What Makes a Feminist Artist?

By Allyn Gaestel

Last month Paradigm Shift organized a Feminist Artist Showcase at China 1 in Alphabet City. Facing a packed house, musicians performed a diverse array of musical sets, from spoken word to folk to reggae.

The range of performances underlined the diversity of the feminist movement, and the space for self-definition and expression within the movement. I was curious to discover what brought all these people together under the umbrella of “feminist art”.

Performers appreciated the audience’s warm reception and the opportunity to perform in a feminist space. Ricky, from Twilight of the Idle said, “It is important to have a specific place for feminist artists to perform. Women and queer and trans people, which many feminists are, have to work harder to find an audience. We get taken less seriously than straight cisgendered male artists and musicians. We get heckled by audience members, and in some cases believe it or not, by the very person who booked us in the first place.”

Jennifer Ortiz, a spoken word performer and doctoral student at CUNY Graduate Center explained that it is important to support feminist artists in safe spaces, but they also need to expand their audience to spread their message. “I feel it is important for feminists to have their own performance space, however, I am afraid that if feminist works are only displayed at such events, it may in essence be ‘preaching to the choir’. Feminist works need to be showcased at other venues in order to ensure that the message reaches those individuals, particularly young woman, who are unsure or confused as to what feminism truly is.”

The question of reaching out to broader audiences and spreading the feminist message through art was a central theme repeated by many artists. Chantilly said that much of her art doesn’t take an overtly feminist tone, because that isn’t what “hits home” for her listeners. “In a way, I feel like it’s not very productive to write exclusively on feminist topics (music-wise). You can only reach a certain niche of people that way, and at that point you’re just preaching to the choir. To me, the best way to reach people is to write whatever’s in your heart, then embody your ideals in the way you live and set an example.”

Numerous artists emphasized actively living feminism through performance and beyond. Katina Douveas said, “being a feminist for me is being extremely sensitive and vigilant to all forms of oppression, and then doing something about it.”

Jennifer Ortiz explained her own self-assertion as a feminist: “I believe that being a feminist is to take pride in being a woman and about fighting against the grain of societal expectations. In society, women are too often pressured to follow societal rules which tend to be biased in favor of men; being a feminist requires living by your own set of rules that emphasizes being a woman.”

While many artists feel somewhat outside the mainstream music world with their loaded messages, Julie from Twilight of the Idle is optimistic about the feminist art movement: “it’s only a matter of time before a feminist movement becomes concurrent culture.”

And Katina Douveas emphasized the breadth of the feminist movement. “I really believe we all have a feminist inside of us, somewhere, and that deep down, we all know that honoring “differences” and speaking up for those silenced, and for our own silenced voices is really in all of our best interest.”

Feminist artists are working throughout their lives to spread their own definition of feminism. Supportive spaces play an important role for nourishing these activists as they continue to assert themselves in less receptive venues.

Twilight of the Idle is hosting a CD release party Saturday, May 15 at 8pm at Collect Pond 338 Berry St. in Williamsburg.

Contacts for the performers are listed below:

Hosted by Laura Joy, Acoustic Folk Pop & Membership Coordinator, Paradigm Shift

BASTET – “Belly Dance For Change”, Experimental belly dance troupe

BARNACLE BILL, Folk / Soul / Reggae

CHANTILLY, Singer-Songwriter
Picture Feist and Joni Mitchell jamming in a Brooklyn warehouse

JENNIFER ORTIZ, Spoken Word Poet

JULIA WELDON, Folk Indie Rock

KATINA DOUVEAS, Spoken Word Poet

MS. INDIA.M, R&B/ Soul / Jazz / Alternative

TWILIGHT OF THE IDLE, Queer Cabaret Wordrock

View event photos on facebook!

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