Sunday, 27 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Amrita Sher-Gil by Nicole Lavay

Women You Should Know:
Amrita Sher-Gil
by Nicole Lavay

I’ve always loved art history, but never so fiercely as when I was a teenager. I grew up in a conservative suburban community where my pink hair and black clothes made me an oddball. My love for the arts and women didn’t help me fit in either, but it was okay, because I’d discovered something more interesting than the life around me: the lives of 19th and 20th century artists.

I took Advanced Placement Art History, where I excelled. The tales of Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Warhol all excited me so much. These were people who moved to big cities, had large circles of artistic friends, went on adventures to foreign lands and then used their experiences to create something new and change the world.

My text book contained hundreds of pages on art from Europe, mostly by white male artists. Women artists didn’t appear in groups of more than two per chapter until modernism, and I found their biographies and the representation of their art lacking. The definitive canon of art history I was shown in high school neglected the female artists I’d later come to love.

The lives of real women artists were never presented to me as interesting or exciting. Luckily, I went to a college where I received the education I needed to understand that women artists are creative, capable, smart and just as bold as I’ve always wanted to be. I was given the tools to discover artists I could relate to. The biography of Amrita Sher-Gil caught hold of my mind, and lately, as I try and navigate the path to forging my own creative life, I find myself inspired by hers.

Born in 1913 to an Indian father and a Hungarian Jewish mother, she spent her unique childhood between Europe and India, completing her artistic training in Paris. She painted self-portraits of herself, nude, which was just as scandalous in the 1930’s as putting nude selfies up on the internet is today. Sher-Gil chose to paint portraits of herself and her sister honestly without ‘oriental’ details, as other Indian artists catering to the European gentry did. I love thinking about Sher-Gil, so radical at age 17, giving no fucks, and confronting racism and sexism in the arts by depicting herself as an ‘average’ subject, rather than as an oriental fantasy from a far away land. The independent young artist found a place for herself in bohemian Paris. She caused quite a stir through her artistic feats, and in her personal life, as she was known to wear her sari and conduct affairs with both men and women.

Sher-Gil won national competitions, and her incredible skill was promising, but her mixed-race heritage set her apart from her contemporaries during the dusk of European colonialism. Never one to choose conventionality, the artist said ‘good-bye’ to the capitol of the art world and began her career in India, where she painted with the celebrated revolutionaries of the Bengal School of Art.

Amrita Sher-Gil, "Group of Three Girls," 1935
Her return to India brought an immediate shift in her artistic style, and her subject matter, too. She spent 1937 touring rural southern India, finding inspiration in the daily lives of local women. She began painting village scenes, group portraiture, and images of average Indians, especially those living in poverty.

Her new work was a reflection of the changing Indian political landscape, as the colonized people demanded independence from the British. Her paintings explored Indian identity on a national level. Sher-Gil didn't orientalize or romanticize the lives of villagers living in poverty. She painted the lives of women, without sexualizing or romanticizing her subjects. These women, who break away from European beauty standards are not on display or eroticized for the gaze of the viewer. They are strong, sturdy, grounded, almost defiant.

Unfortunately, only four years after her return to India Sher-Gil died at age 28, after slipping into a coma from a hemorrhage suspected to be the result of a botched abortion. Her untimely death came just days before the opening of her first major solo exhibition in Lahore.

Amrita Sher-Gil was a masterful painter whose amazing technical skill wowed critics. Her legacy lies not only in her skill, but in her revolutionary choice to paint the average Indian during the fight for independence and represent women at the beginning of the women’s rights movement. Adventurous, bold, and self-determined, Sher-Gil is so awesome it makes me incredibly sad that she’s virtually unknown by Western audiences.

Sher-Gil fearlessly asserted her identity again and again throughout her life, defying convention and breaking barriers, both in her personal life and career. She lived an artistically rich life full of adventure; looking at her art reminds me to live life without creative limitations.

Nicole Lavay is an art historian, educator, writer, and photographer based in San Francisco. She has worked at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and recently taught English with the Académie de Nantes. She currently spends her time traveling, learning new languages, and trying to read as many books as possible while preparing to work in South Korea.

Editor's Note:  I'm so grateful to find out about Amrita Sher-Gil's life and work! If you liked this piece, you can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Dora Maar by Elizabeth Iannaci

I don’t remember where I first came across Dora Maar’s Portrait of Ubu: Most likely it was in one of the dust-drenched used bookshops that dotted the Hollywood Boulevard of my youth – I’d stroll in on my walk home from junior high, get lost browsing the disheveled columns of faded clothbounds stacked floor-to-ceiling.

I don’t recall where. But I do remember the image that somehow made my chest tight, yet, like a loose tooth, I couldn’t leave it be – had to keep touching it with my tongue. Ubu held a tender mystery that entered through my eyes but set up shop somewhere deep in my gut. What was it and who would take such a photo? Dora Maar took this photo in 1936, and it became emblematic of the Surrealist Movement. Presumably to preserve its mystique, she never confirmed what Ubu actually was.

Years later, I learned that many of the images I held as icons of social, artistic and sexual independence were also works by Dora Maar. Their audacity and wit were embraced by my free-thinking, unfettered generation.

No surprise that Maar’s images were standard-bearers of the Surrealists (though there were formally no females among the Surrealists when the movement was born in 1924). But I didn’t know her name the way I knew other photographers of the period, like Man Ray or Dorothea Lange.

Dora (Henriette Théadora Markovitch) began her artistic life at 19, moving back from Buenos Aires to her hometown of Paris and enrolling in the Academié Julian which offered the same training to women as they did to men(!). She pursued both painting and photography, but early success as a photographer pointed her firmly in that direction. Drawn to the contrasts and disparities of street life, she gave her subjects what she recognized in them—grace and dignity: blind beggars, street waifs, a friend lost in thought. This sensibility manifested itself in all her work: portraits, the Surrealism of the streets, and especially with the groundbreaking images in her photomontages. Even the striking fashion and commercial photography that provided her living had an edge.

With all of that to commend her, if you Google Dora Maar, the first entry will probably state, she is most widely known as Pablo Picasso’s muse of nearly a decade (beginning late 1930s).

She met Pablo Picasso on the set of Jean Renoir’s film Le Crime de Monsieur Lange and then again, famously, at café Les Deux Magots in 1936. That meeting changed forever the focus and trajectory of Dora’s life. Her beauty and daring fascinated him (she was said to have cut her fingers playing “the knife game” at a café table when he met her). They were drawn inevitably to each other. She moved around the corner from his studio: he stayed with her often, and though he reportedly displayed on a shelf her bloodied gloves from their Deux Magots encounter, she was never allowed into the studio without his invitation.

The pair became an influential part of the Surrealist Movement; they collaborated on a number of artistic projects together and with other prominent artists, including Man Ray. She had her first solo photography exhibition in Paris. She became a regular model for his work. Picasso encouraged her to leave photography and take up painting again (some say after he belittled her photographic talent). She did. Friends said that she would sacrifice anything for him. According to Maar herself, I wasn’t Picasso’s mistress; he was just my master.

For Picasso, she was the woman in tears: beautiful and sad—sad, he said, because she was barren and suffered for it. Weeping Woman and Dora Maar Seated were painted by Picasso in 1937, which is the year she documented in photos the various stages of the master creating the masterpiece, Guernica. In fact, it was said that during their time together, photographing Picasso’s work became the sole domain of Maar.

Their relationship ended tragically for Dora in 1943, when Picasso took a new lover, Françoise Gilot, who was (newer, younger, better) 40 years his junior and 20 years Maar’s. The break up sent her into a tailspin of depression, ending predictably in a nervous breakdown in 1946, after her dearest friend, Nusch Eluard, wife of the poet Paul, died suddenly. Family and closest friends gone, she felt cast aside and set adrift. So, she drifted.

Eventually, Dora found a road back, as well as solace, in Roman Catholicism. She famously told author Mary Caws, After Picasso, God. So, here’s where the tightening in my chest I experienced upon first seeing Ubu re-exerts itself, but this time, because the question is so close to home: The question is, did Dora lose herself in love or was her passion for Picasso greater than her passion for her own work? Or does it matter?

In Dora’s case, it may be that fighting her way out from under Picasso’s shadow so that the fruit of her artistic talent would be her legacy rather than her talents as a muse, was just not worth the fight. Perhaps the fight was shaken out of her along with the passion. My truth is that I don’t think it matters. The work remains and Dora Maar is a woman you should know.

Dora continued to paint (eschewing Surrealism) and to write mostly meditative poetry. She died in 1997.

5 November 
(thought to have been written by Dora Maar in 1970
[though I’d prefer the title  After Picasso, God])

Pure as a lake boredom
I hear its harmony
In the vast cold room
The nuance of light seems eternal

The soul that still yesterday wept is quiet -- it's
exile suspended
a country without art only nature
Memory magnolia pure so far off

I am blind
and made from a bit of earth
But your gaze never leaves me
And your angel keeps me.
Elizabeth Iannaci  holds an MFA in Poetry, lives in Los Angeles, remembers when there really were orange groves, and shares birthdays with Red China Julie Andrews and Bonnie Parker. She has traveled extensively in Europe and Asia without getting arrested (please knock on wood), and can usually find out how to ask Where is the bathroom/water closet/ toilet/facilities? She also writes poetry and occasionally writes letters on real paper, delivered by humans.
Editor's Note:  Thanks so much to Elizabeth for sharing her wonderful writing with us and for this reconsideration of Dora Maar. You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Dr. Mayme Clayton by Zoe Blaq

Women You Should Know:
Dr. Mayme Clayton 
by Zoe Blaq

During my undergraduate studies at California State University Northridge, I took a Pan African studies class given by fascinating Professor Johnny Scott, who grew up in Watts and graduated from Harvard.

The day Professor Scott introduced me to Dr. Mayme Clayton, I was instantly consumed by the presence of a woman who would become my mentor, friend and inspiration. I was drawn to her passion for literature and film.

Dr. Mayme Agnew Clayton gathered one of the largest and most significant collections of black Americana in existence. She kept her collection in the garage behind her home in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, California.

We exchanged numbers after class and a week later I was volunteering in her home and had the pleasure of helping her preserve and organize books and posters in a damp and mildewed garage. I will never forget the smell of old books that permeated the air. It smelled like heaven.

We often sat and talked like old friends although we were generations apart. I was in my early twenties and she was in her seventies. I will never forget the spark in her eyes as she carefully sat her most valuable item in front of me which was the first book published by a black American in 1773 - a signed copy of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. I remember the time she shared a handwritten and signed first edition of works by Zora Neale Hurston and correspondence from George Washington Carver. I was in the midst of greatness. Dr. Mayme Clayton was not only a collector, she was a visionary who dedicated her life to preserving Black history for Black people.

Mayme Agnew was born on August 14, 1923, in Van Buren, Arkansas. She graduated high school at the age of sixteen. She received a Bachelor of Art Degree from the University of California, Berkeley; a Master's Degree in Library Science from Goddard College, Vermont, and Doctorate in Humanities from Sierra University, Los Angeles.

In the late 1940's She moved to California to the West Adams bungalow where she started collecting.

By 1957, her collection grew from her work as a librarian, first at the University of Southern California and later at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she began to build an African-American collection. She started by collecting out of print books. In the 1960's, Mayme was part of the group that founded the Afro-American Studies Center Library, which is still in existence at the school today. After working 15 fifteen years at UCLA, she took a position at Universal Books in Hollywood, CaCA. When Universal Books went out of business, she managed to grab all of the books that pertained to Black society and culture – more than 4,000 volumes.

Clayton founded the Western State Research Foundation in 1972 as the world's largest privately held collection of African-American historical materials. Alex Haley, author of Roots, served as national board chairman.

Clayton was the founder of the Black American Cinema Society, which awards scholarships and hosts film festivals. In my observation, Dr. Clayton was very well respected in Hollywood, and distinguished celebrities always showed up at her events. She was a strong woman who taught me a level of focus, determination and delivery I continue to strive for. Even today, her spirit continues to encourage me to follow my dreams as a storyteller and historian. In 1999, Clayton co-founded the annual Reel Black Cowboy Film and Western Festival at the Gene Autry Museum.

Mayme Clayton and I would sit at her dining room table and have deep belly laugh conversations until we cried. We could talk for hours over the phone. Time was seamless, age was spirit and our relatedness was bond. I went to graduate school and we lost touch with the hustle and bustle of life. Although short short-lived, our paths crossed and our three three-year meeting left a huge impact in my life.

When Clayton died in 2006, her garage held an estimated two million artifacts of African-American history. Her collection included rare books, letters, posters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and films. Her contribution to archiving will always be a valuable resource for books and documents of the Civil- War era and the Harlem Renaissance. Dr. Clayton’s library is a gem for all fFilmmakers and writers.

We draw strength and inspiration from those who came before us including those remarkable women working among us today. The dreams and accomplishments of women are part of our story. An inclusive history recognizes how important women have always been in American society and culture.

Dr. Mayme Clayton simply desired to know about her people and give children pride. She is definitely a woman we should know representing the West side. May her work continue to thrive in the altruistic heart and soul of all people.

Visit the museum in Culver City, CA

Zoe Blaq, MA was Raised in Europe and speaks German. She is A former mental health therapist from Antioch University and also has a film degree from CSUN.

Blaq is a published writer and a holistic health advocate who aims to reconnect people with their indigenous root.

Editor's Note:  Wow - I'm so grateful to Zoe for introducing me to Dr. Mayme Clayton! What a wonderful woman! You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Claude Cahun by Siofra McSherry

Women You Should Know:
Claude Cahun 
by Siofra McSherry

Claude Cahun (25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954) was a French artist, photographer, and writer. Born in Nantes as Lucy Schwob, she adopted a gender-neutral forename (Claude can be either male or female in French) and her uncle’s more recognisably Jewish surname. In an arrangement that echoed that of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Cahun made many of her works in collaboration with her partner and companion, Suzanne Malherbe. Malherbe likewise took a pseudonym that obscured her gender, preferring to be known as Marcel Moore; she eventually also became Cahun’s step-sister after her widowed mother married Cahun’s father. The couple lived and worked together first in Paris then the island of Jersey, where they are buried together.

Described by Andre Breton as “one of the most curious spirits of our time”, Cahun is eternally difficult to characterise. As an artist she worked across multiple media, producing writing, photography, theatre, and performance works. She identified as a third gender that incorporated both masculine and feminine elements, and was actually described as a male artist in an early exhibition, probably due to a lack of information about her biography and self-definition. Today her best-known works are her highly-staged surrealist self-portraits and tableaux of the 20s, which play with the performance of gender and sexuality. The artist takes on characters such as Bluebeard’s wife or a fetishized weight-lifting boy, in an exploration of performative self-portraiture that prefigures the work of Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin.

These works clearly explore experimental territory similar to the photographs of Man Ray and Lee Miller, who used photographic technology to reframe, dissect, and erotically defamiliarize the female body. Techniques such as the disembodied head-in-a-bell-jar trick appear in both Miller’s and Cahun’s work: in Cahun’s version, however, the sequence is used to highlight the theatrical expressiveness of the face. Showcasing her experience on the stage, these isolated heads are absurd Beckettian characters, rather than objects or collectibles. Viewed as a whole, her body of self-portraits forms an exegesis on the performance of self, which probes the nature of the dissected identity rather than the body. Cahun’s repeated use of mirrors, reflections, and masks pay tribute to the photographic medium while providing symbolic resonance for the themes of masquerade, questioning the source and privilege of the gaze within the performative space of the portrait. 

Marcel Moore and Claude Cahun settled on Jersey in 1937. During the German occupation of World War II they successfully disguised their identities as lesbians and Jews and staged an effective resistance programme, distributing pamphlets in German subverting Nazi propaganda and staging installations. They remained undiscovered for some time, since the Gestapo allegedly could not believe that two old ladies would be capable of such sustained action. Eventually detained and sentenced to death, the couple were released only when the war was over. Unhappily, much of their work was destroyed by the Nazis. Since the 1980s, however, critical interest in Cahun has sharply increased, with major retrospectives held in Paris, London, and Chicago in recent years, establishing her proper place in the history not only of surrealism but the performance of gender.

Siofra McSherry is a poet, researcher, and co-founder of the And Or new media curation project. She lives and works in Berlin.
Editor's Note:  You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Sherin Hegazy By Zosia Jo

Sherin Hegaz photo by Johny Smith

Women You Should Know:
Sherin Hegazy
By Zosia Jo

Amidst the hustle and heat of Cairo life, a surprising artistic ecology is thriving. The independent contemporary dance and theatre scene in Egypt is unlike any I have encountered before. Forget what you thought you knew about this country, and imagine a passionate, earnest, and unexpectedly gender-equal community. Women and men in this city are creating powerful work against a backdrop of traffic, street harassment, and economic disparity. Out of diversity grows great art, and Cairo is certainly one of the most diverse places I have known.

As a female choreographer and guest here I have yet to encounter sexism within the arts sector, a statement I could sadly not make of my time working in the UK. Female artists are not as outnumbered or underpowered as recent discussions have highlighted they are in ours.

One such remarkable artist is Sherin Hegazy. She agrees it is fairly equal between women and men within the dance scene, despite considerable gender issues in the wider community, and cites attitudes to gender as the surprising cause:

“We have a problem with the cultural view of dancing. For women it’s hard [to be a dancer] and she has to fight - starting with her family. But for boys it’s the same because it’s seen as weak. Men and women fight equally.”

I first met Sherin in 2014 through friends with whom she trained in the Cairo Contemporary Dance Workshop Program. Last December I first saw her work. Sherin was one of Studio Emad Eddin’s chosen artists for their 2B Continued Festival. For Sherin, it was a chance to present a work she had already begun researching months before. After touring with Nada Sabet in a performance aimed at generating discussions about female genital mutilation in rural Egypt, Hegazy was inspired to look deeper into the experiences of women in her culture.

For her recent piece Ya Sem, she decided to focus on an issue she, and most other women here, encounter on a daily basis - street harassment. Sherin asked fifty women from all over Egypt, and from various walks of life, two questions:

  1. If someone bothers you on the street what is your reaction? 
  2. If it happened a lot over the years, did you change anything in yourself in order to deal with it? 

Sherin describes changing her own clothing choices in order to stay safe, covering her arms and décolletage, even when she feels it ruins the look of her dress. She also believes many girls dress more like men, in jeans or sports clothes, in order to send a message:

“She is tough, she has no time to be beautiful; don’t attack me because we are the same.”

It was for this reason Sherin chose deliberately feminine costumes for the piece, red with flowing fabric and a flattering cut, but purposefully modest and not too revealing. She wanted to show women being beautiful and powerful at the same time.

“Since I started dancing, I dreamed of making a piece about our culture.”

Ya Sem does exactly this, in the sense that it uses Baladi Dance (known commonly as Belly Dance and a traditional dance embedded in Egyptian culture) in a contemporary way. Three dancers, Ameny Atef, Nagham Saleh and Hegazy herself, share the stage with Sabrine El-Hossamy who plays the traditional Egyptian drum - Darbuka, which is unusual for a woman. The piece begins with what appears to be a normal Baladi movement sequence, their faces are smiling and the mood is fun. However, the immediately comfortable audience are later confronted with powerful, unapologetic women, dancing with sticks the way men do (Tahtib), using their voices and bodies to tell the stories of those 50 women and make a clear statement- : ‘we are being harassed but we are powerful and we are fighting.’ Their performances are unified despite their diverse characteristics, ; their facial expressions change many times during the piece but their eyes never lose focus on the audience. They are telling us something important, and they won’t go quietly.

Baladi dance is a poignant medium for this work. Most Egyptians, even many men, have some experience of dancing in this style; it is the prominent social dance and even the name, Baladi, means country or local. Back in the 1950s and 60s it was enjoyed and respected. It is only in recent years that it gained a reputation as sexual or shameful. Sherin cites the wave of more extreme views on Islam coming into the country with returning migrant workers in the 1970s and 80s. During this time, many Egyptians travelled to Saudi Arabia to work and returned with different practices. Before this time the Hijab (veil) and Niqab (full black veil with face covering) were very rare in Egypt, but are now much more common.

Whilst researching the origins of Baladi dance, Hegazy also discovered something that makes her choice of movement vocabulary even more appropriate. 

“In Upper Egypt girls are so shy. When a girl was forced to dance at a wedding or something she would make a movement to say NO… (Sherin moves her hip and stamps one foot) … This developed into movements with the waist, belly, butt… and it became Belly Dance.”

The response to Ya Sem was hugely positive, it won the audience vote in every category. However, sSome people told Sherin she was too direct, her meaning too clear. But it was vital that her message got across, not just to an intellectual, artistic audience, but to everyone.

“It was my goal to make something people could understand and enjoy. Something from our culture, and not just for entertainment, but to make people think.”

Perhaps the most surprising response came from a female programmer who asked her why the piece didn’t show women’s suffering. 

“I was avoiding putting women suffering. I didn’t want to show this. I wanted to show women fighting.”

So often in contemporary dance we see images of angst and suffering. We make the ugly beautiful; we combine grace and skill to express truth. When you apply this to the issue of bodies, street harassment and feminism, there is a huge risk. We risk fetishizing the act of sexual oppression. I don’t need to see more images of women being raped, oppressed, silenced, and desperate. Let’s see powerful females centre stage saying ‘NO. This is not OK.’ Sherin could’ve ended up putting a pretty pink ribbon around a very dark message. Thank fully she did the opposite. She showed us the solution.

Working as a performer, choreographer and facilitator, Zosia Jo has built a portfolio career specialising in multidisciplinary performance work including dance, spoken word and theatre. In 2010 she ran TufPoets, a monthly open mic poetry evening at the Literary cafe in Tufnell Park, London.
As a choreographer, Zosia enjoys an international career including several works made in Cairo Egypt, and performances across the UK. Her solo performance work, Herstory, combines dance and spoken word and found critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015. Zosia writes a blog on her own website which is mainly focused on her choreographic process but also includes refelctions on dance in general.

Editor's Note:  You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Julie Dash by E. Amato

Women You Should Know:
Julie Dash
by E. Amato

When I was in college, I worked part-time for a woman who ran her own business. I’m not sure why, maybe she was cleaning out her book shelves, but one day, she handed me almost every book by Zora Neale Hurston. I read them all. When I cracked open Their Eyes Were Watching God, I knew I was inside something sacred, something that blended longing and fulfillment with painful precision, and something that told truths never before exposed. I didn’t know why I had never heard of it – why people weren’t shouting about it like they did Gatsby or Hemingway.

Despite the fact that I was in film school and planning to make a life in cinema, no movie had ever made feel anything like that.

Until I saw Daughters of the Dust.

Julie Dash’s out of the gate fiercely independent feature held me in its palm for 112 minutes. It is a womanist story; it is a story of peoples invisible, worlds unexplored, and humans defining the meaning of home. It is filled with indelible images and presences rather than performances. Its lines still reverberate in my head; its characters voices come to visit and stay. A film like that should have propelled Dash to the forefront of American cinema.

Instead, the next time I heard about her, she was directing and writing an episode of Showtime’s “Women: Stories of Passion,” an attempt by the cable network to both cash in on women telling women’s stories and sell some soft erotica to a late-night market. Still, it employed more than a few women directors, writers and producers during its run. Since then, Dash has had an intermittent filmography that outwardly falls short of her vision, talent, and experience.

"Everything I’ve made, pretty much, being a female filmmaker, my male teachers would say, “Why in the world are you wasting your time on that?” Illusions, Diary of an African Nun… everything was like, “Oh for god’s sakes.” That continues. When I was doing my segment of Subway Stories, I remember a lot of male crew members gritting their teeth when I had the flowers blowing across the subway track. They were looking at their watches like, you know, it’s time to go. That was the ‘90s. It continues. It’s something that female filmmakers, who were working and investigating the culture of women, faced and what we continue to face. There are different cultural set points, traditions, and all of these things that may not even interest the male counterparts and might even annoy them, because they may seem frivolous. Even with Daughters of the Dust, when we won the Best Cinematography award at Sundance in 1991, I would have people look me in the face at times and say, “Let’s not even talk about it. I don’t even know what the hell it’s about.” At that time, Matty Rich’s Straight Out of Brooklyn was at Sundance, and it won the Special Jury Prize. It was given a standing ovation. Young, urban, male films were the thing in the ‘90s."

Recently, watching Beyoncé’s Formation video, I was struck by the imagery so clearly influenced by Dash’s work. It feels shameful that Dash and her creative team fashioned images so powerful they are referenced over two decades later, yet she has never been given the space to tell the visual, visceral, emotional stories she holds.

As we look closely at inclusion and at the underrepresentation of women and PoC in the entertainment industries, it is important not only to consider what – and who – we are missing, but also the lifetimes of stories we have already lost. Dash has remained a working artist, and has a new documentary, TravelNotes of a Geechee Girl, in the works. But I would have given a lot to have her skill, craft, and point of view as part of the cultural dialogue over the last 25 years. I would have liked to have her speaking to me all this time. I certainly would have traded a few of the same guys with guns movies for a few more of her human stories. To have a voice like that so marginalized out of the main, to be missing the ten or so feature films she should have been supported in making feels like a grave crime to me. 
".. it’s important to do the film that you want to do — and then let people come to it. They may not get it now, but they will get it by and by. I’m not saying pop films aren’t fun, but every film is not a pop film. Every film isn’t taken from the headlines. Some films are made because they need to be made. They’re works of passion. That’s what Daughters of the Dust was." (Julie Dash, Flavorwire Interview, October 2015)

…unapologetic feminist, dulcet-toned poet, activist, film-maker, editor of Zestyverse” (LossLit) E. Amato  is a published poet, award-winning screenwriter, and established performer. She has three poetry collections by Zesty Pubs: Swimming Through Amber5, & Will Travel, and is a content writer for The Body Is Not an Apology. She also has a special relationship with Marmite.

Editor's Note:  This is my favorite month of the year! I love this series, and am excited to have the inaugural post this year. You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!