Student Life

Taking control of the conversation

The Woman Power helps women around the city embrace their diversity

International Women’s Day is meant to celebrate women all around the globe. It’s a day when we commemorate what women have accomplished and address what has yet to be done. It’s a day when women are celebrated in all their diversity. Hanna Che co-founded a platform called The Woman Power in response to this lack of representation. “I grew up in Montreal-North and when I was younger, I never saw anything on TV that represented me or my reality,” said Che.

The reality is that diversity amongst women isn’t always embraced. In mainstream media, marginalized women, especially women of colour and of the LGBTQ+ community, are often underrepresented. The Woman Power is a platform that gives a voice to anyone identifying as a woman and highlights women of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds through their work. “We wanted to create something positive,” said Che. “We live in an era where it’s easy to be angry at everything and we wanted to change the narrative of the angry black woman.”

The Woman Power started in 2016. At that time, it operated almost exclusively through Instagram and other social media platforms. “Since we existed on social media, we wanted to bring people that followed us online to meet in real life,” said Che, “That’s why we created The Sisterhood.”

The Sisterhood was created two years ago. “It’s a safe space where women get to discuss various subjects and share experiences with each other,” Che said.

Che explained that every month, members of The Woman Power pick a topic for the meeting (such as mental illness, digital identity, etc.) and from there, they formulate questions to lead discussions. The team is there as guidance, not to give advice to the women attending. The meetings are about letting women take control of the conversation and allowing them to share their stories with each other.

“We’re all about positivity,” Che said, “It’s about personal development, learning to love yourself, listening to other people’s stories and coming out a better human being.”

The Sisterhood is not the only way The Woman Power is trying to expand beyond social media. Last November, they launched a bilingual podcast.

On Feb. 22, women gathered for The Sisterhood’s monthly meeting at The Local Lululemon in Mile End where they discuss this month’s theme of digital identity. Photo by Tyra Muria Trono.

For the podcast’s first season, Che explained that they chose to feature female artists from Montreal such as Richenda Grazette, Anick Jasmin, Feza S. Lugoma and more. Each guest discusses their work and talks about the importance of art, culture and women in Montreal. These artists are also contributors to the installation called Les vraies Demoiselles d’Avignon which was presented in the exposition D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face, d’hier à aujourd’hui at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Members of The Woman Power are currently working on the next season of their podcast, set to be released this summer. Che said new artists will be invited to discuss the theme of identity, which will be the main focus of the upcoming season.

The Woman Power is always thinking of new projects to delve into. They want to create more content and grow as a platform to spread their message to more people, Che said. Even if Women’s Day only happens on March 8, The Woman Power celebrates women 365 days a year and encourages them to join the worldwide conversation about issues women still face today.

Feature photo courtesy of Tyra Muria Trono


Intersectional feminist art exhibition puts spotlight on emerging artists

Area Codes art exhibition addresses multiculturalism, marginality, and identity

Right to Campus McGill hosted an intersectional feminist art exhibition at Studio XX on March 23. Area Codes was curated by Concordia students Madelyne Beckles and Leah Schulli.

The exhibition featured the work of Concordia and McGill students, as well as other up-and-coming artists. The contributors shared their personal experiences of marginality and social oppression, and boldly confronted the issues from a female-identifying perspective. Area Codes aimed to raise awareness about these emerging artists’ work, but also to publicly recognize International Women’s Day, Anti-Street Harassment Week and the Commission on the Status of Women, a UN intergovernmental body dedicated to empowering women and promoting gender equality.

Right to Campus McGill is a student-run organization that aims to promote social equality and facilitate the right to public space on the McGill campus. The organization is part of an initiative taken by Women in Cities International, a Montreal-based non-profit association that focuses on “the empowerment, safety and inclusion of women and girls in urban settings,” according to Right to Campus McGill’s Facebook page. Right to Campus McGill organizes a variety of events with this goal in mind, including documentary screenings, art exhibitions, discussions and panels. The curators collaborated with Women in Cities International for this exhibition.

The Area Codes exhibition featured 12 installations, one of which was a performance piece by Anika Ahuja. During her performance, which lasted about five minutes, everyone in the gallery gathered around the artist and watched attentively. It blended well with the other pieces, but also added another layer of intrigue and engagement with the audience.

The artist sat cross-legged in one corner of the room with a bowl of red dye, a bowl of water, a scrub brush and a towel. Ahuja applied the dye to the palms of her hands and the tips of her fingers. She repeated this motion a number of times before washing her hands, scrubbing the dye off and then beginning to apply the dye again.

According to the artist’s statement, the performance, titled In Attempt to be Definitive, “addresses the conflict of the intangible cross-cultural space, and considers ideas of inherent versus chosen identity, denial and shame.” It is described as a representation of the artist’s attempt to take ownership of her various cultural identities that conflict with one another. By repeatedly dying and washing her hands, Ahuja seemed to be torn between accepting and ridding herself of any cultural significance that could be attached to her identity.

Janina Anderson, a teaching assistant who works in the Fine Arts Department at Concordia, contributed her piece titled Cut Outs. The piece consisted of two large collage pieces that were mounted on Bristol board and hung from the ceiling of the studio. The collages commanded the attention of gallery viewers due to their size and conspicuous placement—they hung just above the heads of the crowd. One piece featured a photo of a young African-American girl sitting with what seemed to be an open box in her lap. The other  collage piece displayed a photo of an African-American man loosely floating in the fetal position with his arms tucked into his chest. The photos were taken from National Geographic magazines published in the mid-20th century. The artist explained that, by removing the surrounding environment from the photos, in other words, decontextualizing them, she wanted to highlight the “social, political and cultural values through which they are constructed and disseminated.” Her work provokes questions surrounding identity and multiculturalism through the medium of collage.

Liz Xu’s interactive piece was simply a tent emoji. Xu constructed a small tent out of synthetic material, and screen-printed grass, flowers, trees and mountains onto the inside of it. From the outside it appears to be a plain white tent, but upon entering, the viewer is encircled by mountains and a forest lit up by a lamp in the centre of the tent. In her artist statement, Xu explained that her piece “functions as a physical representation of the boundary between human and nature.” Though humans may attempt to break this boundary by immersing themselves in nature through activities like camping, the materials and supplies needed to do so are man-made and therefore maintain the division between man and nature. Xu’s piece may also be interpreted as a broader comment on Western society—the modern consumer and its relationship to the natural world—by presenting a blatant example of a man-made object combined with forms of the natural world. While sitting inside the tent, one feels relatively isolated from the everything outside the tent, which enforces a feeling of separation between oneself and the outdoors.

The exhibition also included the works of Sophia Borowska, Simone Blain, Molly Caldwell, Sara Graorac, Salina Ladha, Lindsey Lagemaat, Alicia Mersy, Hayley O’Byrne and Amery Sandford. Pieces ranged from sculptures and oil paintings to digital art and posters.

Student Life

Talking global feminism at Université de Montréal

The French university hosts its first-ever conference on intersectional feminism

The Regroupement des étudiants de l’Université de Montréal en soutien de l’ONU Femme hosted its first-ever event on Feb. 6—a conference dedicated to international feminism called “Le féminisme autour du monde: orient et occident.”

The conference coincided with the Semaine interculturelle de l’UdeM, a week dedicated to promoting the plethora of cultures that exist in and outside the university through conferences and activities. The conference featured two speakers: Ryoa Chung, a professor of philosophy at UdeM, and Khaloua Zoghlami, a doctoral candidate in communications at UdeM.

The bulk of the conference focused on international feminism and the many problems that arise when trying to apply feminist theories to women in varying cultural situations. Chung, the first speaker to address the crowd in the lecture hall, outlined many of the theoretical problems associated with using liberal feminism as the ideal way for women to emancipate themselves in other countries. Liberal feminism is assumed to be the most objective feminist theory because it pulls from the Liberal political theory, but it can impose Western values onto different cultures.

The conference on international feminism was the first of its kind at the University. Photo by Alex Hutchins

Chung warned that, while laced with good intentions, liberal feminism easily veers into this type of imperialism when proponents of this type of feminism do not make themselves aware of the particular struggles women in underdeveloped countries face.

“When we want to speak in solidarity for another person, there are pitfalls that we need to avoid, and one of these pitfalls we need to avoid is positioning ourselves as the saviour who knows how to save the other woman from herself,” Chung said.

She cited many examples where the epistemology and the basic theoretical constructs of some branches of feminism already put specific groups at a disadvantage. For example, sometimes the perspective of a religious or racial group cannot even be recognized by the majority, therefore any specific challenges they face are not represented in any actions taken.

Zoghlami brought to light many of the theories presented by Chung during her discussion, using her own experiences as a Tunisian-born woman as a springboard into talking about intersectional feminism. She said the type of liberal feminism women ascribed to in Tunisia was very confining.

“You had to be a specific type of woman to truly benefit from the rights allocated to women, because if you were a women who wore a veil, was attached to your religious practice, came from an underprivileged area, were black or were a collection of all that, these privileges did not concern you or were not concretely applied to you,” Zoghlami said.

She said one of the oldest and most influential feminist associations in Tunisia, L’Association Tunisiennes des Femmes Démocrates, supported the government’s measures to dissuade women from wearing their veil. At that same time, the government was already enforcing bans that blocked women who wore a veil from getting a job or an education. The liberal feminism these women borrowed from their French counterparts, she said, was derived from an imperialistic mindset and left no room for some women to practice their religion if they so chose to.

Zoghlami added that this was not a type of feminism she could identify with, because, in her view, it only fought for a small portion of women. She said she struggled to consolidate her identities as a woman and as a Muslim.

Only recently was Zoghlami introduced to the idea of intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism argues that there are specific challenges associated with women who associate to more than one group, such as religion, race or sexual orientation. It states these specific challenges should be fought in tandem with one another, not separately. For Zoghlami, this means being able to fight for her rights as a Muslim woman, not as a Muslim and a woman.

Lia Ferranti, the president of the Regroupement des étudiants de l’Université de Montréal en soutien de l’ONU Femme, said the group really wanted to host an event in relation to the very popular Semaine interculturelle de UdeM.

“We asked ourselves how we could talk about feminism and interculturality, and we told ourselves, well why not talk about feminism around the world?” Ferranti said.

With 600 people interested in their Facebook event, Ferranti was surprised by how easily the conference came together. She said both Chung and Zoghlami were extremely open to speaking at the conference. “We realized that their two subjects really corresponded to the Occident and the Orient, and we set it up in a way to try to touch on everything, and it all came together,” Ferranti said.

She said the university was there to help and support them along the way.

“We are the first feminist organization recognized by UdeM,” Ferranti said. “The executive committee is practically all the founding members.”

The group is currently awaiting official recognition from the UN headquarters in New York in order to be named UN Women UdeM, but Ferranti said it will still take a while.

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