PASTICHE, HYBRIDS, AMALGAMS: Interview with Author and Curator Annette Marie Hyder, Facing Feminism
(Interviewer: Austin Eichelberger, Editor for SPACES)
The Facing Feminism: Feminists I Know project, curated by Annette Marie Hyder, has been mentioned in Ms. Magazine, listed with the Rutgers University Feminist Art Project and sponsored by Empowerment4Women. Participants from around the globe (e.g., Enugu State, Southeastern Nigeria, Iceland, Russia, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland, Austria, New Zealand, and Australia), men and women, describe what feminism means to them – they take back the word and infuse it with a diversity that exceeds the myopic representation of feminists as portrayed by the media.
Poets, writers, artists, Members of Parliament, and pop stars have all shared their voices (pop star Lisa Loeb, Iceland’s MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, BET TV’s Abiola Abrams, United Nation’s Poetry Ambassador Larry Jaffe, to name a few). The voices keep swelling and the image that emerges is truly diverse. “These feminists have in common the desire to be perceived for who they are on an equal footing and not through the distorting lens of cliché. Feminism is not monolithic – and this recording of the many faces that feminism can and does have, its many voices, is monumentally moving. You’ll meet feminists who will make you laugh, inspire you, defy you, prick you to disagreement even, but who all share the common advocacy of equality,” says Annette Marie Hyder, founder and curator of Facing Feminism: Feminists I Know.
Austin: In terms of this amazing project, what inspired you?
Annette: The Facing Feminism: Feminists I Know project came about through a desire to counter stereotypes of feminists and feminism propagated by mass media.
I noticed that many women were leery of identifying as feminists. Educated women, successful women, women from whom I would expect more, were shunning being identified as feminists because of the negative stereotypes associated with feminism disseminated through mass media.
Gloria Steinem has said, “If I have any advice, it’s just to listen to your own unique self and make sure you have support for it. Because we are communal creatures, if you’re with people who think you’re smart, you’re smart and if they think you’re dumb, you’re dumb. At least spend as much time as possible with people who make you feel smart, who make you feel good, who support you in that role, and help you become who you already are.” That is good advice.
I wanted to use feminist generated imagery to counter media generated imagery, and feminists words – direct quotes — to create a real representation of what feminists think and how they express what matters to them as opposed to the manufactured representation that you find in the media.
I also wanted to make it possible, with anti-stereotypical representations of feminism, to be proud to identify as a feminist. We are, as Gloria Steinem noted, communal creatures and one of the aims of this project is to show how desirable it is to identify as a feminist. Just look at these strong, witty, charming and beautiful people. Don’t you want to be like them?
Austin: How have the pieces changed since you first began this project?
Annette: It started out as a project showing feminists that I knew. They were personally known to me, either in my private or professional life. The pieces now include feminists that I don’t know personally, but who have taken an interest in the project through seeing it on Facebook, having read about it in a magazine, heard about it through a friend or through the grapevine or through one of the Facing Feminism exhibits. Additionally, my goals for the project have expanded and include a website.
Austin: When did you first start pairing words and pictures together?
Annette: I started experimenting with pairing words and pictures back in 2005. I coined the neologism “photoem” to describe the pieces that I was putting together that combined photos of individual feminists with their poetic expressions of what feminism means to them.
Austin: What were the first words and picture you worked with? Why were you drawn to this intersection of mediums?
Annette: The first words and picture make up the very first photoem in the series, #1 Crystall. That particular image is of a relative of mine.
I was drawn to the transformative power that an image can have on a person’s perception. But the image was never enough for me. Pairing that image with the storytelling aspect of each individual’s words is compelling communication. I love the idea of changing perceptions through images and deepening that new comprehension through the very words of the person whose face is being gazed upon.
Austin: The pieces in Facing Feminism are political, but also playful. Where do you think that playfulness is rooted and how do you think it works with the political edge your work brings?
Annette: Yes, some of the pieces are playful. I think when you see playfulness. it is because the person who is in that photoem is playful. You really get to see the diversity within feminism. That diversity of personality includes playfulness. Not all of the pieces are playful though. Some are academic; some are sorrowful; some are angry. Each piece is a mouth for its feminist’s voice. It sounds like you were most struck by the mouths that were smiling and laughing. But you know, for someone else, a different aspect would really shine.
Austin: Do you ever find it difficult to use words as a visual design element?
Annette: Some combinations of words and images come together more easily than others; some do present a challenge. But that’s okay. I like a good challenge.
Austin: Are you ever surprised with your results?
Annette: Yes. I am often surprised at how much these pieces mean to people who have never met the individual feminists in this project. I get emails and messages all the time from strangers to me, strangers to the participants, saying how touched they are. That really speaks to the desire to be heard – even if it is vicariously through someone else telling their story that resonates in a powerful way with you. I shouldn’t be surprised by the duality of the universality of art combined with the very personal ways each of us have in connecting with art but I do continue to be surprised — and it is always a pleasure.
Austin: Is there anything about this concept that you’ve wrestled with?
Annette: There have been times when I have not liked what someone had to say. It was hard at first to include those pieces. But again, this project proposes to show the many different faces and voices that make up feminism. As long as there is the underlying tenet of equality, then it has become increasingly clear to me just how unimportant it is that preferences, belief systems, tastes and modes of expression be in any way similar to mine.
I also know that, ultimately, it all comes down to equal human rights, not just women’s rights. But I am confident in focusing on women’s rights because of the disparity that exists between women’s rights and men’s rights at this time.
Austin: Is there anything you wish you’d known before diving in?
Annette: Yes. I wish I‘d known how to write code for the forthcoming website.
Austin: Who and what inspire you?
Annette: My daughter inspires me. Strength paired with compassion inspires me. Sass inspires me and so does authenticity. Things that are authentic, that are real, are the heart and soul of poetry – make poetry proliferate. There are never enough words, metaphors or symbols for our minds to play with when it comes to the authentic things in life. We are inspired again and again by the things we love and writing, creating stories and poems, allows us to shine a light on these things, illuminate them and share them with others, feel connected along a continuum of varied perception and expression with authenticity being the constant.
Austin: Is there anything in particular you look for – visually or conceptually – in pieces you display for public consumption?
Annette: It depends on the venue. I’ve really enjoyed the theatrical aspect of showing the photoems as a giant slideshow and I have found that doing so creates more of a suspension of outside interference with observing the work than just hanging an image on a wall. I have noticed that people spend more time viewing the entire slideshow than on viewing each photoem that is hung in exhibition. I think that speaks to the way that we are, as a society, accustomed to watching things on a screen. I noticed postcards were a huge hit too (I had postcard-sized prints of the photoems made up for the last show). I think the popularity of the postcards is because of the takeaway appeal and the accessibility inherent in something like a postcard-sized image.
For the last exhibit I did in October, I focused primarily on local feminists because the project was tied in with celebrating placemaking along the light rail corridor where I live in Minnesota. The exhibit was made possible through a grant from Irrigate, listed in Minnesota Monthly as Best Public Art for 2012. Some of the feminists in my own neighborhood, my own back yard so to speak, included a male Reggae star from Africa, a female artist from Russia, and a female Army brat.
Austin: I’ve noticed that many of the pictures are “action shots”: the subject caught in the middle of an action rather than posed for the camera. Does something about this stylistic choice attract you, or is that just how it’s panned out?
Annette: These photos are chosen by the participants in the submission process so the action speaks to the way that the participants see themselves. I like that there is so often a dynamic visual aspect to these photos but I don’t think I am responsible for it.
Austin: Where would you like to see Facing Feminism go from here?
Annette: My plans for this project include a website which will allow the participants to network with one another, should they choose to, and which will provide links to participants’ websites and professional or personal information that they may want to share.
I envision that the project will continue to grow and continue to change the stereotypical way that feminism is perceived. There is a book in the works. I would love to see the project mentioned on television. That would be a perfect intersection of the project and its purpose. My older brother had a dream (I mean a literal dream, not a hope for the future) that I went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and talked to Ellen about the Facing Feminism project. I can’t say I wouldn’t love that!
Austin: Who are your favorite feminist writers? What about your favorite feminist visual artists?
Annette: I’m mixing genres here, but my favorite feminist writers, from a broad spectrum of writing disciplines and not limited to feminist theory, include: Jane Austen, for her proto-feminist insight into societal power structures, Mary Wollenstonecraft, for the strident vibrancy of her expression, Dorothy Parker, for all her acid witticisms, Sheri S. Tepper, for her soaring imagination, Marina Warner, for From the Beast to the Blonde, Gloria Steinem (of course), and Susan Faludi, for her eloquent rejection of the claim that there is a rigid, monolithic feminist orthodoxy.
Favorite feminist visual artists include: Meret Openheim, Frida Kahlo, and Helene Aylon. Favorite motion picture artists include Director Jane Campion, for The Piano, and Director Joss Whedon, for popularizing strong female characters.
Austin: Going off of that, who do you think would win in a presidential election between your favorite feminist writer and your favorite feminist visual artist?
Annette: I would want my two favorites on the same ticket so I could have a win-win! President Steinem/Vice President Whedon has a nice ring to it. But if I had to guess who would be more likely to win, I would say Joss Whedon because his is a medium which allows for greater name recognition and more sway in shaping popular public opinion.
Austin: Are there details about Facing Feminism that you’d like our readers to know?
Annette: Yes. I would like to let them know that they are invited to submit their own images and words to me if they would like to be included in the Facing Feminism project. They can send their photo as a .jpg attachment and their text expression in the body of their email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants choose a photo of themselves (from any stage of their life) and send it in to me with the text expression of what feminism is to them. I put the image and the words together into a photoem and yet another unique voice/face is recorded. I would love for your readers to be a part of this historical documentation!
Austin: If there is only one message that people could take away from Facing Feminism, what would you like it to be?
Annette: I would like to facilitate honoring our differences by celebrating our right to equality.
Annette Marie Hyder is an award winning author, artist, and Pushcart Prize nominated poet and is the founder and curator of the international feminist project, Facing Feminism: Feminists I Know. Her poetry has been translated into German, Italian and Spanish, included in numerous anthologies, and published in book form. Her magazine articles have appeared in print throughout the United State and internationally, her feminist cartoons have appeared in E4W MAGAZINE, and her artwork has been featured as the cover artwork for the progressive woman’s literature magazine, WICKED ALICE MAGAZINE. Her most recent book is “The Real Reason the Queen Hated Snow” published by Twilight Times Books and available for purchase from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and other fine book sellers. She is currently happily at work on a novel of magical realism. Whether it is through her words, images, or a combination thereof, she provokes and invokes the world around her and cunningly explores the purview of her cognizance — and yours.
More from Annette Marie Hyder
Facing Feminism Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Facing-Feminism-Feminists-I-Know/404943499561512
Facing Feminism website: Forthcoming