being invisible

back in the 90s, i took a women’s studies course and as part of that, i was supposed to participate in an event during women’s day week. the report on this still evokes a lot of feeling in me about being a woman artist, being (in)visible, trying to swim against the stream… here is an excerpt:

as part of this series of events, there is something called “women’s inspiration – an installation workshop”. i catch the tail end of the previous event, a panel discussion of women artists: a theatre actor, a movie actor, and a painter. they imply that if one wants to be recognized as an artist (and, perhaps, as anything or anyone else?), one has to step out and literally exhibit oneself. i listen, nodding my head vigorously. however, i am anxious for the installation to start. i like hands-on situations – let’s not talk about exhibiting ourselves, let’s do it!

this is why i have chosen to participate in a workshop. after the panel wraps up, nothing much happens. on a table, there are two glue-sticks, a few sheets of black and purple construction paper, and no scissors. while i wonder what, when, where and how the installation piece workshop is going to happen, i read a large wall-poster covered with women’s writings around focus questions such as “what is feminism?” and “why is it good to be a woman?” i answer that one with a scribble: “menstruation”. a woman points out that “menstruation” starts with “men”.

nothing seems to be happening yet regarding the installation but over in a corner are two women talking – maybe about the installation? i walk over and ask what is going to happen. they encourage me to start, and, against (or with?) a feeling of uneasiness, do. i write across a big sheet of paper attached to a room divider: “this is womy(e)n’s inspiration”. then i start to paste words and images out of magazines i had brought. i think i would like to have different images of women. mostly what i find is “attractive” women. after a while she puts on the big white sheet a photograph of roseanne arnold, one of k.d. lang, a childlike drawing of a stick-woman, a small picture of oriental looking women and children, a picture of an older woman, one of a middle-aged “normal” looking woman embracing a child, one of a black woman in an evening gown, a very powerfully sexual looking woman out of an ad where i change the words “taifoon clothes” into “taifoon woman”, and a few pictures of paintings of women.

no-one else joins me and everyone else around me disperses, getting ready for a pub event that is supposed to follow. where is the “workshop?” i also have another question: where can i find more real looking women? i think maybe i would like to draw some. and a propos drawing: i try to draw other people into the process but nothing happens. soon after, a young man appears and tells me that the divider upon which i am working has to be moved. so it is moved out of the enclosed room into the open area of the student union’s building. i attempt to find out who the organizer of the “workshop” is but nobody seems to be responsible. one person seems to indicate that someone was responsible but they have to do something else. the room divider with a beginning of “women’s inspiration” now stands in another corner. i clean up and leave.

why did i leave? because i was so close to tears that all my functioning focused only on keeping my composure, on “getting out alive”. here i was, all by myself, trying to express something that was not only important to me but to other women – after all it was “women’s” inspiration, not just one woman’s. i felt betrayed by those who had lured me into this experience but what was much worse was that by retreating, i felt I was betraying myself as well as other women to whom inspiration is important. and there was my little feeble attempt at expressing “women’s inspiration”, standing somewhere in a corner, serving as a room divider, inviting nothing but indifference, maybe even ridicule …


so that was quite a few years ago. nowadays i certainly wouldn’t react this strongly anymore – but there are still moments where i feel like an outcast, when i play small, when i retreat into my shell … i guess we all do that … as long as we come out again …

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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