Curated by Nicole Fernández Ferrer and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez.
The exhibition looks back at the cultural and visual history of feminism in France in the 1970s and 1980s through the founding in 1982 of the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir by 3 women - Delphine Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos and Ioana Wieder, members of the collective Les Insoumuses. Their videos, along with videos by other filmmakers and feminist collectives, documenting and participating in them, provide a map of the struggles of the time.
Défricheuses : féminismes, caméra au poing et archive en bandoulière offers a vision of the fight for women's emancipation by comparing these images, filmed and broadcast thanks to the first video cameras and portable video recorders, with different practices by contemporary artists, some of whom are still active today, Martha Wilson, Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki, Myriam Mihindou, Nil Yalter, Rada Akbar, Bouchra Khalili, Zanele Muholi, Saddie Choua, Lili Reynaud Dewar and Paula Valero Comín, have been or are currently resident at the Cité internationale des arts.
As a laboratory of ideas and a place of artistic mobility par excellence, the Cité internationale des arts, with this project, is presenting the plurality in all its forms of the visions held by people who identify as women. Feminism, and in particular ecofeminism, will be in the spotlight in Défricheuses: féminismes, caméra au poing et archive en bandoulière, which continues the dialogue between generations of feminist video-makers and artists whose history can be traced back to that of the Cité internationale des arts and the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir.
With the artists: Rada Akbar, Leonor Antunes, Claire Atherton, Chimurenga, Saddie Choua, Françoise Dasques, Micha Dell- Prane, Catherine Deudon, Marie-Dominique Dhelsing, Anne Faisandier, Martine Franck, Sami Frey, Sophie Keir, Bouchra Khalili, Maria Klonaris et Katerina Thomadaki, Eugenie Kuffler, Guy Le Querrec, Myriam Mihindou, Kate Millet, Zanele Muholi, Lur Olaizola, ORLAN, Lili Reynaud Dewar, Megan Rossman, Nadja Ringart, Carole Roussopoulos, Paul Roussopoulos, Eszter Salamon, Abraham Ségal, Delphine Seyrig, Paula Valero Comín, Ioana Wieder, Martha Wilson, Nil Yalter.
With contributions by: Ti-Grace Atkinson, Mary Barnes, Coordination des femmes noires, Pierre Jouannet, Yvette Roudy, Awa Thiam.
Curators: Nicole Fernández Ferrer, co-président of the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Artistic and Cultural Programme Manager at the Cité internationale des arts
Exhibition organised in partnership with the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir as part of the Festival d'Automne 2023 with the support of the Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian - Délégation en France.
In the mid-1970s, actress Delphine Seyrig and translator loana Wieder met videographer and activist Carole Roussopoulos and formed together a collective named Les Insoumuses [Defiant Muses]. Roussopoulos was one of the first women to use Sony’s Portapak video system, which became available in France in the late 1960s and she had already founded the activist collective Video Out together with her husband Paul, before starting to work with Les Insoumuses, whose videos were part of a context in which new portable video technologies were largely appropriated by women in a gesture of disobedience and emancipation.
In 1982, the three women founded the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir. From the outset, they were committed to producing, archiving, distributing and working to restore videos by French and international women directors and various feminist groups. Nicole Fernández Ferrer joined the founders as an archivist as soon as the centre opened. The videos preserved at the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir in Paris since its beginnings provide a road map of the struggles of the time: the right to abortion, sexual freedom, the struggles of the LGBT movement and of women workers in different economic sectors, the struggles of sex workers, the rights of female political prisoners, the fight against torture, against the war in Vietnam and in support of anti-psychiatry. All of this within a resolutely transnational1 framework.
Still image from the documentary Maso et Miso vont en bateau [Maso and Miso go boating], 1976, directed by Les Insoumuses: Carole Roussopoulos, Delphine Seyrig, Ioana Wieder et Nadja Ringart Courtesy of the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir
Networking and interaction were the guiding principles of feminist collectives, a strategy personified in Leonor Antunes’s random intersections (2017), which take the form of intertwined horse bridles. Leonor Antunes was the guest artist at the 50th edition of the Festival d’Automne.
Moreover, Archive documents looking back at the creation of the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, videos by filmmakers Delphine Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos, Ioana Wieder, Eugenie Kuffler and Marie-Dominique Dhelsing demonstrate their keen interest in contemporary artistic creation.
The video productions of Les Insoumuses show how visual and media practices emanating from the experiences of the women’s movement made it possible to rethink the image and one’s perspective in the context of a struggle for autonomy. The three women took to the street to document mass feminist demonstrations and question the role of women in male political organisations and unions (Où est-ce qu’on se « mai »? [Where should we go (to stand up for our rights)?], 1976). They were also vocal in denouncing what they saw as a lack of solidarity within other feminist organisations, such as Éditions des femmes (Il ne fait pas chaud [It isn’t hot], 1977).
One of the most remarkable outcomes of their interventions within the field of media is Maso et Miso vont en bateau [Maso and Miso go boating] (1976, in collaboration with Nadja Ringart), in which humour and social critique are brought together. This video parodies a television broadcast featuring Françoise Giroud, the French Secretary of State for the ‘‘woman’s condition’’. ‘‘Maso’’ and ‘‘Miso’’ stand for ‘‘masochist’’ and ‘‘misogynist’’ and refer to Giroud’s attitude: in order to secure her position, she engaged with men in sexist jokes. The video, in which the show’s misogynistic monologue is interrupted, exposed, and deconstructed, is particularly effective in enacting a form of parody and disruption.
Intertwining autobiographical elements into her work inspired by feminist cultures, Lili Reynaud- Dewar’s series of lamps (Lady to Fox, 2018) feature the artist herself, her body covered in orange paint and adopting animal-like poses. This work refers to Lady into Fox, a satire of bourgeois values written by David Garnett in 1922, in which the author criticised civil marriage through the story of a well- educated British woman who gradually transforms into a fox.
Delphine Seyrig’s recently restored video Sois belle et tais-toi! [Be Pretty and Shut Up] (1976) is an inquiry into the film industry’s prejudice against women. The film collects the testimonies of twenty- four actresses Seyrig interviewed in France, the United States and Quebec. The actresses share their thoughts and experiences about the material conditions and gender hierarchies that define their work, often speaking about the subject for the first time. Their shared awareness of the structural inequalities within which they work becomes a desire for change and a call for solidarity that strongly resonates with the present moment’s #metoo movement.
Delphine Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos and Ioana Wieder were part of the emergence of a transnational feminist network during an era marked by decolonisation. Some of the videos produced by their circle present a cartography of women’s struggles in different areas of the world: against the Vietnam War; in support of political prisoners and against the death penalty in Spain under Franco; in support of the Palestinian cause and the Black Panther Party; and against the practice of torture and rape in Latin American dictatorships.
Since the early 1970s, Carole Roussopoulos and her husband Paul had been involved in transnational networks and alliances. They were friends with the French writer Jean Genet, whom they filmed reading a statement in support of Angela Davis (Genet parle d’Angela Davis [Genet talks about Angela Davis], 1970) and visited Palestinian camps in Jordan during the Black September conflict in 1971. Carole Roussopoulos became close to members of the Black Panther Party, sharing her technical knowledge about film and video with them in Algeria and Congo. Seyrig actively supported the Coordination des femmes noires (Coordination of Black Women), a group of migrant women who had immigrated to France from West Africa and the Caribbean and who were mobilised against racism and colonialist politics in France in the late 1970s. In this way, some of the struggles involving migrant populations in France were documented, a commitment that was later taken over by the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir.
The tapestry of Bouchra Khalili (The Weaver, 2022) is part of a larger mixed media installation that explores Carole Roussopoulos’s work as a video maker and storyteller. The pattern inspired by Moroccan motifs is a repeated image of Roussopoulos’s Sony Portapak camera.
During the 1980s, the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir commissioned several videos that raised issues of transnational feminism and made demands for intersectionality. One example was La Conférence des femmes-Nairobi 85 [The Women’s conference-Nairobi 85] (1985) by Françoise Dasques, an exceptional documentary depicting the forum of worldwide nongovernmental women’s groups that gathered in Nairobi in July 1985 to debate race, class, and sexual orientation in parallel to the third UN World Conference on Women.
Seyrig’s first video, Inês (1974), is a call for the liberation of Brazilian political opponent Inês Etienne Romeu via a painful re-enactment of the torture she endured during her incarceration. It establishes a dialogue with Torture (1976) by Katerina Thomadaki and Maria Klonaris, one of the first body art performances in France. As part of her ongoing commitment to human rights, Seyrig also travelled to Stammheim Prison in Stuttgart, where members of the RAF (Red Army Faction) were being incarcerated and deprived of basic human rights.
Rada Akbar’s works (Abarzanan-Superwomen, 2023) highlight the long history of the Afghanistan carpet industry and the important role of women in preserving its culture, all while reflecting the realities of women’s lives in contemporary Afghanistan. They draw inspiration from ancient Persian miniature paintings, while using military colours and depicting barbed wire.
Femmes du Vietnam [Women from Vietnam] (1969/1973) is a video made from Jane Fonda’s slide montage of pictures she took during her journey to Vietnam and accompanied by a sound recording made in collaboration with Seyrig, Wieder and Seyrig’s partner, actor Sami Frey.
While producing counter-information on subjects that were too controversial for public television, Les Insoumuses’ videos also foregrounded the importance of women taking care of women and of communication among themselves. Close collaboration with the subjects of feminist struggles was a crucial dimension of the video collective’s ‘‘ethics of filming’’: the footage they produced belonged to the filmed persons as much as to the video makers themselves. Roussopoulos’s Les prostituées de Lyon parlent [The Prostitutes of Lyon Speak Out] (1975) is groundbreaking in its intimate portrayal of sex workers defining their struggle in their own terms. Here the camera is turned into a listening device and the women who speak take advantage of the possibility provided by portable video technologies to communicate autonomously. This relational dimension can be equally observed in Roussopoulos’s Le FHAR [The FHAR] (1971), which documents the political practice and ideas of the Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire [Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action].
Thembela Dick delivers a collective portrait of the players of a football team made up of black lesbians in the township of Umlazi (Durban) (2014). They chose the name Thokozani Qwabe as a tribute to a young lesbian footballer who was the victim of a hate crime in 2007.
Abraham Ségal’s camera is also at work listening. In 1986, British artist Mary Barnes (1923-2001) invited Delphine Seyrig into her home to talk about madness: firstly, because she had herself lived through this extreme experience that drove her to paint and write and secondly, because Seyrig had played the role of Swiss schizophrenic artist Aloïse (1886-1964) in Liliane de Kermadec’s eponymous film from 1975.
En 1986, devant la caméra d'Abraham Ségal, l'artiste britannique Mary Barnes (1923-2001) reçoit Delphine Seyrig chez elle pour échanger sur le thème de la folie. Mary Barnes a vécu elle-même cette expérience extrême, qui l'a poussée à peindre et à écrire, et Delphine Seyrig a joué Aloïse Corbaz, artiste schizophrène suisse (1886-1964), dans le film Aloïse de Liliane de Kermadec (1975).
Saddie Choua’s (1972) portrait of Moroccan sociologist and feminist Fatima Mernissi (Je crois qu’il y a confusion chez vous. Vous croyez que moi je veux vous imiter. #FatimaMernissi, 2017) offers a critique of Western Orientalism and its relationship with feminist thought from the Islamic world. In her series of drawings and collages, Nil Yalter (Les Collages de Topak Ev, 1973) refers to the yurt used by the nomadic Turkmen population of Anatolia, who call it ‘‘the house of women’’. Nil Yalter mixes the use traditional motifs with a reportage on how felt is made, echoing the condition of women in the roles dictated by society.
During the 1970s, Les Insoumuses and other video collectives were involved in feminist struggles and political alliances that primarily involved questions of women’s sexual autonomy, reproductive labour, sex work and the emergence of the lesbian and gay liberation movement in France. Delphine Seyrig was committed to several public initiatives demanding the legalisation of abortion, such as the Manifesto of the 343 signed in April 1971 by women who declared they had had an abortion. In addition, she actively supported women who sought help to end unwanted pregnancies. loana Wieder’s Accouche ! [Give Birth!] (1977), which proposes a critique of gynaecological violence through an account of women’s lived experiences and the practice of women caregivers, is a moving testimony and a result of listening as a feminist practice of solidarity.
In 1976, Carole Roussopoulos and Delphine Seyrig directed SCUM Manifesto, which is based on a reading of a 1967 text of the same name by Valerie Solanas. The French translation of Solanas’ text was already out of print and the initial idea was to make it available again. Mostly known for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968, Solanas was not involved in any feminist collectives and spent much of her adult life in jail or psychiatric institutions, however SCUM Manifesto’s uncompromising radicality and its position outside liberation movements play a distinctive role in the history of feminism. The video is about Les Insoumuses’ approach to technology, while simultaneously paying homage to Solanas’ revolutionary stance: Seyrig and Roussopoulos sit across a table from each other in a domestic setting. A television monitor broadcasts news focusing on a set of contemporary conflicts generated by men, while Seyrig dictates and Roussopoulos types on a typewriter. Eventually Roussopoulos refuses to carry on with this typically gendered work.
Myriam Mihindou uses language in a different way, using etymology to reveal the relationship between sound and words. For a long time, this association was experienced as a trauma by the artist. For several years now, she has been immersing herself in etymological research in order to “raise my salt lick and succeed in identifying things, going beyond borders and creating images and representations”.
Martha Wilson is a pioneer in using performance as an artistic medium, staging her body like an actress, transforming herself and creating multiple self-portraits in which she portrays subversive characters. In 1978, she founded DISBAND, an all-girl conceptual art punk band with Daile Kaplan and Barbara Ess. In the midst of New York’s No Wave scene, the band rapidly did away with typical instruments to focus on their voices, harmonies and corporeal percussion, elements that provided the basis of witty, humorous and intellectually caustic songs.
An examination of the legacy of Les Insoumuses and the question of feminism’s audiovisual memory highlights the importance of women’s genealogies and feminist archives. The collective’s essential contribution in constituting a visual archive of feminist movements, for which the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir has now taken responsibility, can be considered a political legacy both in France and beyond its borders. In asking Simone de Beauvoir to give her name to the centre, Seyrig, Roussopoulos and Wieder wanted to emphasise continuity from one generation to the next and the ongoing significance of the previous generations’ struggles for the present. Seyrig’s video Pour mémoire [In Memory of] (1986), filmed one year after de Beauvoir passed away, is a gesture of remembrance and an homage to a woman who had meant so much both to Seyrig’s personal becoming and to women’s liberation movements across the globe.
Megan Rossman in The Archivettes and Lur Olaizola in Hirugarren koadernoa (Third Notebook) confront archives that range from the intimate to the political, creating a constellation of struggles and political thoughts from several generations of feminist and/or lesbian women. These two contemporary works are an act of resistance to erasure: ‘‘Our history disappeared as we created it’’.
Documentary photos of the performance MONUMENT 0.7: M/Others (2019) by Eszter Salamon relate to bonds between a mother and daughter, as does Zanele Muholi’s photograph that pays homage to her housemaid mother. Commenting on Rosa Luxemburg’s herbarium, Paula Valero Comín establishes links between the
resilience of urban plants and the contribution of women from different countries and of different generations whom she selected for their actions in protecting the diversity of all living things.
As part of the weekly event Open Studios: Work in Slow Motion and as part of the exhibition Trailblazers: feminisms, camera in hand and archive over the shoulder, Iranian film-maker and editor Shirin Barghnavard offers a series of workshops by artists in residence.
Wednesday, October 18, 2023, 6pm to 9pm at the Cité internationale des arts
Conversation with Giovanna Zapperi, co-curator of the exhibition Defiant Muses. Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s, art historian, author and professor at the University of Geneva.
Wednesday, November 15, 2023 at the Cité internationale des arts
Eszter Salamon continues her series of "monuments" at the Festival d’Automne with her piece MONUMENT 0.10: The Living Monument with the Norwegian company Carte Blanche.
From October 12 to 14 at the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers
More information on the Festival d'Automne's website
Programme of films and archive extracts from the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir with Françoise Vergès (political scientist and decolonial feminist), Katerina Thomadaki (film artist, multidisciplinary visual artist and theorist) and a special session «Les Festins de Rosanna» with Rosanna Maule (academic, film studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University, Montreal) to mark the publication of the book Sustainable Resilience in Women’s Film and Video Organizations. A counter lineage in moving page history.
October 16, 26 and December 17, 2023 at Le Luminor Hôtel de Ville, Paris
In this unique encounter in Paris, Angela Davis and the contemporary art historian Elvan Zabunyan pursue a dialogue they began in 2020.
Sunday, November 19, 2023 at the Théâtre de la Ville, Paris
More information on the Festival d'Automne's website
As part of his three-part proposal for the 2023 edition of the Festival d'Automne, Yto Barrada invites you to a screening of Delphine Seyrig's documentary Sois belle et tais-toi ! (Shut up and be Pretty!) (1976) in the presence of Nicole Fernández Ferrer and Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez.
Monday, December 11 2023, At the cinema Grand Action, Paris
More information on the Festival d'Automne's website
An icon of cinephilia, a feminist muse, a fairy forever thanks to Jacques Demy, Delphine Seyrig explored all the formal audacities of modern cinema from the 60s to the 80s. From her major roles with Resnais, Buñuel and Truffaut, to her decisive collaborations with Chantal Akerman and Marguerite Duras, and her militant work accompanying the feminist struggles of the 1970s.
On view until December 28, 2023 on LaCinetek
More information on LaCinetek's website