4 common misunderstandings about feminism (and why they can´t be used to back up ABF s decision to erase a feminist art show about institutional violence)-Marie-Therese Luger

“Hysteriska Historiska” – a feminist art show by Peruvian artist Rossana Mercado-Rojas has been abruptly cancelled by the show´s host ABF Stockholm. The exhibition visualized the consequences of institutional violence against women.

The following text shows that – whether ABF Stockholm was aware of what they were doing or not – there is no excuse for shutting down an art show only one day after the official opening.

Institutional violence is a phenomenon. A phenomenon that consists of a series of specific, yet almost randomly assorted activities, choices and decisions executed by individuals within the framework of an institution. This complex pathology is the reason for a very common misunderstanding of what a feminist agenda is about: Even though the isolated violent acts of an individual (or a group of individuals) are acts of misogyny, of racism and of oppression, it is the  thereby formed power-structure – created through and perpetuated by them – that entails most danger. The feminist agenda is not to be “against men”. The feminist agenda is to be against the patriarchy. And patriarchy is a structure. An institution.

Feminism works towards a change of the hegemonic order of society. In the words of Guy Debord, this can be achieved through „appropriate actions“.

The word “appropriate”, especially when put next to the word “actions” allegorically exemplify another quite common misunderstanding of what a feminist agenda and feminist practices are about: While inappropriate does not subsequently mean „radical“, appropriate does not mean „submissive or according to the hegemonic order. It also does not mean polite. Add another layer: to appropriate. Means: to take. If we disregard rules and regulations of grammar at this point – which queer practices might be more than happy to grant us – appropriate actions can be interpreted as actions that take a specific place and a specific framework. One might even go as far as to say, actions that take on a specific place and a specific framework – thus revealing a methodology regularly used by critical studies: subversion, mimicry, infiltration. In order to appropriate, the so-called „inappropriate“ can become a tool, often a visual one. This is a procedure that feminism intrinsically shares with the arts – as well as conscious methodology of what artistic and visual representations of feminist practices look like. This encompasses a third common misunderstanding of what a feminist agenda is about: The claim that it has no artistic quality because it chooses to represent the suppressed parts of society by the use of aesthetics that don’t correlate with the hegemonic aesthetic practices in use.

But in any case, it is the specific freedom as well as the responsibility of Art to formulate and give shape to societal issues that need to be addressed. This is why art is always an appropriate action and the censorship of art cannot be tolerated under any circumstances – neither in a controlled gallery space nor in an urban, public environment.

Peruvian artist and curator Rossana Mercado-Rojas explores the possibilities of a feminist agenda to be present in the public sphere through her visual artistic practice, using a language that hovers between the so called in-appropriate and the appropriative. Her work explores tracing the power structures and their violent participation in women’s life through the example of her own body and her own identity. Together with Galleri Majkens Mercado-Rojas has conceptualized the show „Hysteriska Historiska“ which was supposed to be hosted by ABF Stockholm – an institution for the education of workers, established 1916. An institution that – according to their website – creates „faith in the future, emancipation, and solidarity“. Solidarity itself is one of the most important aspects of a feminist agenda – and the failure to anticipate this is a symptom of the fourth most common misunderstanding of what a feminist agenda is about: Even though feminism is striving for a change in society by the means of appropriate actions, feminism is not interested in violence, destruction or vandalization. The appropriation of a space by feminism has nothing to do with overtaking it by force or mistreating it. Even if the visual language of feminist practices can look threatening, daunting, even what we would describe as disgusting (or what we rather should describe as abject) the feminist agenda is not a violent one.

Hysteriska Historiska is an exhibition showcasing Mercado-Rojas work but also a holistic view on appropriate actions: With the visual language of a colorful celebration rather than a sterile gallery space the works visualize patriarchal power structures that have an impact on the artists own life, work and practice. It is undeniable that the majority of the work is inspired by historical and contemporary pains and struggles of female figures – Mercado-Rojas own struggle of gaining custody for her child or the struggle of women who have become objects of physical violence. By negating to answer these oppressions with the same violence, through transformation into an artistic intervention, Rossana Mercado-Rojas presents an optimistic outlook – grounded in the very same solidarity ABF Stockholm is presenting on their website.

It is equally disturbing as it is hysterically funny that this very show was canceled on Friday 30th of November by ABF Stockholm with immediate effect – only one day after the official opening of the exhibition. The disturbing aspects of this decision are not the small details and miscommunications that occurred through the process of canceling the exhibition up to the actual dismantling of the show by Galleri Majkens and the artist: The disturbing aspect lies within the complete refusal of negotiation. The cancellation was motivated by ABFs claims of both the artist and the gallery having disobeyed their rules and regulations – which led to the immediate cancellation without further notice, clear explanation or communication. The erasure of this show is the erasure of a positive outlook into the future, of emancipation and most of all: of solidarity.

As conceptually explained above, both Gallery Majkens as a feminist gallery as well as Rossana Mercado-Rojas as a visual artist with a feminist practice is working with a methodology: Activating space with specific aesthetics in order to work towards a change of society with the use of appropriate actions. These actions are as described above: non-violent, artistic and executed on the base of solidarity and communication.

There is no determinable way of classifying ABFs behavior in this case as…appropriate – in every meaning of the word – since it is a violent expropriation of space. In this case, a space that was knowingly given to a feminist artist in order to produce an art show with feminist aesthetics.

The hysterically ironic aspect of this behavior must be described pre-shadowed by an anecdote: When members of Galleri Majkens arrived at ABF s gallery space on Sunday, December 2nd to begin the deinstallation of the show it was discovered that an unknown individual had covered and thus censured both an abstract vulva and a uterus Rossana Mercado-Rojas had painted in the staircase as part of the exhibition-design. This occurrence was excused by ABF as „separate decision of an employee“  and in no way the decision of ABF. It is ironic that Rossana Mercado-Rojas show about the many ways of institutional violence affecting women is met by an unmasked blow of institutional violence.

ABF Stockholm has through phone calls and emails tried to excuse their behavior with different claims and excuses – all of which can be dismantled by being motivated by the four common misunderstandings of a feminist agenda mentioned above. And this is not acceptable. It is institutional violence and institutional violence is a phenomenon. A phenomenon that consists of a series of specific, yet almost randomly assorted activities, choices and decisions executed by individuals within the framework of an institution. This complex pathology is the reason for a very common misunderstanding of what a feminist agenda is about: Even though the isolated violent acts of an individual (or a group of individuals) are acts of misogyny, of racism and of oppression, it is the thereby formed power-structure – created through and perpetuated by them – that entails most danger. The feminist agenda is not to be “against men”. The feminist agenda is to be against the patriarchy. And patriarchy is a structure. An institution.

Marie-Therese Luger

(Galleri Majkens)

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