Archive for the ‘art project’ Category
I was extremely pleased to be invited to participate in the Cambodian LGBTQX Pride art exhibition this year, alongside some of my very favorite Cambodian and Cambodia-based artists. (My piece, a wall version of New Girl Law, is on the left; the amazing Viet Le’s love bang! is on the back wall.) The issues of silencing and self-silencing that I have been investigating in various ways for the past few years—in Cambodia and elsewhere—are really difficult to understand in the context of sexual freedom unless, as this piece in the Guardian pointed out yesterday, you are a Cambodian lesbian:
Traditionally, a Cambodian woman’s main role is to marry well and raise children. School lessons often reflect this and are geared towards preparing girls for these roles. As a result, many girls believe that this preparation is more important than academic aspirations. The Chbap Srey or Women’s Code of Conduct, which until recently was taught to all school children, outlines the importance for women to be feminine, modest and obedient thus limiting decision making power, political power and women’s social and professional capacity to express themselves and build relationships.
Although female employment is relatively high, women are more commonly employed informally by family members on a low wage. As a consequence, women are rarely financially independent and are typically dependant on their parents or their husbands. This factor is particularly significant for Cambodian lesbians as they are often financially incapable of living on their own or with their female partners. … In many cultures, women are discouraged from seeking or expressing sexual pleasure and their sexuality remains hidden.
One barrier was a simple book, a staple of Cambodian culture called the Chbap Srei, or Girl Law. The 19th-century book outlines women’s place in Cambodian society based on very traditional restrictive cultural values. Unsurprisingly, its male-centered counterpart—Chbap Bros, or Boy Law—is much shorter. …
“What I was able to see when I lived among this group of strong, independent, forward-thinking young women was that most of them still had copies of this book on their desks,” Moore said. “Yes, they were studying them from a legal perspective and attempting to be critical of them, but the fact that it was still a day-to-day part of their culture was amazing.”
By enforcing such aged constructs of gender, Cambodian culture likewise enforces heterosexuality. Moore said the young women she encountered considered it common sense that they should be married to men by the age of 24. The country is in the midst of a growing gay movement, Moore said, but the idea of any sexual relationship that defies heteronormativity is still shocking.
The Chbap Srei (Srey), of course, was the text we re-wrote during one of my stays in Cambodia, as a group. Then once the text was published, it was censored. In Cambodia. By some of the people who helped make it. And also in the US. By some of the people who claimed to want to help.
This situation, and the multiple veilings and censorings and discussions it spawned, was the basis for presenting this piece, in this way, as a part of Cambodian Pride in Phnom Penh. You can see the installation (held at Meta House, with images below and above by Jim Mizerski) here:
But significantly more important to me was the other work I contributed to in the space, a small zine-making station, with copies of How to Make This Very Zine in both English and Khmer. I was moved to tears that my work teaching self-publishing in Cambodia could help model a space to experiment in free expression, especially in the context of sexuality. And even more proud, of course, that girls got all up in it.
Angee Lennard of Spudnik Press has been making this crazy cover for my upcoming Green Lantern Press book, which you can read a little bit more about here, and which features images from Phnom Penh’s emerging middle class first previewed here and here, as well as a brand-new essay. Perhaps the most exciting part is that we had to invent a font—rather, Danielle Chenette did—which is awkward and crazy and cool. I’m working on a book trailer for it, and will post when that’s ready.
I know I have already told you about the Adventure School for Ladies Comics Intensive but there is a new, awesome, amazing, cool comic up by Nicole Boyett that explains what it is, and I thought you might like to read it, here.
It looks like this:
Until you remove the underpants, when it looks like this:
If you haven’t already died of cleverness, you can download it here: Unladylike!
There have been some delays, but How To Make This Very Zine is again available for download in German, Arabic, English, Khmer, Spanish, Greek, Russian and Georgian, on my “real” internet web-page, here. If you would like to translate this document into Swedish, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Mandarin, Lakota, Thai, Swahili or Latin, please let me know! Just not French. I’m not into that.
(If you haven’t heard it yet, please also do check out Paul M. Davis’ Radio Free Ruin interview with me on the gendered implications of the project itself, which are fascinating [to me!] and interspersed with jokes and other topics.)
On November 18, a week in advance of Black Friday, a group of people went to the H&M at 22 North State Street in downtown Chicago, and at exactly 3:30 p.m., suddenly fell to the ground for a couple of seconds.
Here’s why: Since late July, close to a thousand Cambodian garment workers in plants that manufacture H&M clothing have fainted on the job. (See here and here.) Workers—who already earn only half a living wage, and regularly skimp on food and healthcare to feed their families—have reported weird smells and noxious chemicals. It is also relevant that H&M has lately increased the volume of clothing they produce to six times what was produced six months previous. H&M agreed to investigate the situation, but found nothing wrong with their own actions. Because the garment industry is the struggling nation’s third largest source of income, the Cambodian government has done nothing. Local press, largely controlled by the government, has failed to fully investigate, and the international press has done even worse: one major media outlet claimed the women are suffering from “mass hysteria,” for example, and other outlets have failed to run anything at all. The end result seems to be that women falling sick to make your cheap fashions just isn’t big news.
So we held a mostly silent action to commemorate this mostly silent series of events.
If you’d like to hold your own action at your local H&M, please send images to artshowheckyeah at gmail dot com, subject header: FEINT. We’ll post them here at Democracy Guest List. Feel free to use the handy email guide below (but don’t post your plans to social media!)
- Choose a time for the action, and set your phone alarm to silent and vibrate.
- Get to the store before your chosen time. (The earlier you can get there, and the fewer people that enter with you, the less suspicion you will attract.
- Find a comfortable place inside the store a safe distance away from clothing, tables, stands, workers, or other customers, and at the proper time, fall to the ground for a few moments.
- If someone offers to help you up, and asks what happened, please consider responding, ”Around a thousand women in H&M factories in Cambodia have fainted on the job in recent months, and the company, the government, the press, and fashion consumers have done nothing. Thanks for your help.”
- However, unless they ask what happened—even if they help you up—please don’t offer any explanation at all.
REMEMBER: Don’t take items down with you as you fall. (This could be considered vandalism.) Don’t fall on anything or anyone. (This could be considered a physical attack.) Don’t steal or hide anything as you fall. (That will get you arrested and you will deserve it.) The only danger you are in will be of your own creation. Falling down is not a crime.*
*In Cambodia, however, garment workers are often required to sign contracts stipulating that fainting on the factory floor is a relinquishment of their job. That is, once they wake up, many no longer have a source of income for their families.
Via Ferestheh Toosi:
The Museum of Contemporary Art collaborative performance project continues apace, and as of yesterday around 200 people had come in to sit with me for a while to talk about my research into the international garment trade. I’ve become pretty lax about actually addressing Cambodia, workers’ rights, or the various trade agreements in place; I’ve found that it doesn’t take too long before people pulling apart a pair of jeans by hand start asking of their own accord who made these jeans, and if it was as difficult to put them together as it is to take them apart.
In the mean time, people are really deeply enjoying themselves in this meditative space, doing something seemingly pointless—at least, the physical end results of which are, at best, unclear. But they come in and sit and pull jeans apart with me anyway, even if they say they don’t want to at first, even if they tell me they think it’s kinda dumb, even if they “have a lot to do” and “only have a minute to see everything.” Usually I’m not even the one to say, “It’s really fun.”
We had an amazing conversation yesterday with a 10-year-old, a number of museum visitors, and about 30 Californians who had stopped by in a group from the Sonoma County Museum of Art. Or somewhere. They were all about the sustainability thing; the water waste of cotton production. And they wanted a lecture on the project instead of to do the project. They asked what I had to teach kids about Cambodia and the international garment trade. I asked the young girl what she already knew; she had participated in a school activity last year to raise money for a well in Cambodia. So what I got to say was, Look. I don’t have to teach anybody anything. You already know that the reason the garment trade needs examining is because the women who made these jeans can’t afford to dig their own well. That the system we support, as consumers—because we are all wearing clothes—is keeping the people who make them for us from water.
Later, things got a little quieter. The rain had let up and people were spending their Saturday afternoon at the Air and Water Show. I assume.
A woman came in to sit at the table with me and a few other visitors, and became very engaged in asking about Cambodian garment workers. After close to an hour, she asked me: “Do they even know they’re oppressed?”
I waffled. They don’t. In fact, in context, the factory workers have jobs. And all the things that jobs come with here: a sense of freedom, a sense of independence, a sense of duty. A fitting in. The way I explained it was really problematic: it would be possible to hear and walk away from and think: then the garment trade is awesome.
But I guess the real point I would like to find a way to explain is not about their responsibility for their own awareness as oppressed peoples. What I need to find a way to explain is that those of us who are asking the the question need to be responsible for responding to it. Yes, the international garment trade is a global system, and it is everywhere. But the beneficiaries of it mark themselves: we mark ourselves. Willingly. And while I would never ever respond to her smart and innocent query, “Do they even know they’re oppressed?” by saying: “As well as you know that you are oppressing them,” I would like to find a way to try.