Archives for posts with tag: Gender

From Mini-Symposium #2, Leeds 8.10.14 at Yorkshire Dance

Brief notes taken during Dani’s presentation:

  • Knowledge as understood through doing.
  • Skateboarding – asking why is this ‘not meant for me’?
  • Skateboarding as play
  • Playfulness in urban space
  • Connection of gender and built environment
  • Work = performative and productive
  • Alternative representations of ‘woman’
  • Association of play with childhood – as adults we still play
  • Play that doesn’t look skilled – not spectacle / not to be consumed
  • Asking how do I present myself as gendered?
  • Use of grey dress – ‘ghosting’ of an archetype
  • Replicating the turning of the wheel
  • How strictly controlled public spaces are – how easy it is to be radical there

Written by Dani Abulhawa

I’ve been thinking about these terms a lot recently. They relate to my research on gendered play in the public built environment. For the past six years I’ve been engaged in a practice-as-research project that involves me going into town and making playful use of street objects, paving, railings and other things. I have performed this work in places where there are no people around and where there are lots of people. I have performed in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Chester, Rugby, London, Bristol and Sheffield.

For this practice I wear a dress, which has developed over time, but is best described as something in a style that is reminiscent of fictional girl/woman characters. It is a sort of fairytale dress with puff sleeves and a full skirt. The fabric of this costume is grey cotton, referencing the generic outfit of city workers, and having connotations with uniformity, blending in, and the seriousness of a work environment.

I play ‘like a child’, but I avoid this identification because the activity is really a reclaiming of the act of play for an adult, and a woman. We human beings are players. Simple, improvised, spontaneous play is not merely something that children should do.

For me, the city is a social forum, a place that has been built by people and in which people’s lives play out. Practices of this urban place are like flows of social information; what people wear, how they move, and how they behave speaks to you. It is a flow of telling what is expected, what you can do and what you can’t. And the flow of information coming from the city is increasingly commercial. Our movements in the city are focused around the smooth transacting of money or the productive movement of workers to and from places of work.

My performances are an interruption. They aim to disrupt the flow of dominant social information. I am an interruption as a woman who plays, and I am being unproductive and non-commercial in this space. I don’t invite participation, but sometimes people join in with me, talk to me, and shout things at me. They interrupt or modify my flow in their own ways.

I always liked the idea of interruption because it doesn’t imply any kind of fixing of a problem (like intervention does) and the necessary privilege and authority that goes along with that. It simply points to another possibility or perspective, representing a different voice in the milieu of social soliloquies.

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Image credit: Dani Abulhawa





Continued from Post #1 (written by Dani Abulhawa)

Images of women’s breasts, presented in a sexualised context within mainstream newspapers and advertisements have, for decades presented women primarily as objects of masculine desire. The No More Page Three organization, whose campaign began in 2012 and is aimed at the biggest selling newspaper in the UK – The Sun’s – ‘Page 3’ feature, want to see an end to the outdated and irresponsible representation of women as passive sex objects.

Criticism of the No More Page Three campaign typically focuses on freedom of choice for consumers, and the freedom for women to display their bodies as they wish. But, that argument exists against a cultural backdrop in which women have reported in news articles and on social media sites that they have either been discouraged, prohibited or simply felt too uncomfortable breastfeeding in public because of the way it is perceived. As a response to this, the 2010 Equality Act specifically clarifies women’s lawful rights with regards to where and how they are entitled to breastfeed in public places. Freedom of bodily comportment then, isn’t always reasonably extended to women, unless it is within a sexual context.


No More Page Three’s Hidden Women Trail, which was presented in shop windows across the city throughout Hazard also subverted the shop window as a space for consumer display, by offering shoppers an educational treasure-hunt of great Manchester women. Maps were provided with clues to find particular shops in the city centre. Each shop window on the trail featured a picture and information about an inspirational woman, including Louisa Da-Cocodia, a Levenshulme resident, former deputy Lord Lieutenant of Manchester and community campaigner and activist in Moss Side, and Annie Swynnerton from Hulme who co-founded the Manchester Society of Women Painters in 1876, amongst others.

The hand-out provided for the trail included a section on the back for people to write their responses to the trail and to put forward their own examples of inspirational women, thus serving as a way to reflect on the achievements of women and to generate awareness of the various ways that different women have shaped modern life in Manchester and beyond.


Image credits: Hazard / No More Page Three

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Written by Dani Abulhawa

Nicola Canavan’s use of a shop window in St. Ann’s Square during Hazard offered a place in which to frame her activity, but also situated her intervention within the characteristic space of consumer display and façade. Her performance played with the tension between display and function, ornament and use, which is connected with public opinion on the visibility of female breasts in public places.

Canavan sat within the window expressing milk, her body motionless, dressed in red and her face adorned with flowers. In the opposite window a skull was positioned on a low table, along with a taxidermy butterfly in a frame and a decanter with two glasses. The image was reminiscent of a still life painting – a style typically associated with domestic scenes and the absence of people.

Used to seeing plastic, unrealistically proportioned, headless bodies dressed in shop windows, people who had stopped to watch the performance questioned whether Canavan was real or a mannequin. The female body presented here spoke the language of the shop window, but this image was not selling a particular outfit, but rather presenting an image of womanhood. The mechanical action of producing milk – the regular, repeated movement of Canavan’s nipple, sucked by machine – offered a distanced, consumerist notion of the nursing mother and absent child.

With her head covered with flowers, her body covered in a long dress, wearing shoes, and with the pump almost completely covering her breast, the only exposed part of Canavan’s body was her nipple. One woman remarked that it was a ‘good job her face [was] covered’, in a way that suggested this act was something to be embarrassed by, or ashamed of.


The second half of the piece saw a reversal of the space, as Kris Canavan entered with their son, and Nicola Canavan removed her headdress. Nicola and Kris clinked their glasses together and drank a sherry glass each of breast milk, in an act of honouring the production of milk, and then Nicola Canavan sat back in her chair and continued to breastfeed their son for the remainder of the performance. The previous mechanical image of producing breast milk was replaced with the organic machinery of child latched onto nipple.

Without the headdress and with the presence of a child, reception of the piece changed considerably. It felt as though this image, of a mother feeding her son, was one that commanded respect. Many people stood and watched the piece at different times, some waiting for ‘something to happen’, but many in silent contemplation, in what appeared to me as a kind of vigil. Some people questioned the action of putting breastfeeding on display, but the piece certainly seemed to draw upon concerns around what kind of popular representations of womanhood and motherhood are deemed appropriate for public space.


Image credits: Hazard / Nicola Canavan

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