to make that choice.

The Pankhurst timeline:

14 July 1858: Born Emmeline Goulden in Moss Side, Manchester.

1879: Marries Richard Marsden Pankhurst, a lawyer. Richard
had drafted an amendment to the Municipal Franchise
Act of 1869 which allowed unmarried women
householders to vote in local elections. He also wrote
the Married Women’s Property Acts in 1870 and 1882.

1880: Her daughter Christabel is born. She and Emmeline’s
second daughter Sylvia are also destined to become
prominent in the women’s suffrage movement. They
were joined by Adella the youngest daughter in the
early days of the campaign.

1889: Helps found the Women’s Franchise League.

1894: The league wins the right for married women to vote
in elections for local offices, but not for them to vote
for the House of Commons.

1898: Emmeline’s husband dies of a perforated ulcer.

1903: Founds the Women’s Social and Political Union
(WSPU) in Manchester.

1905: Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney are the first
suffragette’s to be jailed. They disrupted a public
meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, speakers
included Winston Churchill.

1906: Emmeline directs WSPU activities from London,
organising marches and campaigns against the
Liberal government. The women are disparaged as
“suffragettes” by the Daily Mail but the movement
proudly adopts the description.

1908-09: She is jailed three times.

1910: Emmeline is refused entry by the police to see Prime
Minister Asquith at the House of Commons to protest
against the dropping of the Conciliation Bill, which
would have given women the vote. Emmeline is
refused entry by the police. The protest develops into
a riot when the women clash with the police and over
100 women are arrested on charges varying from
disturbing the peace to assaulting police officers. The
day comes to be known to the suffragettes as ‘Black

1912: The WSPU becomes militant, with Christabel Pankhurst
directing arson attacks, window smashing, picture
slashing and hunger strikes from Paris, where she
has fled to avoid arrest for conspiracy. Emmeline is
arrested, released and rearrested 12 times within a year,
serving a total of about 30 days jail.

1914: When the First World War breaks out Emmeline and
Christabel call off the suffrage campaign to support
the war effort. During the war Emmeline visits the
United States, Canada and Russia to encourage the
mobilisation of women.

1918: The Representation of People Act is passed in February
giving the vote to women over 30.

1926: Emmeline returns to England and is chosen as the
Conservative candidate for an east London seat, but
her health fails before she can be elected.

1928: She dies on 14 June in London, a few weeks after the
Representation of the People Act establishing voting
equality for men and women is passed.

This text is taken from the press release for the project, full details of which are viewable at Copyright for the text is hers, not mine.