Essay Series 2018 #03
Shá Cage (Performer and Curator) / “Womanist Performance Politics”
Photo by Uche Iroegbu
The third author of our essay series is U.S. based performer, writer and curator Shá Cage.
Womanism, which is also featured in the title of this essay, is often used in distinction to the term feminism and its association with white women. It is a reaction to the limitations of feminist movements with regard to history and experiences of black women and reframes feminism as a problem including both racial and class discrimination.
About the Essay Series:
Kyoto Experiment 2018 focuses on female artists or artists and companies that identify as female. Bringing the words “woman” or “female” to the fore in this way encourages us to realize a wide variety of perspectives that offer a cross section of contemporary society, from the unease we feel from everyday conversations and customs to broader issues of gender seen in social and historical contexts. This relay-style series of essays presents texts by specialists from different fields that problematize feminism not as an issue only for women but for society as a whole. We hope that they will provide opportunities for audiences to gain deeper insights into the festival programs. (The articles will be published approximately once every two weeks.)
Womanist Performance Politics
fe·male • ˈfēˌmāl
of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) that can be fertilized by male gametes.
“a herd of female deer”
a female person, animal, or plant.
To be Female in this era is to be magic even if the world never tells you this. It is to refute archaic definitions of femininity and what it means to be a woman and to reclaim what is innate and intrinsically ours without shame, fear, or hesitation. Ultimately, it is learning to juggle and dance to choreography that is largely male driven and ever-changing.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reflects on being a Woman:
The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. Not about the teaching material, because I was well prepared and I was teaching what I enjoyed. Instead I was worried about what to wear. I wanted to be taken seriously. I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit. The sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to appearance, we start off with men as the standard, as the norm. Many of us think that the less feminine a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously. A man going to a business meeting doesn’t wonder about being taken seriously based on what he is wearing—but a woman does. I wish I had not worn that ugly suit that day. Had I then the confidence I have now to be myself, my students would have benefited even more from my teaching. Because I would have been more comfortable and more fully and truly myself. I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be. I like politics and history and am happiest when having a good argument about ideas. I am girly. I am happily girly. I like high heels and trying on lipsticks. It’s nice to be complimented by both men and women (although I have to be honest and say that I prefer the compliments of stylish women), but I often wear clothes that men don’t like or don’t “understand.” I wear them because I like them and because I feel good in them. The “male gaze,” as a shaper of my life’s choices, is largely incidental.
The role of women in the US has changed dramatically over the past few decades. For one, more and more women have taken on new responsibilities and employment outside the home. While women made up only about one-third of the workforce in the 60’s, today they make up almost half. And they are stepping up to lead (hallelujah praises) the country; a record number of women have run for public office from 2012 to 2018 and the numbers are steadily rising. In addition to making progress on issues of economics and leadership, women have made progress on health issues, safety and conduct in the workplace, as well as their economic security.
That said, many performance and art institutions and presenters have remained static with few leadership and inclusion strategies. Great disparities exists before there is equality in representation of women artists. And while the cards are stacked against female artists, the consensus in most studies is that women artists of color fare even worse.
With all of this in mind — by placing emphasis on sharing the narratives of women artists of color, the rise of #BlackGirlMagic and related campaigns moved beyond raising awareness, to broadening understanding of the issue and even deeper to uplifting and celebrating ALL women – especially those who are traditionally marginalized and left out. Systemic racism disadvantages individuals and groups of people in our field of performance art in invisible and visible ways. My hope is for a broader conversation that speaks not only to the inequity in the art world by gender, but that female performers of color experience a double disadvantage in an already challenging field.
I have never felt more empowered to be a woman as I do now! As a curator and performer the walls to break and beat down have been, and will continue to be numerous. To embrace that which is grace and power and passion and intuition is a uniquely female inheritance and I do not take the responsibility lightly. I praise every woman who has stepped forward in the ME TOO movement. Let us all wear our proud ‘W’ badge while being ready to engage in deep conversations about its implications. Whether we are speaking about the institutions that serve us or our day to day – Gender-talk inside and outside of the arts is a deeply complex paradox and can be uncomfortable for people all over the world. It can shut people down or open them up and many can be hesitant to deal with the topic because changing what ‘is’ often takes ‘great work!’
What’s exciting about the times we are now in is that many of us are ready to do this CRITICAL WORK!!!
Recently named a 2017 ARTIST OF THE YEAR by City Pages – Shá Cage is performer, writer and creator of new work. She is the Director and Senior curator of Catalyst Arts in Minneapolis and her performance and work has taken her across the U.S, to South Africa, England, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Croatia, Mali, and Canada. She is a recipient of a Regional Emmy, Ivey Awards, a McKnight Fellowship, and a distinguished Fox/TCG Fellowship. She has been named one of the leading artists of her generation by Insight, a Changemaker by Women’s Press, and best solo performer by City Pages for her role as the pilot in Frank Theater’s Grounded. Star Tribune called her a 2014 Mover and Maker and Mpls St. Paul magazine named her and artistic partner E.G. Bailey 2015 Power Couple of the Year. Her play Khephra: A Hip Hop Holiday Story premiered to sold out audiences in 2017 and she has recently been commissioned to write a new play titled Hidden Heroes about the Black Female ‘Computers’ of Nasa.