Reimagining the Canon: Dorothy Arzner

Talented artists whose lives and works may not be as familiar and lauded as those in the canon because, well, you know…

Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979, San Francisco, USA)

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Since the early days of Hollywood, actresses have been central to the success of movies and many are still household names. Film fans and casual observers alike know the Silent and Golden Age performers Claudette Colbert, Clara Bow, Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Maureen O’Hara and Joan Crawford. All of those glittering stars appeared in movies directed by the only female director in Hollywood in the 1930s. Her name was Dorothy Arzner.

As a child, Arznar came into contact with Hollywood luminaries at her father’s restaurant in Los Angeles. A short-lived ambition to be a doctor saw her study medicine for 2 years and join the Southern California ambulance unit in World War One, but a post-war demand for film workers led her to Paramount Studios. She began work typing scripts and, after 6 months, progressed to editing, a labour-intensive job still done in those days by hand and glue. She edited 52 films for the studio but also saw renowned directors, including Cecil DeMille, at work, observing;

“If one was going to be in this movie business, one should be a director because he was the one who told everyone else what to do.”

Her break came in 1922, editing ‘Blood and Sand’ starring Rudolf Valentino, when she was given the chance to film some additional footage for the bullfighting scenes. Afterwards, she was taken under the wing of director James Cruze, as his writer and editor. An opportunity to direct for Columbia Pictures gave her a bargaining chip and she successfully made a deal to direct ‘Fashions for Women’ for Paramount in 1927. She made 3 more silent movies for the studio before sound arrived, a transition she handled successfully. On her first shoot with sound, ‘The Wild Party’, she is credited with inventing the boom mic, when her star Clara Bow was struggling with the bulky sound equipment required to be carried by the actors and Arzner solved the issue by attaching the microphone to a fishing rod and had it dangled above the performer. Arzner went on to direct 14 more movies, featuring many of the Golden Era stars, before departing Hollywood in 1943. Afterwards, she worked in theatre and for commercial interests, including directing adverts for Pepsi. She also taught classes at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television from 1961, with her students including Francis Ford Coppola. She died in 1979 aged 82.

Arzner’s movies were commercially successful but also portrayed a female perspective on the lives and roles of women that was unique in Hollywood at the time. Her early movies had the freedom to explore nonconformist and unconventional female behaviour and she worked closely with female writers, often adapting scripts to tell stories with female characters portrayed in a more sympathetic light. In the early 1930s, there was concern in the big movie studios that conservative panic over the ‘immorality’ of cinema would lead to increased government censorship. Preferring self-regulation, the studios worked with religious advisors to develop the Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code). From 1934, the themes and content of movies became strictly monitored in an attempt to promote traditional values and present strict moral standards. It is not clear if Arzner’s open lesbianism caused her any difficulties after this time, or was in any way connected to her retirement from Hollywood in 1943. However, in spite of the controls placed on creative output, her movies still managed to question the domestic role of women and their position in heterosexual relationships, as well as celebrating female friendship and sisterhood.

Almost 100 years after Arzner rolled up to the gates of Paramount to start her career, women behind the camera are still in a minority. Of the 500 top grossing movies of 2018, females made up 23% of editors, 19% of writers and only 15% of directors. And while the works of 1930s studio directors such as Cecil DeMille, Frank Capra, Howard Hawks and John Ford are still viewed, taught and discussed, the work of Hollywood’s first female and first lesbian director has a much lower-profile in the history of the medium.

June 2019

Jacqueline MacDonald

Bibliography

Women Film Pioneers Project – “Dorothy Arzner” https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-dorothy-arzner/

Senses of Cinema – “Arzner, Dorothy” http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/great-directors/arzner/

Agnès Films – “Interview with Dorothy Arzner” https://agnesfilms.com/interviews/interview-with-dorothy-arzner/

British Film Institute – “Dorothy Arzner: Queen of Hollywood” https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/dorothy-arzner-queen-hollywood

See also:

Reclaiming History: Mary Prince

Reimagining the Canon: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Reclaiming History: The Mercury 13

Reimagining the Canon: Edmonia Lewis

Reclaiming History: Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

 

 

 

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Reclaiming History: Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

Reclaiming history; inspiring historical figures whose names and deeds may not be as well-known as some of their contemporaries because, well, you know…

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia (1868-1920, Aotearoa New Zealand)

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In 1893, Aotearoa New Zealand was the first self-governing nation in the world in which women gained the right to vote. This fact is recognised on the $10 banknote, which features leading suffragist Kate Sheppard. Sheppard’s battle for the recognition of women was not the only activism in the second half of the 19th century but was part of a larger movement in the nation to address the inequalities that the colonial rule of the country had brought about. This included demands for governance by the Indigenous peoples and in 1867, 14 years after the county’s first ever elections, 4 Māori seats had been added to the 72 other seats in parliament and all Māori men aged 21 and over had become eligible to vote. Prior to this change, only land owners were allowed to vote, a system which had disadvantaged Māori who tended to have a communal system of land ownership rather than holding individual deeds. Another issue with the colonists’ world view, was that it did not recognise women’s ability to own land, further undermining Māori women, who were traditionally bequeathed land or given charge of land management within their whānau. As such, while the Māori women’s rights movement had much in common with their fellow Pākehā suffragists, such as battling alcoholism and domestic violence, they also had other priorities including the protection of their culture and recognition of their status.

Meri Te Tai was born in Hokianga, daughter of chief Re Te Tai of Te Rarawa. She married Hāmiora Mangakāhia, who was the first Premier of the Kotahitanga Paremata Māori (Māori parliament). Established in 1892, its goal was legal validation from the New Zealand parliament and a voice in the issue of land rights. Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia took an active interest in politics and, in 1893, helped set up Nga Kōmiti Wāhine, an organisation to focus on the issues faced by Māori women. In the same year, she was the first woman to address the Kotahitanga Parliament in the Hawke’s Bay, submitting a motion in which she requested not only that the parliament allow women to vote, but also accept them as members. Her stated reasons focussed on the issue of land ownership and management, and included:

“There are many women who have been widowed and own much land”,

“There are many women who are knowledgeable of the management of land where their husbands are not” and

“There are many women whose fathers are elderly, who are also knowledgeable of the management of land and own land.”

She also acknowledged that women in particular were being left behind in the concessions the national government had made towards Māori,

“There have been many male leaders who have petitioned the Queen concerning the many issues that affect us all, however, we have not yet been adequately compensated according to those petitions. Therefore I pray to this gathering that women members be appointed. Perhaps by this course of action we may be satisfied concerning the many issues affecting us and our land.”

Her final appeal was one of sisterhood, directly to Queen Victoria herself,

“Perhaps the Queen may listen to the petitions if they are presented by her Māori sisters, since she is a woman as well.”

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia died of influenza in 1920, by which time both Māori and Pākehā women in Aotearoa New Zealand had voted in every election since 1893 (including 4000 Māori women in that first year), and female candidates had stood for election for the first time in 1919. Aotearoa New Zealand has had female MPs since 1933, female Māori MPs since 1949, and 3 female Prime Ministers; all part of the legacy of determined women including Kate Sheppard and Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia.

June 2019

Jacqueline MacDonald

Bibliography

Te Ara – “Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia” https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2m30/mangakahia-meri-te-tai

Te Ara – “Māori Women” https://teara.govt.nz/en/te-mana-o-te-wahine-maori-women/page-5

NZ History – “Meri Mangakāhia” https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/so-that-women-can-get-the-vote

Auckland Museum – “Meri’s parliamentary chest” https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/stories/history/meris-parliamentary-chest-and-mary-anns-chair

See also:

Reclaiming History: Mary Prince

Reimagining the Canon: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Reclaiming History: The Mercury 13

Reimagining the Canon: Edmonia Lewis

Reimagining the Canon: Dorothy Arzner

Compassion & Commitment to Change: The Value of a Life (Part 2)

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The June 2016 post, “The Value of a Life”, was an examination of expressions of sympathy and outrage following events resulting in the loss of life, contrasted with actions taken by individuals, companies and governments who prioritise their own gains over the lives of others. Examples of deadly disregard for life in that piece included international support for the devastating war in Yemen, the concealment of scientific evidence of harm by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, and the lack of action to prevent the deaths of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean. Countless more examples of callous policy and behaviour have occurred since the original piece: government policies resulting in deaths and suicide attempts at Australian-run offshore immigration centres and the separation of migrant children from their families detained at the southern US border; the total disregard for the residents of low-lying and vulnerable nations in the face of the climate emergency, with nations and industries unwilling to change their practices or endanger their own profits; weapon manufacturers lobbying against any form of gun regulation against a backdrop of frequent mass shootings and terror attacks.

Following high-profile cases of tragic loss of life, there are public outpourings of grief and calls for change, expressions of sympathy flood social media, flowers and money are donated, candle-lit vigils are held and politicians promise to take action. However, in today’s constantly moving news cycle, the initial shock and outrage quickly blunt as time passes and other issues come to the fore. While ‘thoughts and prayers’ may be plentiful, without constant public pressure the political will to deal with the underlying problems is limited and real efforts to bring about positive change have been lacking.

A white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, Aoteroa-New Zealand this March, killing 51 people. The immediate aftermath saw a huge outpouring of public grief and solidarity with the country’s Muslim population, including donations to victim-support funds and multi-denominational vigils held around the country. Images of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern comforting the families of victims flashed around the world. The Prime Minister’s message to the Muslim community, “You are us”, became a rallying cry and many other New Zealanders took comfort in the assertion that, “This is not us”, firm in the conviction that the country is a welcoming beacon of equality. This raised questions about this utopian vision of the nation, with a conversation being initiated, asking for a deeper examination of the country’s colonial past and treatment of the Maori people and current outcomes for the indigenous community, as well as its history of racist attacks against Pacific Island, Asian and Muslim citizens and residents. There were also  calls for the government to review its immigration policy , to end discrimination against those from African and Middle Eastern nations in the quota system. Meanwhile, rugby, for many the heart of New Zealand’s cultural life, also came under scrutiny. The Christchurch-based team in the Super Rugby competition, established in 1996, is called the Crusaders and boasts a logo with a sword-wielding knight and precedes home matches with horse-riding armed knights galloping around the stadium. The name and imagery had been questioned by some in the past but, in the light of a terrorist attack specifically targeting Muslims, the view that the branding was not appropriate gained some momentum. While the club were reluctant to make any immediate changes, they agreed to conduct a full review, including gathering public feedback. Their club statement read; What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch on Friday; our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit. In our view, this is a conversation that we should have and we are taking on board all the feedback that we are receiving, however, we also believe that the time for that is not right now.”

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Six months after the attack and the issues of racism, discrimination and the country’s immigration policies have already slipped down the news and out of many’s view. For a while, a spotlight was placed on white supremacy in the country, with charges brought against those who shared the Christchurch attacker’s video and screed, and other racist messages, and the government initiated a gun buy-back scheme to remove semi-automatic firearms from the streets. However, already the political consensus on further gun control is breaking down and many of the questions surrounding systemic racial inequality, discriminatory immigration quotas and the reporting of hate crimes remain unaddressed. Over at the rugby stadium, small changes were promised for the logo, removing the sword by 2020, but the horses returned to the ground after a few weeks (without weapons). Submissions from the public were collected, including many from fans citing the ‘long history’ of the club and a resistance to caving in to politically-correct do-gooders, and in June, the club announced that there would be no name change until at least 2021, if at all. NZ Rugby Chairman Brent Impey explained that, The reality is that Adidas have got to make jerseys, there’s merchandising and that sort of stuff,” As well as this blatantly financial motivation, Leanne Ross, from the University of Otago’s department of marketing, explained another factor that may have contributed to the decision: “[fans] have extremely sentimental connections to the identity of a team. They feel that identity as themselves, as part of a community and a group.”   So it seems that, in spite of the sentiment that “You are us”, expressing solidarity and inclusiveness between communities, individuals’ own sense of identity and belonging can make it difficult for some to bridge divides. Many white New Zealanders’ national identity is built upon their perception of the country as a fully-integrated, totally accepting nation, and any suggestion that there are deep-seated issues of racial discrimination and violence is just too uncomfortable for some to contemplate. There is no doubt that people were genuinely upset by the horrendous events in Christchurch and really do want a better, safer place for everyone, but when it really comes down to it, many are not actually willing to make any alterations or take any action they see as impacting on their own lives and identities in order to relieve the pain of others.

While it’s easy to express condolences and sympathy following tragic events, how ready are we to actually make changes to our lifestyles in order to help others? Are we willing to really have those difficult conversations about our own positions of privilege and the racism and discrimination in society that we may prefer to discount? How much do organisations and governments rely on the fact that we will forget our outrage and demands for change in a packed news cycle; that we will reach saturation point and lose compassion for others? Do we just accept that those in positions of privilege and power are able to avoid addressing the problems that disadvantage others in order to continue benefiting themselves? The difficulty is sustaining that feeling of injustice we experience on hearing about the loss of life, maintaining that commitment to change, progressing the conversations about injustice and inequity, and keeping pressure on organisations and governments to make the structural changes required; to not forget and move on to the next grim news, while allowing callous disregard for life to continue.

4th September 2019, Jacqueline MacDonald

Reimagining the Canon: Edmonia Lewis

Talented artists whose lives and works may not be as familiar and lauded as those in the canon because, well, you know…

Edmonia Lewis (c.1844-1907)

An artist’s studio in 19th century Rome. High-profile visitors admiring the artist at work. Pieces of high quality Italian marble chiselled down to reveal figures from history, literature, biblical stories and myths; sculptures that sell for thousands of dollars. This picture is not difficult to imagine, but focus now on the artist themself; a 25-year-old woman of colour. Her name was Edmonia Lewis.

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Edmonia Lewis’ biography has been muddied by her own propensity to tell a range of wild, conflicting stories about her own background and by allegations made against her that may have been accurate or driven by racial discrimination. She is thought to have been born in 1844 in New York state. Her father was Afro-Haitian and her mother was Chippewa, from the Mississauga Ojibwe First Nation in Ontario, Canada. She was orphaned at a young age and tells of living life in the wild, but also of producing Ojibwe crafts with her aunts and selling them to tourists at Niagara. What is known, is that her elder half-brother helped provide for her and she was educated at abolitionist schools and Oberlin College in Ohio. At Oberlin she was accused of poisoning two of her classmates and was lucky to survive a vigilante beating she was given.

In 1864, she moved to Boston and was introduced to established sculptors there. She was taken on by Edward Augustus Bracket, a specialist in marble busts, and she developed her skills under his tutelage. Her subjects included Civil War and abolitionist heroes, such as the renowned commander of the African American Civil War regiment, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. By selling reproductions of her works, including that of Shaw, she was able to raise money to travel to Europe. She visited London and Paris but finally settled in Rome. In 1878 she explained,

I was practically driven to Rome, in order to obtain the opportunities for art culture, and to find a social atmosphere where I was not constantly reminded of my color. The land of liberty had no room for a colored sculptor.”

She spent most of the rest of her life in Europe, dying in London in 1907.

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In her lifetime, Lewis’ work was recognised, both in Europe and the US. She represented African and Indigenous figures in the neoclassical style, and her sculptures were exhibited in Chicago in 1870, Rome in 1871 and the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Visitors to her studio included Frederick Douglass and former President Ulysses S. Grant, who commissioned a portrait from her in 1877.

June 2019, Jacqueline MacDonald

Bibliography

New York Times – “Overlooked No More: Edmonia Lewis, Sculptor of Worldwide Acclaim” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/25/obituaries/overlooked-edmonia-lewis-sculptor.html

Smithsonian American Art Museum – “Edmonia Lewis” https://americanart.si.edu/artist/edmonia-lewis-2914

See also:

Reclaiming History: Mary Prince

Reimagining the Canon: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Reclaiming History: The Mercury 13

Reclaiming History: Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

Reimagining the Canon: Dorothy Arzner

 

 

 

 

Reclaiming History: The Mercury 13

Reclaiming history; inspiring historical figures whose names and deeds may not be as well-known as some of their contemporaries because, well, you know…

The Mercury 13 (1960-1962, USA)

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They were charter pilots, commercial pilots, flight instructors, licensed helicopter pilots, air school owners, speed record holders, aerial acrobats, the first female air safety investigator and FAA inspector, the second female pilot to exceed Mach 1, World War 2 fliers with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilot service delivering warplanes to airbases. They had thousands of air hours between them. Thirteen women with notable achievements, but the one dream they shared, to be an astronaut, was to prove out of their grasp.

In 1958, NASA established the Mercury programme to find astronauts to beat the Russians in the race to space. NASA considered inviting people with experience of extreme conditions, such as submarines, Polar expeditions, deep diving and high altitude climbing. However, President Eisenhower favoured recruiting jet test pilots from the airforce and this became one of the selection requirements for entry to the programme, together with an engineering or science degree and a height of less than 5 foot 11 inches. A rigorous series of physical, psychological and aeromedical tests was developed by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace II to determine those candidates most capable of dealing with the stresses of space travel on the body and mind. The seven men who passed the tests and entered astronaut training were dubbed The Mercury 7.

Dr. Lovelace believed that women had a place in space too and was curious how they would perform in the tests. His good friend was Jacqueline Cochran, an aviation pioneer who held the speed record and had headed the Women’s Air Services in World War 2. Together with her husband, they funded Lovelace’s testing programme and recruited 25 women they knew from the flying community. The women underwent the same physical and psychological tests used on the Mercury men and 13 of them passed. The final phase of testing, the aeromedical tests in which the women would experience jet flight and the centrifuge, were scheduled for September 1961. However, these were cancelled at the last minute as the navy had not received an official request from NASA to use their facilities, so Lovelace and the women were unable to complete their testing.

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The women returned to other aviation jobs but were not willing to let the matter rest. In July 1962, two of the 13, Jerrie Cobb and Janey Briggs Hart, testified at a House Committee Hearing on Sex Discrimination, challenging the “boys network” at NASA. Hart stated that,“it’s inconceivable to me that the world of outer space should be restricted to men only, like some sort of stag club.”

In response, it was argued that the inclusion of women would slow the programme due to their lack of jet training (which was unavailiable to women) and that speed was vital in the race against the Russians following Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon. Five months after his own historic Earth orbit, John Glenn, whose own failure to meet NASA’s eligibility requirements due to the lack of a degree had been ignored, testified against women being admitted into the astronaut programme;

“It’s just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact the women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.”

Ultimately, NASA’s entry requirements stood and President Johnson closed all avenues for the women to further argue their case. The Mercury 13 finally had to concede, “I guess we did it well and they didn’t like that.”

The year following the Congressional hearing, in June 1963, the Mercury women watched as Russian Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, orbiting the Earth 48 times. In the US, it wasn’t until the 1970s that airforce training was finally opened to women, and in 1978 Eileen Collins began pilot training. She loved flying but, like the Mercury 13, her dream was to be an astronaut, and now finally US women could meet NASA’s requirements. In 1995, 32 years after the Mercury testing and Tereshkova had shown that women were as capable as men of going to space, Collins piloted the space shuttle Discovery on a mission to the Russian space station Mir. She invited the Mercury 13 to the launch and credited them with being an inspiration. The women had front-row seats to proudly watch a woman achieve something they could only dream of. It must have been bitter-sweet, but Sarah Ratley explained, “We felt redeemed. Our mission was not in vain.”

The Mercury Thirteen were: Janey Briggs Hart, Myrtle Cagle, Jerrie Cobb, Janet Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Wally Funk, Sarah Gorelick Ratley, Jean Hixson, Irene Leverton, Jerry Sloan Truhill, Berenice Steadman, Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen and Rhea Woltman,

June 2019, Jacqueline MacDonald

Bibliography

“Mercury 13” – Netflix documentary (2018)

“The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight” by Martha Ackmann (2004, Random House)

The Verge “We fact-checked Mercury 13, Netflix’s doc about NASA’s first women astronaut trainees” https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/29/17393698/netflix-documentary-mercury-13-women-space-astronauts-margaret-weitekamp-interview

See also:

Reclaiming History: Mary Prince

Reimagining the Canon: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Reimagining the Canon: Edmonia Lewis

Reclaiming History: Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

Reimagining the Canon: Dorothy Arzner

Sporting Pride: Not for Everyone

The feet planted firmly on the ground, head held high in confidence, the outstretched arms welcoming the adoration of the crowd; it’s the unadulterated, unapologetic pride and joy that makes the image iconic. A lilac-haired, lesbian sportswoman in complete comfort with who she is and unashamed of the unparalleled skill and ability she possesses. Prior to this moment, Megan Rapinoe was already renowned for her confident and eloquent representation of women in sport and the participation of the LBGTQI community. While the women’s US team blazed their way through the football World Cup, they were also progressing their legal challenge against their association for pay equity with the far less successful men’s team. Rapinoe had also been active in her wider advocacy for equal rights, for women and LGBTQI, as well as helping to raise awareness of racial inequality in the US, joining Colin Kaepernick in kneeling for the national anthem. But it was the viral sharing of an earlier video in which she asserted that she wouldn’t “be going to the fucking White House” if the team won this year’s World Cup that thrust her onto the radar of a wider sector of society, including the White House’s resident himself. Trump grumpily Tweeted at her, while, undistracted and unrepentant, she went out and scored two goals to take her team into the World Cup semi-final, giving the world her epochal celebration and ultimately helping to bring the trophy back to US soil. While the team’s achievements were widely celebrated, some social commentators, particularly those in the Trump orbit, branded Rapinoe as “arrogant” and admonished her, suggesting she stick to sport and to stay out of politics. And of course, as she predicted, she didn’t go to the White House; Trump never extended the invitation he had said he would.

For many years now, professional sports have presented opportunities for people to reach social and economic positions that would generally be unavailable to them in other fields. Sports owners and managers have been happy to fill their teams with people of colour and other minorities, and to reap the rewards they bring. Generally, this all ticks along unquestioned until occasionally someone pokes their head above the parapet, attracting the ire of pundits, commentators and even politicians. Colin Kaepernick’s protests highlighting police brutality towards black civilians led to him not being selected for the NFL and saw him branded ‘unpatriotic’. Trump stirred up division, stating that, “if a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect … our Great American Flag (or Country)”, and asking his baying crowds, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!” This is a common racist trope; expecting black people to remain quiet and uncritical while showing gratitude for the opportunities they have been given. Many sports fans are comfortable watching people of colour or women put their bodies on the line for the success of the team, but less so in listening to what they may have to say about their own life experiences. There is a fear of the expression of emotions, particularly if it is dissent or anger. People were happy for Serena Williams to blast her way through tournament after tournament, but were less supportive when she started to question female players’ pay, and especially when she challenged an umpire’s decision during a match and displayed anger.

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In Australia, the case of Aboriginal Australian Football player Adam Goodes has returned to the public eye, with the broadcasting of a new documentary, “The Final Quarter”. The film details the final 3 years of his AFL career, and the racist commentary and booing that eventually contributed to his decision to retire from the game. Goodes was an award-winning player whose career had spanned over 10 years, and was also active in his advocacy for Indigenous People’s rights and youth development. During a match in 2013, he called out a spectator on the sidelines for calling him an “ape”, and the 13-year old girl was swiftly removed from the stadium. In spite of Goodes public statements about the girl that, “It’s not her fault, please don’t go after her”, several high-profile columnists and commentators condemned Goodes’ actions. Their message was amplified by right wing media outlets and social media, and stadium crowds began booing Goodes. In 2014, Goodes was presented with the Australian of the Year award but the same media figures continued to vilify him. During Indigenous Week in the 2015 AFL, in which Aboriginal culture was celebrated and Goodes’ team wore shirts designed by his mother, Goodes celebrated a goal with a war dance. The celebration had been created by The Flying Boomerangs, a youth football development programme for Indigenous teenagers, to celebrate Aboriginal culture. They had shown it to Goodes in 2011 and he performed it in recognition of them. As any sports fan would know, teams from across the Pacific celebrate sporting achievements and recognise their Indigenous cultures in a similar way, most famously with New Zealand teams performing the Maori Haka, but this doesn’t happen with Australian teams. So the same critics used this as another opportunity to whip up ire against Goodes, accusing him of being confrontational and threatening towards opposition fans. Their comments demonstrated that, while a superficial recognition of Aboriginal culture in sporting events was acceptable to them, a vibrant expression of cultural pride and calls for genuine recognition was a step too far and needed to be smothered. Afterwards, the continual booing of Goodes intensified and he eventually took indefinite leave from his team. In spite of a campaign of support, organised by his fans, he retired from the sport at the end of the 2015 season, effectively driven out by the ceaseless harassment.

This use of harassment to make environments prohibitively unpleasant for certain members of society is not confined to sport and the sporting media. Online, Gamergate and the Ghostbusters backlash exposed the ability of a handful of men to stir up discontent and encourage co-ordinated attacks on female actors and gamers in order to try and drive them out of realms which the men feel belong exclusively to them. Often, when sporting or entertainment figures express opinions on social or political issues, they are harangued and told to ‘stay in their lane’, very often by Twitter users with no observable specialist knowledge or expertise themselves. So while black, Indigenous, female and lesbian sports players are tolerated so long as they focus on the sport, any hint of attaining a position of social influence or unapologetic displays of pride are slapped down. But they are essential in highlighting the inequities of society to a wider audience, and until there is a diversity of representation in commentary, punditry and reporting, and in the media which disseminates them, we will continue to turn to the proud and powerful voices of the Rapinoes, Kaepernicks, Williams and Goodes, who are willing to face the slings and arrows in order to represent us all.

25th July 2019

Jacqueline MacDonald

Reimagining the Canon: Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Talented artists whose lives and works may not be as familiar and lauded as those in the canon because, well, you know…

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (c.1910-1996, Alhalkere, NT, Australia)

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Alhalkere (also known as Utopia), located more than 200km north-east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territories of Australia, is home to an Aboriginal community. In 1977, women in the community attended an adult education workshop on the technique of batik, producing art using silks, dyes and wax. One of the attendees was 67-year-old Emily Kame Kngwarreye and she soon helped set up the Utopia Women’s Batik Group. Kngwarreye was an elder of the Anmatyerre people, whose ancestral lands made up Alhalkere. In the 1920s, when lands were annexed for pastoral leases by the colonists, she had been forced to work for the Europeans, looking after domestic animals on a cattle station, leading a camel train and even working in a mine. However, she was also active in the indigenous land rights movement and, in 1979, after the Aboriginal Land Rights Commission brought about the Northern Territory Act, the 2000 square kilometre Utopia cattle station was returned to her people. As an elder, Kngwarreye was a custodian of the women’s Dreaming sites of her people and she performed roles in many of the traditional ceremonies. The Dreaming explains the creation of land formations, the earth, animals, people and plants, with customs, knowledge and codes of conduct passed on in songs, dances, designs and rituals. Kngwarreye’s role included the painting of bodies for rituals, with designs reflecting the natural world around them, and it was many of these themes that she carried into her batik work.

In the 1980s, she had the opportunity to learn how to use acrylics on canvas and thereafter she worked prolifically. In the eight years prior to her death in 1996, aged 86, she produced around 3000 works. Her abstract pieces reflect her homeland, inspired by the physical features, weather, animals, grasses, seeds and tracks of Alhalkere. After her work was displayed in an exhibition in Sydney in 1989, she gained attention and a growing demand from collectors. Various art critics compared her work to that of Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Today, her name may not be as familiar as those, but her paintings can still be found in galleries across Australia, as well as in New Zealand, the US, the Netherlands and Italy. In 1997, her work was posthumously exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

June 2019

Jacqueline MacDonald

Bibliography

University of Canberra – “Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Untitled, Awelye” https://www.canberra.edu.au/about-uc/art-collection/the-art-collection/emily-kame-kngwarreye,-untitled,-awelye

National Gallery of Australia – “Emily Kam Kngwarray, Alhalkere, Paintings from Utopia” https://nga.gov.au/exhibitions/kngwarray/teachers.cfm

National Museum of Australia – “Emily Kame Kngwarreye” https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/utopia_the_genius_of_emily_kame_kngwarreye/emily_kame_kngwarreye

See also:

Reclaiming History: Mary Prince

Reclaiming History: The Mercury 13

Reimagining the Canon: Edmonia Lewis

Reclaiming History: Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia

Reimagining the Canon: Dorothy Arzner