A friend directed me to a an article about a project developed by photo-based artist, Stacey Tyrell. Entitled “Backra Bluid,” the project is meant to explore the complexities of mixed heritage. In a series of portraits, Tyrell dons white face as a way of examining elements of her heritage that she has found it difficult to discuss outside of her immediate family. The project’s name itself – “Backra Bluid” – gestures to this mixture, drawing in the West Indian Creole word for white/master and the Scottish word for blood and kin.

In her own words:

“The characters in my images are a way of trying to subvert and maybe even co-opt the white mainstream gaze that I feel that myself and every other non-white person is constantly under,” she concluded. “Too often the term ‘black’ is used to describe millions of people worldwide without consideration that within that category there is a rich tapestry of thousands of cultures, identities and genetic makeups that are interconnected with other races. I really wish to contribute to a greater discourse that I feel needs to open up surrounding the very loaded notion of racial identity.”

These images are curious – pristine, posed, utterly unnatural… and too perfect. I don’t know what I would have thought if I’d passed one of them in an advertisement. Or even if I saw one hanging in a gallery. The effect, for me, emerges when I look at them one after another after another after another. Suddenly it’s as if the whole artifice of racial categorization opens up, blows apart, and resettles in a whole new way….

You can read more here.

When women prisoners – together with a scholar committed to educational initiatives for the incarcerated – research the history of their own maximum security prison, amazing things can happen.

Recently, a group of women currently incarcerated at the 142-year-old institution (now called the Indiana Women’s Prison) began to pore over documents from the prison’s first 10 years. They had set out on an ambitious project: to write a history of the institution’s founding decade, one that tells quite a different story from the official narrative. What happens when inmates write a history of their own prison? In this case, the perspective that the group brought to the project took what inmate Michelle Jones, writing in the American Historical Association’s magazine Perspectives on History, calls “a feel-good story” about Quaker reformers rescuing women from abuse in men’s prisons and turned it into a darker, more complicated tale.

Without access to the tools available to conventional students – internet and good libraries – these women painstakingly pieced together a complicated history, presenting findings at conferences via video conferencing technology and publishing papers. Now they’re working towards publishing a book. I’m thinking I might share this with my undergrad students in research methods this coming winter…
Want to read more? You can get the whole story here.

Today’s guest blogger, Gabriela Sánchez Díaz, is currently a Master of Gender Studies student at Memorial University. A professional percussionist and a Body Mapping instructor, she came to MUN’s Department of Gender Studies interested in the intersections between femininity, bodies, embodiment, movement, and classical music performance.

Research in Movement
by Gabriela Sánchez Díaz

Besides pursuing a Master of Gender Studies, I am also a musician. In my research I am interested in examining the relationships between feminism, classical music performance, and Body Mapping – a method that helps musicians to reduce pain and avoid injuries. I am investigating how the social construction of femininity affects the body and its movement in women who perform classical music.

Weeks ago, I found a video of Barbara Hannigan with the London Symphony Orchestra, an amazing performance of Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre.”

While watching this video, I was completely absorbed by the music — it has all the sounds that this percussionist likes — but I was also intrigued by that woman singing with such presence on stage.

Hannigan’s movements are electrifying. They display an energetic and confident character. Usually when I am analysing the movements of musicians I completely turn down the volume, so I do not get distracted by the sounds and can focus only on the body. I try to identify how much they include their bodies while performing and distinguish if there are places where the connection between the different body parts breaks, which normally produces muscular tension.

Hannigan includes all of her body in this performance: her feet, pelvis, wrists, indeed every part has an incredible connection to each other. High heels do not limit her; on the contrary, they are used to give character. There is nothing static in her body and there are no constricted movements.

The ways that a singer performs are different from how an instrumentalist performs. For example, singers do not have their hands on an instrument, so they can wave their arms and make hand gestures. They do not need to stay in one single place; they can explore the stage and some of their movements can be more extreme, like kneeling or turning around. Although this can be done also by some instrumentalists, for example the work by the University of Maryland Orchestra, I don’t think that it is frequently taught. Singers have advantages because they can express themselves more easily with their bodies, but instrumentalists too can develop a broader repertoire of body movements and benefit from this in their performances.

How is all this related with a graduate degree in gender studies?

I have been exploring if the construction of femininity affects the way that women move when they perform. Scholars such as Iris Marion Young, Elizabeth Grosz, and Simone de Beauvoir explore femininity when they talk about how women are educated differently, at a bodily level, than men. According to Young, the differences are not so much in muscular strength but in the way women use their bodies. She observes that women approach physical activities with timidity, uncertainty, and hesitancy; they lack confidence in their bodies (34). Therefore, they do not engage their whole bodies in physical tasks. In my research I have been trying to identify the relationship that my participants, women who perform classical music, have with their bodies and how their bodily movements have changed through the development of body awareness.

Hannigan’s performance of “Mysteries of the Macabre” brought light into my research because it is an antithesis of Young’s observations. While my participants and myself are on the path to developing confidence in our bodies and movements on stage, there is no hesitancy in Hannigan’s presentation; she engages her whole body in it. It is also an example of how the body can be the vehicle for creating a piece of art and not something blocking the paths of musicality with concepts of gender. She uses her body and its movements to support her interpretation and even with a short skirt and high heels, trespasses conventional ideas of feminine movements.

I understood Hannigan’s astonishing performance after reading her article “Barbara Hannigan: no jacket required…” What I watched in her interpretation of Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre” was also years of effort, challenges, and transformation. She comments about the impact that performing Alban Berg’s “Lulu” brought to her life. Her description of Lulu resonates with my perception of Hannigan’s performance of Ligeti’s piece: “Whether she wears high heels and a sexy red dress or gym clothes, she is comfortable in her own skin . . . She’s an enormously powerful woman” (Hannigan para. 2).

References:

Beauvoir, Simon de. The Second Sex. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009. Print.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies. Toward a Corporeal Feminism. USA: Indiana University Press, 1994. Print.

Hannigan, Barbara. “Barbara Hannigan: no jacket required…”. The Guardian. 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Young, Iris Marion. On Female Body Experience : “Throwing Like a Girl” and Other Essays. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print

…otherwise known as the only way that a person who doesn’t own a cell phone and runs away from cameras will ever take and publish a selfie.

The sun was bright. The snow was crunchy. The shadows were long. And my camera couldn’t resist. That’s my story, anyway.

What did I learn? Shadows are an awful lot of fun! You can play hide and seek. You can photograph “through” them. You can hide in them. You can transform yourself into the michelin man, into an inukshuk, into the tallest person on the planet. And you can point the camera in any direction and get a completely different vision of yourself. Take a look –

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I might hate taking selfies, but I can see their appeal. I’m also absolutely and utterly fascinated by the whole phenomenon of the selfie. There’s a special section on selfies coming soon in the International Journal of Communication, and in it, an essay by Beth Pentney and yours truly on breastfeeding selfies, self branding, and virtual lactivism.

The story of a friendship, profoundly shaped by and through bodies and embodied experience. Meet Dan Harvey and Drew Nelles, friends through awkward childhoods, into teenage resentments, and then, through the accident that crushed one of Harvey’s vertebrae, and beyond.

I HAVE LEARNED things from Dan: how to sit quietly beside a person who needs my presence, how to operate a lift and strap a wheelchair into a van. But I am resistant to the idea, occasionally suggested, that disabled people are here to teach us something about the value of human existence, that the rest of us should treasure what we have, for it might be taken from us tomorrow. The lives of disabled people have intrinsic importance, independent of whatever they might offer the able bodied. When accidents like Dan’s occur, our first instinct is to scour them for meaning, but there is no cosmic truth here. There is only the random lightning strike, the explosion of a dying planet—only suffering and our capacity to overcome it.

You can read the rest of this article, in The Walrus, here.

Wandering through a creative photography blog about the Japanese art of wabi sabi and came across this interesting premise for photography…. and for memorialization, as imagined by Nagano Toyokazu (scroll down the webpage to get to this):

When I started, I was taking photos with a camera in order to keep family memories, but I now take photos to create family memories. Therefore, I do not take photos of my family’s facial expressions during everyday moments, or of their natural movements. I take photos by creating fictional scenes after setting up a certain theme in advance and then thinking about what kind of pose would be interesting.“

Wow. This takes the whole notion of the crafted life in a whole new direction. When we tell our stories, are we recording memories to keep them, or are we creating new stories, inventing new selves?

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