Tag Archives: Body Impolitic

Exhibition: The Museum of Capitalism

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Laurie says:

I went with Debbie to the Museum of Capitalism, a remarkable exhibition installed in what was a huge empty retail space in Jack London Square in Oakland. The exhibition is a art/historical view of capitalism as if it no longer existed. Unfortunately I got there rather late, as it only runs til August 20th.

From the curators’ statement by FICTILUIS:

Some may argue that the events the Museum highlights are too recent in memory to be displayed in such a way, that the topic is too sensitive for those who still feel it’s effects. Others argue that it’s too late, that reflection upon the logics and limits of capitalism should have happened long ago, and might have prevented many of the tragedies that have played out in recent decades. We maintain that there is no better time then now to honor those impacted by capitalism and those who will feel its impacts far into the future.

The exhibition includes over 50 artists and is very varied in subjects, attitudes and media. I’m going to write about the work that struck me the most. It’s by Beverly Henry.
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In the installation Undoing Time/PLEDGE, a video portrait co-authored with former prisoner Beverly Henry (who worked in a California prison flag factory while incarcerated), is installed with two American flags produced in the flag factory where she worked during the the years she was incarcerated at the Central California Women’s facility.
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The text of an op-ed piece Beverly wrote on the 254th anniversary of Betsy Ross’ birth is embroidered into the stripes of the flags. In the video Beverly performs a symbolic act – undoing the stitches of one of the flags made in the prison factory – while she describes her own search for equality and democracy as a socio-economically marginalized person. In the op-ed text, and through her recorded statements, Beverly’s reflections, on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the US flag purportedly represents, challenge us to examine the structural inequalities at the root of the extraordinary expansion of penal confinement in the United States.
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This is an image from the video of her taking the flag apart as an act of reclamation.

If you are interested in learning more about the exhibition, there is a good article here by Kriston Capps

And if you’re in the Bay Area and you can see it before the 20th, go!

Wrong Direction: Shonda Rhimes and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty

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Laurie and Debbie say:

Shonda Rhimes is a powerhouse, and a force for good in the world. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is one of the first things we blogged about, more than twelve years ago (yes, really) and we’ve always had mixed feelings about it.

Now, twelve years later, Ashley Nguyen writes at The Lily about how Shonda Rhimes is teaming up with Dove to take the Campaign one step further. Terrific, you say? Well, kind of. They are doing a lot that’s right:

After announcing the project in March, Dove and Rhimes created a call-out for women to submit their stories. They looked at more than 4,500 submissions before deciding on the women featured in their first two films … Real Beauty Productions uses a 100 percent female crew to produce the films because, as Rhimes told The Lily, “If you can, why not?”

On one level, reminding women people that beauty isn’t a narrow box is always useful; in 1994, when we released Women En Large: Images of Fat Women, we certainly put a great deal of time and energy into doing just that.

But …

It’s not 1994, or 2005. It’s 2017. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to activists in all fields–from police terror to mass incarceration to gentrification to body image–that the personal story is simultaneously incredibly important and disastrously insufficient. We need personal stories to humanize people, to interest bystanders, and to galvanize change.

We also need to look at the systemic issues, the things the personal stories don’t address and can’t change. In the case of body image, self-worth, and “real beauty,” here’s a short list:

  • The systemic story that a woman must be beautiful to be important, valuable, interesting, or even to like herself is bullshit.  When Rhimes says:

I think my definition of beauty is me at my most. Feeling my best, as confident as I can be, doing my best work. Being at my happiest. I also think it’s the moments where I’ve decided to just be me, despite what anybody else thinks, despite what anybody else might judge, despite what anyone else has been thinking about. It’s just me being me without even noticing anybody else or their judgment.

Why does that have to have anything to do with beauty? We would never say that a man doing his best work, or at his happiest, is at his most beautiful.

  • By any real definition of beauty, everyone can’t be beautiful. For one thing, beauty is cultural and not all of it travels. For another, some people don’t want to be looked at; others don’t care. Focusing on “real beauty” as something for everyone ignores the option of “I don’t want to be/I don’t care about being” beautiful. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness.
  • If everyone was in fact beautiful, wouldn’t that erase beauty? One thing we use our eyes for is to find things and people that please us: some of them are beautiful, some are attractive, some are interesting, or cleverly decked out, or surprising. And many things and people that we see are not particularly visually memorable. In the case of women, why should that one characteristic define them?
  • We should never forget that when we’re talking about women “beauty” is at least partially code for “sexual availability,” and lots of women, including many who might want to be beautiful in other contexts, have extremely good reasons not to want to be lumped into “sexually available” or even judged on our sexual availability.

Yes, Shonda Rhimes and Dove are doing a kind of good work together. If they make one woman feel better about herself, we can cheer that success. What we’d really like to see, however, is Rhimes (probably without Dove, which would lose its vested interest) take on the bigger question of why being at our most, feeling our best, as confident as we can be, doing our best work, being at our happiest is not enough.