Ritual to Honour the Psychological Constructs Comprising Female Oppression
18 minute interactive performance
Red Gate Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
At 9:30pm on the day of the event, guests who had RSVP’d in advance for the performance, all wearing black as per instruction (in mourning of the suffering of women) began to fill the gallery. The room had a single plinth in the center of it, which held a broken glass phial encrusted with the dried tears of the artist.
The live streamed ritual began with an explanation of the gathering’s intention, “to provide healing for the internalized misogyny that has marred the psyches and taken away the safety of women within our society.” The peak of the performance was the facilitation of a moment of honouring for the forms of oppression experienced by women within this patriarchal establishment, including that oppression of the female ancestors of the attendees.
The honouring gesture took place in the form of the men in the room kneeling down to offer their condolences and pay their respects in the name of the suffering that women experience as a result of this historical subjugation.
After many minutes of the men offering this honouring, and the women holding out their arms in a gesture of receiving the offering*, the exchange was brought to conclusion. Ending the ritual were the words of Raghunath Khe, who stated plainly, “Let us tell the truth. We know that these objectifying experiences, they have largely been experienced by women at the hands of men. It is time mankind rise up to stand at the side of women without being afraid any longer of hearing those words, without being afraid that this makes us bad people. We are not. We are carrying deeply ingrained conditioning that we didn’t ask for, but which we do have the choice to opt out of. Let us not be afraid to own this conditioning, and take steps to dissolve it in ourselves, and ultimately within the whole human race. When we are faced with this truth, let us not perpetuate anger by directing it at women. Let us use it as an opportunity to grow, and to become better allies in the fight against misogyny. Only by honouring this truth will we ever heal these wounds of women kind. Only by honouring the truth will we ever release any resentment between genders that exists as a result of the patriarchal conditioning we have all had to bear.”
Raghunath Khe and Miki Aurora then exchanged both a bow, and a kiss–a performative gesture symbolizing the power of allyship in the face of oppression, the obliterating of the resentment between genders caused by gender-based oppression.
Following the ritual, the guests were led in procession through the front gallery to the large hall–an industrial looking room that had been transformed with projections of dystopian imagery and technological detritus. On one end of the room sat a rusting bathtub filled with black mud, and a large structure made out of metal poles stood in another corner, within which performance artist Marie Eve was twirling to the sounds of the mantra-laced electro.
The crowd transitioned from the solemnity of the ritual into the air of the after party, as other guests began to arrive at the now-open to the public venue. As people arrived and surveyed the room, ‘prophets’ planted within the crowd began whispering cyberfeminist / techno shamanic philsophies into the ears of the unsuspecting guests, (“If the human body is a microcosm of the living earth, then the cyborg body that exists within all of us is the microcosm of the technosphere that has been super-imposed over the biosphere”), blurring the line between performance art and reality.
At midnight, the electronic music came to a halt as Natalia Wilhelm (Quean of the Green) took center stage in a white dress, singing wordlessly in a high toned, almost choral sounding fashion. Guests looked on confused, when abruptly her melody transformed into a grotesque sounding, throaty rasp, a series of uncomfortable noises, punctuated by the loud sound of a shamanic drum which had begun to play. She began to proclaim in time to the drum, her voice still rasping, “I…am not…a goddess….”, and tumbled into the bathtub of black mud, screeching, writhing, and then, proclaiming her defiance to the institution of contrived femininity, crawled covered in mud, onto the floor, contorting in a manner almost visually reminiscent of some kind of horror-movie demon.
After her performance piece, headlining DJ Aerion, one of the matriarchs of the underground electronic music scene, took the lead of the now-full dance floor.
At one AM, Lindsay Starbird presented a performance art piece featuring a combination of spoken word and movement: crouched down in what appeared to be a straightjacket, she slowly stood up through a recitation of her social commentary on the expectations and harmful projections imposed on contemporary women. By the final line of the piece, she was fully standing, and removed her straight jacket in a flourish–the jacket transformed into wings as she stood with them, outstretched, in a gesture of resistance.
The concept of a dystopia for this multi-genre cyberfeminist project was initially inspired by a philosophical teaching existing within the ancient Vedic school of thought, stating that a society where women feel markedly unsafe is one that is on the verge of collapse. The philosophy was poignantly in line with the Happening that I had been working on developing, focussed on the potential for collective cultural healing from the scars of the institutionalized degradation and objectification of women. The Happening taking the form of a ritual, existed as a nod to the archetype of the witch—a long running symbol of female oppression via the witch-hunts littered across our Colonial history. The decision of following the Happening with a DJ-led dance floor, was structured to facilitate a sense of alleviation from the burden presented during the ritual, through the channelling of a sort of dance rite evocative of our myriad tribal lineages, which existed as ancient cultural precursors to the modern day rave—where we have instinctually mirrored the ceremonious elements of dance rites before us (specifically, through the utilization of beat repetition to facilitate trance states and connection with the divine, as well as the expressions of physical power inherent in dance as a medium.) This modern interpretation, sound tracked with heavy drum beats and machinated noises, reflected a technospheric rendition of this ancient rite, serving as a triumphant enactment of a “dance on the grave of the patriarchy.” The space’s transformation into an immersive, dystopian installation, existed as a tongue-in-cheek, visual articulation for the symbolic death of this hegemony.
– Jonathan Kew, “Dystopia Dreaming Apocalypse? Now Please!” (Discorder Magazine, January 2016)
- Daniel Jones, “Exploring the Ritual of Cyberfeminism” (UnReaL Mag, November 2015)
*gender neutral beings took sides based on various factors and some oscillated between the two gestures evenly. All mentions of words ‘men’ or ‘women’ are representative of trans + cis men and women.
Photography by Rodolphe Parfait