Photo | Maiesha Zarin
Coordinator Ilene Sova on the Toronto feminist art culture and The Women’s Kit Regeneration
The Feminist Art Conference (FAC) is a Toronto-based “yearly multidisciplinary art conference that inspires sharing, networking & collaborating.” They organize year-round events that highlight the work of women, two-spirited, and trans people, with a focus on intersectionality and highlighting marginalized experience.
A current project of the FAC is The Women’s Kit Regeneration, a digitization project of a historic resource on the “socialization of femininity.” An exhibition of the project opened at OCADU on October 5th. The Strand spoke to Ilene Sova, Coordinator of the FAC, about their history, philosophy, and active exhibit.
The Strand: How was the FAC founded? How did that initial idea go from being theoretical to a real conference?
Ilene Sova: I was planning my painting exhibition, the Missing Women Project. During the exhibition, I wanted to facilitate conversations around the power of art to open up issues of gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, and social hierarchies. I proposed the idea for a feminist art conference to take place at the same time as the exhibition. The planning for the conference began in the tradition of all feminist organizing, at the kitchen table.
I put out a call for volunteers and artwork. The response was incredible. People were tired of the feelings of isolation the internet engenders. FAC volunteers wanted to help build something that would build a community around feminist art. Since 2013, we’ve organized four conferences, and we’ve run three international artist residencies on Toronto Island at Artscape Gibraltar Point.
I noticed a big intersectional feminism focus on your website. What are strategies you, as an organization, employ to make sure you recognize the struggles of women who experience racism, transphobia, homophobia, etc?
We always start with the questions: Who’s in the room? Whose voice is missing?
We have a multitude of voices in the room when we make planning decisions. When we fall short, we look to our broader network and actively cultivate relationships with communities that reflect intersectionality.
We put out open calls for work, and when we notice gaps in the pieces submitted, we invite folks from our extended networks to submit. The theme for each conference emerges from the artists’ work, and we operate within a bottom-up organizing framework. We consult with artists and community members on their wants, needs and expectations of the conference, exhibition, and residency.
We are sensitive to current nomenclature, and we consult with various artists and activists concerning the language we use in our communications. We pay close attention to issues affecting members of marginalized and oppressed groups. We take in critiques, process, and learn from them.
Many of your projects are done through community partnerships. In what ways are these connections integral to fostering social engagement, and continuing to strive for intersectionality in your feminist discourses?
Organizing across communities is key to social and political change. The greater reach we have as artists and activists, the better it is for our social justice movements. Our community partnerships are the greatest resistance to divide-and-conquer political strategies meant to keep us angry, scared, suspicious and isolated. As we continue to work with various groups within our growing community, we’re expanding our dialogue and vocabulary as well as our capacity to understand issues that many different groups face across the city in their struggle for justice and equality.
Where did the plan to regenerate the original Women’s Kit resource come from?
We saw The Women’s Kit during a community partnership meeting with the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Upon our initial viewing, we got the sense that this box is lost to history. It is such a great resource, and we wanted to make it accessible for everyone. There is a current drive within the movement to document our ongoing work as can be seen, for example, from the success of Wikiproject Women, a massive data upload initiative. We have the tools to do this important work thanks to digital technology, and documentation is much more democratic as a result. We were able to build the website thanks to a generous, anonymous donation.
This project is part of a move towards preserving key parts of our feminist histories in Toronto. FAC committee members are also the Toronto coordinators of The Feminist Art Project, an initiative out of Rutgers University. The key goals of this research project are to celebrate the aesthetic, intellectual, and political impact of women in the visual arts, art history, and art practice, past and present, and to include feminist artists previously lost to erasure in the cultural record.
Can you speak to the significance of the Women’s Kit Regeneration project within Toronto feminist culture and history?
Arts education is a new initiative for FAC as an organization. We wanted to connect with younger feminists, to facilitate conversations and mentor them through the process of art creation and exhibition. The Women’s Kit was an educational initiative, which aimed to reach the emerging generation of feminists, and we strive to do the same thing. We feel it’s important to acknowledge feminist histories as a continuum and we’re building relationships across generational divides.
We’re also very interested in closing the generation gap and gaps in recorded history. The Women’s Kit is a historical document, and as such, it reflects its social and political biases. For us, it’s important to acknowledge those biases to identify what needs to change for us to move forward.
Do you have any suggestions for young people looking to get involved in Toronto’s feminist art community?
Get in touch! We get by with a little help from our friends, and we’re always looking for new volunteers and committee members. Those interested can email us at email@example.com.