Intersectional feminism at Glasgow Arts Fest

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Credit: Kirsten Colligan

Rosie Beattie
Film and TV Columnist

Glasgow Feminist Arts Festival showcased a variety of films, music, workshops and discussions that focused on feminist art made by women

Art students’ beloved Centre for Contemporary Arts has finally reopened, just in time for the first running of the Glasgow Feminist Arts Festival which ran 16 to 18 of November. The festival showcased a variety of films, music, workshops and discussions that focused on feminist art made by women. I went along on the Saturday evening ready for some good old feminist discussions springing from the screenings of Cheryl Dunye’s 2010 film The Owls followed by the UK premiere of the short film The Legend of Ruby Pasha by Sabah Haider and the Gala feature, My Favourite Fabric, by Gaya Jiji. Other events from the weekend included “So it’s Better to Speak” on the Friday, an evening of mixed performances exploring women’s multiple identities, “A Letter to Nan”, a women’s writing workshop, and a screening of Wanuri Kahiu’s recently premiered film Rafiki.

Perhaps I was expecting something more akin to the light attempt at gender inclusion currently underway in classes. Or the chats I have with friends in bars about the #MeToo movement and how ripped Viola Davis is in her latest feature, Widows. I was faced, however, with something much greater; a fierce wave of the reality of the absence of celebration and discussion there is around women’s work, and the difficulties women (particularly queer and non-white) still face in the arts. For being held over one short weekend, the festival packed in enough to keep you thinking for a lifetime.

The festival partnered with other film festivals based in Glasgow including SQIFF (the Scottish Queer International Film Festival), Africa in Motion and newcomer Femspectives. The collaboration is encouraging, showing that these festival groups are willing to work together and promote each other rather than compete over ticket sales. In fact, it was the collaboration with other festivals that made GFAF so successful as a feminist program. The intersectional approach was refreshing and something that is missing from the current press coverage on issues of women in the media.

Helen Wright, the coordinator and programmer of SQIFF, gave an insightful introduction to The Owls, celebrating Dunye’s work which unapologetically explores lesbianism and race. In a discussion with Sabah Haider, the director of the wonderfully poignant The Legend of Ruby Pasha, issues faced by female filmmakers in the East were brought to light. Her short film, set in Pakistan following the social reaction to Ruby Pasha, who escapes an unwanted engagement is a transnational collaboration. Reflecting on her own experiences in filmmaking, Haider highlighted the difficulties women in the East face with funding art projects and films. Often when funded by western production companies, filmmakers are made to cater to western audiences rather than stick to their own artistic and cultural visions.

Talking to Becca Harrison, one of Glasgow University’s own Film and TV lecturers who founded GFAF, the intentions and aims of the festival are quite clear. In her own words, she explains why she founded GFAF and what she hopes to achieve:

“I founded the festival in December 2017 in response to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement going viral. There were so many stories that emerged (and continue to emerge) about women and other minority groups being harassed and subject to sexual violence in the creative industries that it felt necessary to create a space where we can share the amazing creativity and success of women, trans and non-binary artists. I wanted to create a feminist festival that makes all the great work visible that’s so often ignored by patriarchal critics and programmers.

“I’m hoping that we can achieve something collaborative and positive by including work made with, or representing, a feminist ethos. Hopefully it’s an event that will celebrate a variety of different arts and a multitude of identities. Longer-term, I’m hoping that we can take on a paid mentee who can learn about festival organising, and maybe even one day commission new work. For now, though we’ll be focusing on creating a community of feminist artists that shares resources, strategies for overcoming oppression in the arts, and all the exciting projects that people are involved in.”

Despite what you might think with the festival tackling such important and often heavy issues, the atmosphere was light-hearted. There was absolutely no air of pretension or exclusivity. As Becca highlighted in one of her screening introductions, the festival is a feminist one, not a women’s one and this proved successful judging by the reasonable number of men that also attended events on the Saturday evening. What GFAF proves is that we can push beyond #MeToo by creating a platform for arts that are often overlooked. The result was an empowering experience, one which shook up everyday feminism.