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Advice from the great Gloria

What happens when one famous activist meets another? The world sits up and listens, that’s what.

A few weeks back, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson and feminist journalist Gloria Steinham (now 82) had a public chat at London’s Emmanuel Centre.

What struck me most about the event was the difference in age and experience between the evening’s hosts. At first, Emma’s youth annoyed me – compared with Gloria, she seemed naïve and inexperienced – steinembut as the evening went on, I realised that Gloria was taking the opportunity to pass her legacy onto the next generation and encourage them to continue her life’s work.

While the event was predominantly centred around her new book, My Life on the Road – an overview of her career and travels – it also allowed the audience to reflect on some of the biggest changes experienced by our society as seen and documented by Gloria herself.

US-born Gloria grew up travelling around in a trailer thanks to her father’s job as an antiques dealer. With a lack of formal education and plenty of exciting stories under her belt, Gloria admitted that she actually longed for stability and normalcy as a child.

Similarly, Emma – who experienced anything but a typical childhood thanks to the HP franchise – also spoke out about the importance of activism.

Gloria complimented Emma on taking a year off from acting to resume her responsibilities as a global goodwill ambassador for UN WOMEN and the #HeForShe campaign in particular. “We trust you,” said Gloria on behalf of us all.

Which made me think that Glroia’s current blessing rests in her being able to look back on her life and advice the new generation on what she has learnt.

One of the key topics that she feels we need to continue addressing includes establishing truly democratic family values. Gloria read out a statistic from Sex & World Peace, written by Valerie M. Hudson, that claimed more female lives are lost to suicide, domestic violence and sex scandals than in all of the 21st century wars combined. Her biggest concern is that we are devaluing the female life and this in turn, is creating an imbalance in our current global population. While this may seem like a broad statement to make, Gloria reminds us that this imbalance is affecting all aspects of living – poverty, terrorism and war – because it creates a culture that normalizes domination. With that in mind, she advises that we need to differentiate violence from pleasure – something she thinks today’s porn industry is only confusing. But, she claims that in sex, “cooperation beats domination” – it can be empowering! [Emma piped up here and encouraged the audience to check out female sexual pleasure site, OMGYes…]

emma-watson-an-evening-with-gloria-steinem-in-london-2-24-163Her suggestions to tackle this? We need to learn how to appropriately condemn sex crimes and reeducate the public about understanding their feelings. We could introduce a new language to talk about these issues, but fundamentally both men and women need to learn to embrace their emotions so that we can finally dispel gender stereotypes. Why is it so unusual to see a man cry?

She recognizes that time is a slow healer and credits the Indian American belief that it takes four generations to heal one act of violence – so don’t be expecting any radical changes immediately. But equally, don’t be discouraged by slow progress. “The means are the ends,” says Gloria. The length and the difficulty of the journey is part of the journey itself, so learn to instead embrace it and continue doing what you love while fighting the cause. “Never give up… and dance a little,” she also added. And on Gloria’s advice, hanging out with your friends and sharing experiences is our way of connecting with each other.

“Pressing send is not activism,” reminds Gloria. The problem with technology is that it allows people to connect with others but also to remain anonymous, if they so choose. And this can encourage violence against minority groups, including women. Various industries – like adland, which is under constant scrutiny for its use of the female form for commercial benefit – need to be reconstructed and updated to meet modern needs. Of course, there are some organisations in place that already do challenge the status quo but these are often female led. Men also need to be factored into this discussion and they are often absent from these conversations, as was the case with this event. But perhaps this is because the male consciousness is still in its very early stages, compared with the female movement which is currently enjoying its third wave. Campaigns like the #HeForShe attempt to initiate a discourse between the two sexes and can only be seen as a step in the right direction.

Gloria’s final words were not to leave disheartened, but to leave full of life, love and laughter – and with that, she encouraged us all to turn to our neighbours and have a real conversation (offline) because as she says, “Let’s make it better tomorrow because we were here today.”

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Orgasmic Meditation

Autumn is upon us, and with everyone withdrawing indoors to hibernate from the weather, our bodies can become tense and sex drives start to dwindle.

But fear no longer, One Taste London has introduced the latest way to attune to your own body and your partner’s: Orgasmic Meditation.

Shortened to OM so it resembles the yogi mantra and Sanskrit sound, the practice encourages greater connection, boasts a host of health benefits and promises deeper fulfilment from sex.

The practice focuses primarily on the female orgasm, with the partner lightly stroking the upper left hand quadrant of the clitoris for fifteen minutes. Marc Quinn, co-director of One Taste London says, “We call it a goal-less practise, as there’s no intention other than to feel the sensations that arise in your body during this process. This is the most sensitive part of a woman’s body with the highest concentration of nerve endings, and the strangest thing happens; you start to feel your partner – and be felt in a way like never before.”

Published in issue one of Balance Paper.

To find out more go to www.turnonbritain.co.ukIMG_0924

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Matisse’s cut-outs bring joy to London’s Tate Modern

Cutting shapes from colourful pieces of paper isn’t limited to childhood, according to French artist Henri Matisse.

His most recent exhibition, ‘The Cut-Outs’ is currently on display at The Tate Modern, London, until June 2 and boats a collection of his most prized works.

‘The Cut-Outs’ is curated chronologically, with each room mapping out Matisse’s logical process behind the artworks.

Matisse turned to the innovative technique of cutting shapes out of colourful paper in the last 17 years of his life, as a way of working out the arrangement of objects in his paintings.

The ‘cut-out’ method initially enabled him to experiment more freely with his paintings, as he would pin the cut-out paper shapes to explore new and different perspectives in his art.

This form expanded as he incorporated his fascination with dance into his work.

The paper cut-out shapes allowed Matisse to capture the energy and movement of life through their simplicity and ease of mobility around the canvas.

Matisse allowed his work to constantly evolve and retain a sense of playfulness and youthfulness.

He adopted bright colours in his cuttings as a way of attributing emotions to the shapes.

His work succeeded in portraying the emotional self in the faceless shapes, particularly through his earlier works like ‘Small dancer on red background’.

Story-Telling

Matisse’s artwork also became a vehicle for telling stories, and one of his most famous artworks ‘The Fall of Icarus’ (1943) reflects just that through recalling the mythological story of Icarus.

The Fall of Icarus (1947)

By borrowing traditional stories and readapting them, Matisse re-presented them to new audiences thereby making them modern again.

One of his most impressive works is Oceania, The Sky where Matisse transformed a wall in his Parisian apartment with paper cut-out wallpaper.

He pinned cut-out birds, fish, coral and leaves to the wall, all unevenly scattered to create a sense of the sea and the sky.

Oceania, The Sky (1946)

Matisse’s cut-outs were always irregular and seemed imperfect.

A film shown in Room 6 shares a moment with Matisse as he cuts into the paper, which as it catches in the wind, twists to reveal the three dimensional form he worked in, and exposes his imagination at work.

He relished the flaws in beauty, and his artwork focuses on the individuality in the irregular shapes.

His work explores the contrasting themes of permanence and impermanence, as his artwork – although tangible and very real – is made of easily-disposable paper and attached with pins so shapes could be moved around, rotated or inverted as he pleased. This technique enabled Matisse to continue experimenting.

His use of primary colours mirrors the simplicity of his work, as the colours evoke an infantile playfulness.

With the Oceania, The Sky piece, Matisse was able to create inspiration around himself, literally covering the cracks in the wall with his artwork and transforming his world.

His approach encouraged others to see the world around them how they wanted to see it.

Matisse’s simple and easy-to-apply method proves how easy it can be to transform the world around us.

He employs a ‘low effort’ method to obtain a maximum impact.

Matisse treated his life and surrounding wall space as a canvas for experimentation, where he could reflect his thought and emotions through colour and shapes.

Technique:

Matisse also adopted collaging as a way of layering colours and creating space.

Zulma’ is a particularly radical piece, known for its sense of depth in a cut-out composition, and earned Matisse the reputation as a youthful artist (despite being 80 when he made it).

The collage technique reveals the labour behind the artwork as pieces of paper are literally placed on top of one another to represent different layers of the self.

Later, Matisse adopted a technique he called “cutting directly into colour”, which allowed him the freedom to draw and sculpt at the same time.

The Blue Nudes’ best resemble this technique as Matisse cut into the colour to create their feminine outlines.

Blue Nude II (1952)

Once Matisse became too frail to leave the house, he brought the artwork into the house, making the studio a part of his daily life and becoming fully immersed in the artwork.

The Parakeet and the Mermaid’ became his indoor garden.

By surrounding himself with his colourfully playful artwork Matisse maintained his youthful audacity throughout his old age, which he employed when instructing studio assistants to position the cut-out shapes.

His youthfulness extended to his artwork, where he was no stranger to experimentation and sought to break the rules.

The Snail’ is a piece he describes as “abstraction rooted in reality”, where he spoke of a feeling of ‘unfolding’; a sense of the artwork overcoming him.

The Snail (1953)

In ‘The Snail’, this sense of experimentation is reflected in the supposed intentional mistake that sits in the top left hand corner of the piece, where a playfully torn piece can be seen.

The contrast between discipline and creative freedom suggests the intensity and clear thought-processes behind his work.

The final piece of the exhibition is his magnificent and visionary ‘Christmas Eve’ piece, which sees his cut-outs organised in a stained glass window.

Commissioned for the Time-Life Building, New York, the artwork truly acts as a precedent for his modern vision, all the while allowing him to remain young and experimental.

Paper-cutting became a pivotal art moment for Matisse who was surprised by the joy it brought him. In a letter to his son, he revealed “It is such a consolation to have achieved this at the end of my life.”

To buy tickets, go to the Tate’s website

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Nicaragua is not a country in Africa

“So, is that like, uh, a poor country in Africa?” Sadly enough, when it emerged that I was going to be embarking on a ten week sustainable development project in Nicaragua, this was the most common question I encountered. It’s not that I wish to mock people for their previous ignorance, and to be perfectly honest I had a blurry outline of a place located somewhere in the depths of Central America too, it is just that an overriding cliché of volunteering lingers stubbornly among our “gap-yah” generation. I am sure most people will be familiar with the concept that prior to or post university, it is common practice for young people to be shipped abroad to get stuck into charity projects, leaving only with considerably lighter wallets and a sense of self-achievement. Now, I also don’t want to judge these endeavours in a too-harsh light and I certainly don’t want to pretend that I am better than anyone. However, there is a scheme that is infinitely better and that genuinely strives to improve the lives of local communities. It might even change your life too.

I travelled to Nicaragua as part of the government ICS scheme in conjunction with the sustainable development charity Raleigh International. The aims of the programme were to bring about positive change in developing countries that need it the most whilst supporting young people in their personal development in terms of leadership and valuable life skills. The ultimate goal is to create a network of global active citizens working together across the globe. And despite the fact I have been aiming to avoid clichés so far, nothing brings people tighter together than memories and shared experience.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. I experienced this poverty firsthand, living in a small rural community with no electricity or running water. The community San Marcos 2 is nestled in the mountains of Matagalpa and is breathtakingly beautiful, not a day passed where I wasn’t astonished by the deep green landscape and rolling hills. I quickly adjusted to showering by the river with a bucket under the brooding eyes of grazing cows and the sounds of a battery powered radio blasting out Latino pop tunes all day meant there was never a silent second.

The community of San Marcos 2 is comprised of roughly 80 families with the majority supporting their livelihoods from the earth through the agricultural production of maize and beans. This meant waking up to the taps of tortilla being made in the morning, harvested from the land mere metres away from our wooden houses. Our group was comprised of 6 volunteers from Nicaragua and 9 from the United Kingdom, living together in local host families who welcomed us in with huge smiles and kept us on our toes with unnerving local ghost stories.

The focus of our project circulated around the key issue in the community, the integral problem of natural resource management, with a focus on the watershed. The main problems facing San Marcos 2 are contamination of water sources, soil erosion and deforestation. We collaborated closely with a local partner charity, ANIDES, who aim to improve the environment in rural communities. We were the second group out of six in a two-year project working in the area. Therefore, it felt like this project was a part of a bigger picture, one that will grow and expand over time and ultimately bring health and happiness to the community. In other words, it did not feel like we were simply charging in, optimism blazing, ready to single-handedly transform the community.

On a tangible level, we constructed water filters, dykes, eco-latrines, eco-ovens and Tippy-taps. These physical structures all contributed to better management of the local watershed. Water filters deal with the negative effects of contaminated water, damaged from human waste, soaps and detergents and artificial fertilisers used on crops, by filtering waste water away from the community houses. A container is placed below the kitchen’s dirty water outlet into a tube that leads to a hole filled with layers of rocks. These rocks cleanse the contaminated water which is then absorbed back in the ground and the water table. Furthermore, contaminated water thrown directly outside the house with no drainage system creates a puddle that attracts flied and mosquitoes, leading to preventable illnesses such as diarrhoea and serious infectious diseases such as malaria. Dykes are barriers of rocks that are positioned where earth is affected by heavy rain, as fertile soil is carried down the mountains and washed away into the river, damaging crops and harvests and reducing monthly income. These structures obstruct the flow of water meaning the earth retains its natural water source and ensures the productivity and preservation of the healthy soil. Eco-latrines manage human waste in an environmentally sustainable manner, providing a natural composting system that can be used on crops. Eco-ovens were built in the houses and use a slow-burning fire which uses less wood and emits less smoke, creating a more comfortable environment in the houses of the community but helps to combat the problem of deforestation. Finally, Tippy-taps are simple structures of three sticks and a container of water that can be tipped with a pedal in order to provide running water like a tap, encouraging sanitary practices of washing hands. This construction work completed by our team felt like a great achievement, ultimately empowering the community to look after their natural landscape and their individual well-being.

However, the greatest achievement of this project cannot be measured in a tangible manner. As well as the physical labour, we conducted workshops and ‘action days’ with the community that aimed to gradually shift attitudes and mindsets and create a dialogue about issues such as sustainability, health and sanitation and gender roles. This interaction with the community meant that it did not simply feel like we were rushing in, building enthusiastically and then leaving them without any idea of the benefits or how to properly use the structures. Weekly English lessons with the local children at the school meant that we had time to bond with the children, run around and play games with them whilst emphasising the importance of the environment.  Furthermore, we enjoyed many special moments with the community- such as playing football with the teenage boys, dancing around a bonfire singing Nicaraguan songs and learning to, incredibly clumsily on my behalf, salsa dance. Undoubtedly, this proved that despite any cultural differences and barriers, the ability to share a moment of collective happiness lies within us all. We became incredibly close to our host families, who treated and looked after us like their own children, cooking for us their speciality of rice and beans and tortilla at mealtimes and making sure we felt comfortable in their homes.  On a personal level, the role of Weekly Leader, in which every volunteer would manage the group and plan the activities and target for the week, helped me realise my passion for motivating and inspiring people. I have no doubt that all I have learnt from this experience will be transferred into my later life and career.

Furthermore, as a part of the programme, we were introduced to the work of La Isla Foundation. In 2008, a documentary maker Jason Glaser encountered the community of La Isla, “The Island of Widows.” He established the foundation after learning about communities of sugarcane workers in Nicaragua who were affected, and suffering with, a devastating disease.  Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), also known as chronic renal disease or chronic renal failure, is a degenerative condition marked by the gradual loss of kidney function. However, as highlighted by the foundation Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown cause (CKDu) is a different form of progressive, decreased kidney function. As stated on their website, “Whereas CKD is associated with diabetes, obesity and hypertension, patients who develop CKDu generally do not have these conditions. CKDu is associated with heavy labor in hot temperatures, particularly among industrial agricultural workers such as those working in sugarcane production. Additionally, CKDu often affects young men, many under the age of 30, while CKD is generally diagnosed in older patients. The location of damage within the kidneys also differs between CKD and CKDu.” The foundation strives to reverse the rising prevalence of the disease through widespread awareness and prevention efforts, facilitating more research into the causes of the epidemic among workers. Through the creation of a dialogue with the public about the scope of his condition, the foundation hopes to generate a strong network of support and awareness. Through the simple act of the foundation speaking to our group of ICS volunteers, the butterfly effect of spreading knowledge is able to continually expand and grow.

During a talk given to us by the incredible Nicky Hoskyns, (a brilliant man who ethically and fairly sourced sesame oil to the Body Shop from Nicaragua)  he insisted “you will never feel as confident that you have the ability to instigate change as you do right now.” And partly, this is true. During the experience, it was easy to be swept up into a positive encouraging bubble. Yet, since returning home, I have also found it incredibly simple to slip back into old routines and bad habits, of caring about sustainable development and the environment when it is convenient. However, what I have learnt from ICS is that change does not have to be massive to make an impact. I believe that in our contemporary society, when we demand so much from our consumerist lifestyles, that brand new smart phone and the expensive designer clothes, and expect things to transform instantly in the half-a-second it takes to click ‘like’, we have forgotten that things do not have to move at such a rushed and hectic pace. We cannot simply jump on a plane and hi-five all the Millennium Goals on the way down. But as active global citizens, we can make small and steady steps towards a better future. Recycling. Shopping locally. And, if you are lucky enough to be aged 18-25, shaking of the tiresome labels and putting yourself forward for ICS. Good luck, yah.

 

ICS Website: http://www.volunteerics.org/

La Isla Foundation: http://laislafoundation.org

More information on the Millennium Goals: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

On Nicky Hoskyns: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/interview/2289747/the-body-shop-gives-loreal-a-lesson-in-ethical-sourcing

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What are the Implications of Introducing Water Cannons to the Met?

Boris Johnson – a bit of a Marmite character – love him or hate him, yesterday his decisions to introduce water cannons to London’s streets were met with serious criticism, particularly as he had failed to read the report prior to the meeting at London’s City Hall.

It was the third Question Time of 2014 and Budget Day, a day when the UK government presents its intentions for budget spends to a legislature and seeks approval.

Regarding this, Mr Johnson was outnumbered when the issue of whether to fund water cannons was brought up.

He ignored the concerns of his Assembly and relied on suggestions from London’s Met Police force to instead prepare a proposal to put forward to Home Secretary, Theresa May.

Although Mr Johnson’s position as Mayor of London grants him a certain level of interference within London’s Met Police Office, in reality, he only provides them with their annual budget and list of priorities.

Therefore, he is not actually in charge of Police actions, so it would be up to the Home Secretary to decide whether it is necessary to introduce water cannons as a means of Police controlling protestors during serious bouts of public disorder.

The water cannons prove controversial as they can be dangerous if people come into direct contact with them, and they raise various human rights issues, as Labour MP Andrew Dismore suggested. The introduction could curb our freedom of expression through intimidation.

Furthermore, despite Mr Johnson’s protestations that the water cannons would be employed only in specialist circumstances, i.e. severely unmanageable situations, Mr Dismore claims: “If you’ve got [the tools], the temptation is there to use them”.

He says: “It will be an operational decision and not a political one”, so in fact if the water cannons were to be introduced, Mr Johnson would actually have very little or no authority to control their usage. In other words, it would be up to the Met to decide how and when the water cannons would be used.

Labour MP Jeanette Arnold revealed: “60% of Londoners are happy with what the Met are doing now” and that it seemed unnecessary to introduce such extreme (and expensive) methods when they were not widely believed to be useful.

She also concluded: “Water cannons are useless with fast-moving riots”.

Concerns over dealing with violent demonstrations have increased since the 2011 London riots, when the Met Police were outnumbered and struggled to control attacks throughout the city, largely because of the speed at which these protests were organised.

Furthermore, water cannons are expensive, with groups of three provisional ones costing up to £200,000 and new models estimated at around £600,000 to £1 million each. [1]

The Assembly urged the Mayor not to incur any expenditure on water cannons in 2014/2015.

However, Mr Johnson persists that he acts as a spokesman for the Police, as he has been advised by the Met Head Office to put forward the motion.

But Conservative MP Tony Arbour said: “The police were not unanimous on this matter. They did not all accept the content of the report. If there is a way in which Londoners can be guaranteed protection, then I feel we are failing that… The risks and costs in a single day of rioting are less than the cost of introducing the water cannons. Our responsibility is not vitiated.”

There was great disappointment among Assembly members as Mr Johnson remains determined to purchase water cannons to satisfy the senior Met’s demands.

However, most concerning was the fact that Mr Johnson was making such decisions without even consulting the latest report about the water cannons, assembled by London’s Police and Crime Committee and presented to him by the Assembly.

Many felt that by not reading the prepared report, Mr Johnson was failing to comply with his statutory duty, leading few to question whether he was fit to run as the Mayor of London.

Amongst the bickering and inarticulacy of MPs as they disputed the motion, it emerged that Mr Johnson’s prime concern with water cannons was the effect they would have on public property, not considering their effect on public support.

Other alternatives to control public disorder were offered in the form of SmartInk and Sound cannons (which were used effectively during London’s 2012 Olympics), yet Mr Johnson’s limited knowledge of either topic due to lack of preparation, meant the discussion was cut short.

Green MP Jenny Jones said: “The Mayor failed in his duty to consider the views of London, in favour of prioritising wholesale rates of the Met.”

She criticized him for authorising Met support, and expanded by saying: “Police do not need any extra tools for their so-called-toolboxes.”

Her comments and that of the other Assembly members encouraged Londoners to engage further in the local community and share their intelligence surrounding local crimes and violence, as this is also an alternative to the introduction of extremist methods.

There were also fears that if water cannons could be introduced into our society, what extreme measure would we turn to next?

Despite Mr Johnson’s inaccuracies and jokey behaviour, as Lib-Dem MP Caroline Pidgeon said: “Once the water canon is introduced, it cannot be reversed.”

If Mr Johnson succeeds in changing London’s method of policing, without regards to the safety and opinion of Londoners, he is at risk of losing his public support.

Throughout the discussions, Mr Johnson failed to mention the petitions currently circulating in public against the introduction of water cannons. When he presented his case in front of Theresa May, he did not mention the 50,000+ signatures collected against this motion.

Labour MP Joanna McCartney stated that these signatures will be presented to Ms May, but also said: “Knowledge on water cannons is debatable in the general public.” It is unsure whether there is enough coverage of the motion for people to truly understand what is at stake.

The worry is that Mr Johnson’s ill-informed opinion is endangering our democracy as he is not suitably fulfilling his role as elected Mayor of London, if he does not even read the report sent to him concerning the leading topic of discussion before Question Time.

Labour MP Valerie Shawcross said: “It is important to recognise the dangers of ‘yes-man’ politics, as otherwise it can lead to bad management.”

And this is a worry with Boris Johnson – a Marmite character – you want him to know the ins and outs of the motion before he changes our method of policing on the streets of London forever.

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One Billion Rising Val Day Special

Valentine’s Day is typically a celebration of love. What better way to celebrate this national holiday than to attend an event that stresses the importance of loving yourself?

London’s One Billion Rising did just that. On Friday afternoon at London’s iconic Trafalgar Square, a stage was set up ready to host an array of inspirational speakers and powerful musicians.

Lynne Franks, coordinator of the London event, introduced herself and unveiled the day’s programme, adding that the event was “owned by no one and directed by everyone”. A crowd quickly gathered around the stage, keen to participate and listen to the empowering words being spoken.

1BillionRising Logo

Following on from the introduction, Leyla Hussein took to the microphone. Ms Hussein is a psychotherapist and a self-professed survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM). She used her personal and professional experiences to talk with the crowd. She claims that 66,000 British women have undergone FGM and that over 20,000 girls are currently at risk of being sent abroad for circumcision. Ms Hussein was born into a family where FGM was important and considered culturally significant. She too underwent the surgery but instead refuses to be acknowledged as a victim. She speaks on behalf of those who cannot or will not speak out, and for those who are ashamed of what has happened to their bodies. Ms Hussein now recognises the importance of education and works on campaigns to protect the female body. Although she did not originally think of the operation as violent, as it was accepted and encouraged within the family, now she realises it was child abuse. Responding to Ms Franks’ opening question asking participants why they were here, Ms Hussein says:

“I’m rising today for my grandmother who was married off at twelve; I’m rising for my mother, for myself, for my children and for my future grandchildren.”

Whitney Iles, aged only 26, was applauded onto the stage where she introduced herself and her job with Project 507. The project aims to dispel violence amongst youngsters aged between 8-18 by creating workshops and challenging the way they relate to one another through education. From her experience, she had encountered women as second class citizens. For, even if women are not subjected to physical violence, they can fall victim to self-judgement, psychological violence and social stereotypes, which contribute to damaging self-esteem. Ms Iles admitted: “we don’t see ourselves how we deserve to be seen” and urged the audience to improve their personal outlook. She demanded the audience to chant that they would not accept mistreatment of women any longer, and shout: “I will not be anything less than Brilliant!” Ms Iles asked the audience to look past their imperfections and to love themselves…arguing: “After all it is Valentine’s Day”.

She said, “I will rise for love because when we love ourselves we love each other” and “we become an unstoppable force.”

Wannabe Girl-band SHE17 consisted of TV personality June Sarpong, Baroness Patricia Scotland and local MP Stella Creasy. As a trio, they spoke about the importance of ending violence against women in society. They claimed that cooperative responsibility can eliminate violence, particularly in domestic violence cases where victims often seek an ally to support their decision. The audience was encouraged to do the thing they were most scared of, despite the difficulties that come with questioning patriarchy. She rallied that only through determination can gender-equality become a possibility. Ms Creasy said:  “Speak out and dance, regardless of the possibility that you might sink.”

Next up, Jude Kelly walked onto the stage and introduced herself as the artistic director of Southbank’s Women Of the World Festival (WOW). Since starting 4 years ago, she has acted as a pioneer for advocating feminism, believing that the only way to succeed is through re-educating the younger generation. WOW festival is a collection of workshops and talks spanning the International Women’s Day weekend in March, where people come together and exchange ideas about what feminism means. Ms Kelly claims that no society has achieved complete equality as of yet, but this should remain a goal to strive towards. She encourages men to become feminists too, reminding the audience that this is true equality and the reason for her rising: “Lets rise as women and men, and come together as humans.”

Human Rights Journalist and BBC Special Correspondent Sue Lloyd Roberts stressed the importance of bringing media attention to gender-related issues. She believes this would increase public awareness and improve female mistreatment through education. She claims often “we women are” treated as “another minority, when actually we make up 51% of the world population.” Ms Lloyd Roberts encouraged a greater demand for female coverage in the media, saying that if there is an interest, it would be possible to “get violence against women on the top of the news agenda” and talked about more openly.

Rahela Siddiqi, a human rights activist in Afghanistan spoke about her time working with incarcerated female asylum seekers. She claims that despite their sentencing, offenders are often not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Instead, women that have faced trauma in their home countries and sought asylum abroad are met with further problems. Ms Sidiqi said that they can be offered indefinite detention, half of all victims are subjected to rape and two thirds face prosecution. Furthermore, they can be detained during any stage of their prosecution process, and are often exploited as they lack legal assistance. Female asylum seekers are rarely given time or sensitivity towards their cases. Ms Sidiqi urged the audience to rise up for female solidarity in Afghanistan.

The last speaker of the day was Marrissa, who spontaneously spoke out about domestic workers. Although she was not scheduled in the programme, she spoke about exploitative employers, who submit their workers to atrocious conditions. Her friend Lanee read out a poem which challenged the rights of undocumented workers. She attended the event to rise against ongoing slavery in the UK workforce.

Ms Franks returned to the microphone and introduced the bands Skin and Black Voices who collaborated and provided a soulful backdrop for the audience to dance to. Despite the rainy weather, there was a lot of people smiling and beginning to love themselves!

One Billion Rising Official Website

Leyla Husein advocating an end to FGM

Whitney Iles & Project 507

Jude Kelly’s Women Of the World Festival

Photos & Videos from the day

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Ana Mendieta TRACES

2013 brought about many new and exciting opportunities. For Ana Mendieta, the Cuban performance artist, the end of the year saw her first ever UK retrospective in London’s Hayward Gallery – Traces. As one of the most under-acknowledged artists of the late 20th Century, yet one who embodies femininity through her interaction with nature, her work is perhaps even more relevant to our current society than ever before. What with us entering a period of acute awareness and greater understanding of globalisation and climate change, her artwork speaks volumes in its attempt to reconnect us with nature and emphasise our co-dependent relationship with one another. In addition to her artwork, featuring photographs, films, sculptures and drawings, the exhibition also unveiled her personal writings and notebooks, providing spectators with unseen information behind her pieces.

So who is Ana Mendieta? Born in Havana, Cuba in 1948, she was sent to the US at the age of 12 before the start of the Cuban Revolution. This move led to her later feeling culturally displaced, which was said to have fuelled her inner creativity. Her time spent studying painting at the University of Iowa developed her strong sense of self, where she enacted many performance pieces that used her own body. Her creativity was often considered to be a response to tragedy, as a way of dealing with her newfound situations. However, her unique and powerful artwork is often dwarfed by her untimely and tragic death, when she fell from the 34th floor of an apartment she shared with her husband, the minimalist artist Carl Andre, aged 37. However, all this information was unbeknownst to me and was not publicised in the exhibition, so it did not affect the public’s viewing of her art.

The exhibition was structured chronologically, taking the spectator through her life’s work. Upon entering the gallery, the spectator was confronted with Mendieta’s distortion of femininity as it featured in her early work. Images such as Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints) 1972, reveal her attempt to overcome stereotypical perceptions of female vulnerability and subjectivity. Mendieta used her own body to experiment with the concept of femininity, often transforming the body beyond recognition. By changing the body physically – either by distorting it on glass or by adding accessories to disguise her femininity such as wearing a moustache – she forces the spectator to consider how we view women, and perhaps even how we view ourselves. Mendieta was also fascinated by the way in which the media represented women and how this shaped our view as a society. This interest is paralleled in her artwork as she plays with the imaginary boundaries imposed on us that ultimately affect our views of what is accepted of women.

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Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints) 1972

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Untitled Facial Hair transplant, moustache 1972

Following on from her initial exploration of femininity, Mendieta developed this notion further through her incorporation of the female form in nature. Throughout the seventies, her work drew on Afro-Cuban influences and she created a series of images of herself often lying naked submerged somewhat by nature. Her use of the elements – she used blood, feathers, fire, earth and the body as mediums – evoked pagan and ritualistic tendencies, which suggested a spiritual undertone to her artwork. By using these elements, her work reflected the cycle of life, as these mediums were tainted by time, nature and recreated the ‘life versus death’ paradigm as materials were alive and thus subject to decomposing. Mendieta hoped to reconnect with the earth through her art, and her images succeed in exploring our mythical relationship with nature. Nature is the source of all energy, life and inspiration and so, Mendieta’s artwork and creativity naturally derives from its beauty and overpowering strength. She breaches the equilibrium between nature and art, thus creating a new space in which to explore and appreciate nature, which is apparent through her interaction during her art process.

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Untitled (Grass on Woman), 1972

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Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1973

However, despite evoking a sense of spirituality through pagan and ritualistic similarities, these artworks are also overshadowed by death. As Mendieta lies motionless in her numerous fields of nature, the spectator is led to return to the eternal question – ‘Who are we?’ ‘And what remains of us after death?’ Her artworks controversially explore the notion of memory, leading us to question if anything permanent remains in death. Her body engrossed in nature looks peaceful and as though it is returning to nature’s rightful possession. These images suggest a sense of spirituality by way of questioning how best to grieve or bury the dead. By exploring different mediums, Mendieta explores new methods to remain alive even after death. One such image sees Mendieta covered in mud, blending into the surrounding nature setting. As the mud sets, it seems concrete-like and resembles a tomb, suggesting the act of burying someone. In comparison, a sculpture in the same room reveals a female outline recreated in melted black candle wax that represents the act of cremation. These artworks challenge our perceptions of death. A tomb is a fixed space that can be revisited and mourned, whereas cremation allows the person to live on solely through memory. Mendieta’s artwork throughout the seventies acts as a commentary on society and how we choose to remember the dead. Her art reflects the intangible nature of death, revealing the beauty and indestructible nature of the cycle of life. After all, perhaps it is an inherent characteristic of humankind to desire being remembered after death? Certainly, Mendieta’s artwork is the only Trace of her after her death – all that remains of her physical form.

mudTree Of Life, 1976

Mendieta’s realisation that her artwork would outlive her suggests an organic mutual relationship between mankind and nature. Like the displacement felt when she left Cuba, Mendieta is able to return to her cultural heritage and connect with her past through her art. Her decision to adopt the elements as artistic mediums, reflect her influences and reveal her ability to transform spiritual traditions and pagan rituals to create a new art form. Her artwork serves as her link to the past and to her inner, true self. Mendieta’s interest in Mexican spirituality – in particular the Maya culture – is reflected through her invocation of their Goddesses. Throughout her work, she stresses the importance of the female body, highlighting the pursuit of divinity through her interaction with nature. She believed that primitive art and cultures revealed an “inner knowledge, a closeness to natural resources”. Therefore, some of her final pieces from the eighties recall her original subversion of femininity and instead choose to focus on female strength and empowerment through symbolism. Her artwork acts as a voice for her inner divinity, becoming a mode of expression, a doorway for her to release her inner goddess. By evoking ancient civilisations, such as the Maya culture, Mendieta succeeds in restoring the original notion of divinity that surrounds the female body. She engages in a new discourse over the mythical female form and overcomes any mistreatment or abuse that she may have experienced previously in the media or in society.

The final section of the exhibition featured her most recent work and acted as an extension of her exploration of the female form. Mendieta continued her evocation of femininity and spiritual gods through focusing on natural elements and cave drawings. This section was dedicated to the impermanence of matter and the brevity of human life in comparison to the longevity of nature. Here, the artwork was presented in its simplest form; recalling history’s earliest form of art –symbols. By using this medium, Mendieta is able to incorporate her spiritual learnings to assist her in her search for self-acceptance, whilst also evoking her ancestral history. One of her most prominent works is ‘Esculturas Repuestres’ which is a series of mythical carvings on rock formations. Mendieta recalls that she “named [the symbols] after goddesses to bring them back, to reactivate them”, thus revealing her desire to understand and reconnect with spirituality and her own cultural heritage. In this way, Mendieta’s work transcends society’s expectation and acts as an exemplary model, using the elements in a non-destructive way and remaining delicate and loyal to her self and past. By including her interest of Mexican deities together with her own identity and incorporating it through her art, her work can be seen as a sacrificial device, as a gift to the gods. For her artwork channels her identity and her beliefs, it is a trace of her former self – a legacy, which is all that remains of Mendieta and all that we have to understanding her best.

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Untitled (Labyrnith of Venus Series) 1982

Hayward Gallery’s Promo Video for Mendieta’s Retrospective:

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