You are curating an exhibition that will be running during Women’s History Month. What
does this month mean to you as a woman?

Not very much. When I was growing up, we did celebrate International Woman’s Day, which is on the 8th of March but-for reasons that remain a mystery to me- I had been led to believe that what we were celebrating was Mother’s Day. In fact, I think many believed this to be the case. Obviously, what this “misunderstanding” shows is how the figure of the Woman is, or, rather, was, routinely subsumed under the figure of the Mother. I have always had great problems with this, not only because it implies that motherhood is the realm reserved for women, but also because the figure of the Mother, in Albanian society at least, but elsewhere too I think, has traditionally been represented as a benevolent and non-threatening figure and in a very specific way, namely, in that her sexuality is suspended or neutralised. In this scenario childbirth emerges, to use psychoanalytic terminology, as a form of castration almost. In any case, I do remember that we dutifully congratulated our mother every year on the 8th of March, and bought her flowers too, but no one has ever congratulated me on this day; indeed, until this project came up, I had forgotten all about it. Of course, the fact that the month of March means little if anything at all to me as a woman does not imply that I have no interest in women’s history, insofar as it exists, or the history of women’s liberation. On the contrary.


How does the exhibition you are curating explore the theme of women’s history?

The aim of the exhibition was and still is to question the premise of the exhibition, that is to say, this idea that there is a universal women’s history. The idea of a universal women’s history is founded, to a large extent, upon the premise that woman or womanhood is a category that trumps all other categories, so to speak. That is to say, that it is a category that cuts across other categories such as class, race, ethnicity, etc. This, however, is quite a problematic foundation. For instance, it is conceivable that a few decades ago, and even now perhaps, a black woman in the United States might have felt that she had more in common with black men than white women. Similarly, a working class woman might feel that she has more in common with working class men than middle class or upper class women. Also, an Albanian woman might feel that she has more in common with Albanian men than, say, Japanese women. You get the point.

Another way of looking at this would be to consider the situation in which we find ourselves today, especially in the West, where in metropolises like London, for example, people, women from wildly different backgrounds, in terms of race, class, religion and ethnicity live ‘together’. What does it mean to celebrate Women’s History Month in such a place and at this particular moment in time/history? Is there a sense in which in such a place all of these different histories converge in a way that could be deemed to be politically significant? Or could the opposite be said to be true?

So the subject of history interested us a lot. We thus looked for artists that had shown, in their past work, an interest in language, text, narrative, and place. We were also very interested in including work by artists from different countries and continents even. It was also important to us, and not just for practical or logistic considerations, that all of the artists were based in London.

Funnily enough, women in the art world have only in the past 50 years started to emerge and to headline the art world. As a woman yourself do you think a month dedicated to women could help women in the art field?

Yes and no. I would say “yes” because such ‘festivals’ focus attention on the work women artists. I would say “no” because this attention is in a sense misguided. Don’t get me wrong, there is no question that there are many wonderful female artists out there whose work should be seen and talked about and generally paid attention to. However, the work should be paid attention to not because the artists who produced it happen to be female but because of the merits of the work itself. Let me give you an example. When we were organising this exhibition, there was no question, from the very beginning, that all of the artists involved would have to be women. The reason for this was that the exhibition was intended to be part of a loose, informal group of events taking place in London to celebrate the work offemale artists. The challenge for us as curators was to work with as well as around this restriction. The danger with this sort of restriction or limitation, especially when one takes into account the framework within which events like this exhibition are taking place, i.e. Women’s History Month, is that one ends up in a situation where the meaning of the works on display is ‘exhausted’ by the fact that the producers of these works are women while simultaneously the work, i.e. the whole body of work or the oeuvre, of women artists is understood specifically or exclusively in terms of their femininity. Both of these outcomes are obviously highly undesirable.

Roger’s addendum:

I got involved in this project at the request of Jonida. We are friends and London Consortium colleagues, and both have wide-ranging interests in visual culture. I thought I could add something to the exhibition, and perhaps by my presence as a facilitator remove the possible gender-political diatribe it could easily become. For the record I am a man. At least that is what it would say in my passport, if a UK passport like many on this globe contained such information. Jonida and I did try to make aesthetic and intellectual choices as rough-cut cognoscenti, and not professional curators, ones that focused primarily and predominantly on the art work, not a theme, or even the artist. Having said that, there was a brief, and we were constrained by the sex of the artists involved. This was a good thing in the time we had, as it made it easier to decide on the invitations; and I thought that the artworks would certainly set up a nice dialogue with the deeper and less obvious potential of that brief (Women’s History Month); and further to that biographies and socio-cultural contexts will always situate a work. Our chosen place is the cosmopolis of London and those who come to it. Yet history weaves its own spell in the end and exists only in the subject. When I look outside these particular subjects of course I can see a backstory, a wider and deeper historicity of imbalance and prejudice, which must of course be wrong. However I think that when good art speaks, its voice is less defined, muffled and muted, a scream from within, or a whisper unheard but still understood. And in this respect that art is asexual and genderless and that’s the way it must be to truly overcome and make a change. The German artist Rebecca Horn once said that a particular idea and work of hers “was like being in a hotel of unborn words” where “you can create your own poetry”. I would say yes, but not just that work of hers, or her canon, but all art that succeeds. I hope this exhibition makes a murmur somewhere deep in the dreams of our guests.

You are curating an exhibition that will be running during Women’s History Month. What
does this month mean to you as a woman?

Not very much. When I was growing up, we did celebrate International Woman’s Day, which is on the 8th of March but-for reasons that remain a mystery to me- I had been led to believe that what we were celebrating was Mother’s Day. In fact, I think many believed this to be the case. Obviously, what this “misunderstanding” shows is how the figure of the Woman is, or, rather, was, routinely subsumed under the figure of the Mother. I have always had great problems with this, not only because it implies that motherhood is the realm reserved for women, but also because the figure of the Mother, in Albanian society at least, but elsewhere too I think, has traditionally been represented as a benevolent and non-threatening figure and in a very specific way, namely, in that her sexuality is suspended or neutralised. In this scenario childbirth emerges, to use psychoanalytic terminology, as a form of castration almost. In any case, I do remember that we dutifully congratulated our mother every year on the 8th of March, and bought her flowers too, but no one has ever congratulated me on this day; indeed, until this project came up, I had forgotten all about it. Of course, the fact that the month of March means little if anything at all to me as a woman does not imply that I have no interest in women’s history, insofar as it exists, or the history of women’s liberation. On the contrary.


How does the exhibition you are curating explore the theme of women’s history?

The aim of the exhibition was and still is to question the premise of the exhibition, that is to say, this idea that there is a universal women’s history. The idea of a universal women’s history is founded, to a large extent, upon the premise that woman or womanhood is a category that trumps all other categories, so to speak. That is to say, that it is a category that cuts across other categories such as class, race, ethnicity, etc. This, however, is quite a problematic foundation. For instance, it is conceivable that a few decades ago, and even now perhaps, a black woman in the United States might have felt that she had more in common with black men than white women. Similarly, a working class woman might feel that she has more in common with working class men than middle class or upper class women. Also, an Albanian woman might feel that she has more in common with Albanian men than, say, Japanese women. You get the point.

Another way of looking at this would be to consider the situation in which we find ourselves today, especially in the West, where in metropolises like London, for example, people, women from wildly different backgrounds, in terms of race, class, religion and ethnicity live ‘together’. What does it mean to celebrate Women’s History Month in such a place and at this particular moment in time/history? Is there a sense in which in such a place all of these different histories converge in a way that could be deemed to be politically significant? Or could the opposite be said to be true?

So the subject of history interested us a lot. We thus looked for artists that had shown, in their past work, an interest in language, text, narrative, and place. We were also very interested in including work by artists from different countries and continents even. It was also important to us, and not just for practical or logistic considerations, that all of the artists were based in London.

Funnily enough, women in the art world have only in the past 50 years started to emerge and to headline the art world. As a woman yourself do you think a month dedicated to women could help women in the art field?

Yes and no. I would say “yes” because such ‘festivals’ focus attention on the work women artists. I would say “no” because this attention is in a sense misguided. Don’t get me wrong, there is no question that there are many wonderful female artists out there whose work should be seen and talked about and generally paid attention to. However, the work should be paid attention to not because the artists who produced it happen to be female but because of the merits of the work itself. Let me give you an example. When we were organising this exhibition, there was no question, from the very beginning, that all of the artists involved would have to be women. The reason for this was that the exhibition was intended to be part of a loose, informal group of events taking place in London to celebrate the work offemale artists. The challenge for us as curators was to work with as well as around this restriction. The danger with this sort of restriction or limitation, especially when one takes into account the framework within which events like this exhibition are taking place, i.e. Women’s History Month, is that one ends up in a situation where the meaning of the works on display is ‘exhausted’ by the fact that the producers of these works are women while simultaneously the work, i.e. the whole body of work or the oeuvre, of women artists is understood specifically or exclusively in terms of their femininity. Both of these outcomes are obviously highly undesirable.

Roger’s addendum:

I got involved in this project at the request of Jonida. We are friends and London Consortium colleagues, and both have wide-ranging interests in visual culture. I thought I could add something to the exhibition, and perhaps by my presence as a facilitator remove the possible gender-political diatribe it could easily become. For the record I am a man. At least that is what it would say in my passport, if a UK passport like many on this globe contained such information. Jonida and I did try to make aesthetic and intellectual choices as rough-cut cognoscenti, and not professional curators, ones that focused primarily and predominantly on the art work, not a theme, or even the artist. Having said that, there was a brief, and we were constrained by the sex of the artists involved. This was a good thing in the time we had, as it made it easier to decide on the invitations; and I thought that the artworks would certainly set up a nice dialogue with the deeper and less obvious potential of that brief (Women’s History Month); and further to that biographies and socio-cultural contexts will always situate a work. Our chosen place is the cosmopolis of London and those who come to it. Yet history weaves its own spell in the end and exists only in the subject. When I look outside these particular subjects of course I can see a backstory, a wider and deeper historicity of imbalance and prejudice, which must of course be wrong. However I think that when good art speaks, its voice is less defined, muffled and muted, a scream from within, or a whisper unheard but still understood. And in this respect that art is asexual and genderless and that’s the way it must be to truly overcome and make a change. The German artist Rebecca Horn once said that a particular idea and work of hers “was like being in a hotel of unborn words” where “you can create your own poetry”. I would say yes, but not just that work of hers, or her canon, but all art that succeeds. I hope this exhibition makes a murmur somewhere deep in the dreams of our guests.