Pussy Riot and the Power of Art

I’m going to begin this post by writing about my Gran’s 70th birthday, otherwise it might appear a little tame compared to the titled news. I went to Margate with my family and loved being near the sea, as well as the second-hand furniture shops and vintage stores. We stayed at the Walpole Bay Hotel which I would have liked to look more at as it is a living museum, giving it an eerie quality. Whilst in Margate I got to see Tracey Emin’s new work at the Turner gallery in ‘She Lay Down Deep Beneth the Sea.’ Emin tends to polarise people, but having seen her exhibition at the Hayward, I am ever the more passionate about her work. I feel that she is more of a writer than a visual artist, which some people may think is strange, but as she has said herself, she doesn’t care if she’s not the best visual artist in the world because ‘that isn’t my job.’ That’s not to say she’s not very skilled at the visual – she can make embroideries that look like paint! But, to me, it’s about more than just the visual, it’s about the story and the emotion.

The exhibition was free but I would urge anyone who sees it to spend the £2 for a headset so that you can really explore the work. What I found especially interesting, which you would be able to gather without the headset, is the inclusion of JMW Turner and Auguste Rodin alongside Emin’s work. Erotic nudes are displayed in a corridor-like room and seeing as the work shown was from the 1800s to the early 1900s, it makes me wonder what people find so crude and shocking about Emin’s work. There is a juxtaposition of gender here. I’m not sure I can offer any insight as to why Emin depicting her own body is so controversial. Perhaps people see it as self-indulgent, or cocky, but surely, writing and painting what you know best is the most natural thing to do? What I remember hearing Emin say through my headset, and what I believe also, is that although you are creating from yourself, once placed in public, the meaning transcends so that these bodies become not just Emin, but every woman.

Photography Copyright © 2012 Paul Singer – streetpix.co.uk

I recently bought these pictures and some footage (which I’m still awaiting) of my performance at Finger in the Pie. I realised that I had forgotten to mention that after my feature slot for IYAF and when one audience member stated he was ‘too critical’ to give an opinion, I pressed him for one. The first comment her made was that ‘it was very… feminine.’ He said a bit more and ended with something about being myself, but this comment stuck in my head. At the time I was a bit taken aback, but the more I thought about it the more it annoyed me. I reflected on the poems I had read, and a lot of them were autobiographical ones, or else ones about female characters ‘Cinderella’ and one quoting Sylvia Path with ‘the woman is perfected,’ plus another based on a Russian film called The Mirror. So, I can understand that someone would then make the comment that they were feminine.

However, the thing that annoyed me about this statement was that it was pitched as a negative. I am capable of writing poetry that is neutral or genderless and as I have written less of the autobiographical, this is more so the case, but there was an implication in the comment that feminine is the opposite of masculine. The context appeared to deal with those pesky binary oppositions that equate the masculine with right and the feminine with wrong. It begs the question, if my poetry is feminine, then what poetry is masculine? Or is masculine the elite poetry and feminine poetry just the Other? Can a man write feminine poetry? This idea was bothering me. However, much of the time I want my poetry to express my views, and some of what I write is as a Feminist, an activist, and… guess what? As a woman. So, if someone sees my poetry as ‘feminine’ I don’t mind. My problem, as I said before, is the assumption that ‘feminine’ equals ‘bad’.

I think it’s an incredibly loaded statement to describe someone’s writing is feminine. In some ways feminine writing has a lot to do with modernism, stream of consciousness and writers such as Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. Some say that this style can also been seen to be adopted by James Joyce, a man. If I am counted alongside these writers, I won’t complain!

There are also writers such as Dorothy Parker who I love. But just because Parker writes as a woman, and as a feminist, does this mean her writing is feminine? Is feminine writing lady-like? Does it wear lipstick? A quote on the back of her collected works by Peter Ackroyd says ‘she managed to express her real feelings in stanzas which snap and glitter like a Chanel handbag,’ which I like. But this idea of emotional writing, as well as writing from the body, is synonymous with feminine writing.

In a discussion I wrote about during Poetry Parnassus, women writers discussed our place in literature today. The consensus seemed to be that women should do more than write from the body, especially as they pointed out, that some publishers (referencing Africa) will put a body on the cover of a book by a woman, even when unrelated. I agree that women can and should write about everything, but I don’t think that writing from the body should be excluded. If it feels natural for you to do so, then by ignoring that desire surely you are placating to a patriarchal idea that the feminine writing is ‘wrong’?

‘Oxymoronic writing: perhaps, but it’s reality that is oxymoronic.’

This criticism has made me want to rush through Hélène Cixous essays. Perhaps the critic at the event wanted my performance provide a more bisexual offering? But then, as a woman on stage, perhaps anything I could have said would have heralded me as ‘feminine’. As a Feminist, part of me would like to think I can write whatever way I chose. However, I also acknowledge that there is a difference, to write as a woman. And I would rather embrace it, play with and experiment with it, than ‘function within masculine thinking [and] restrict [myself] to the range of its logocentric vocalizations’ (Elmer G. Weins).

Moving on… Pussy Riot are a group of Feminist using art and music to protest against Putin. The group has over ten-members, anonymised through colourful balaclavas, and grabbing attention in miss-matched tights and dresses. I read about it on The Guardian website and found out that three members have been arrested and the rest are in hiding. One member, referred to as Squirrel, states Putin is ‘scared of girls’ which gives the article a punchy ending. However, these young women are incredibly brave and serve to remind us of why women around the world should be Feminists and support struggles such as those the population of Russia currently face. As Poetry Parnassus reminded us, free speech is often taken for granted in countries such as the UK. Maybe that’s why I’m not ashamed to be a ‘feminine’ writer – because we still have a reason to fight, and we have something to say about the feminine experience of the world.

xxx

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About carminamasoliver

I'm an ex-UEA writer from South London. Founder of She Grrrowls. Feminist Arts Writer for The Norwich Radical. BAR poet. Published by Nasty Little Press.Currently living and working in Spain.
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