City of Women 2001. It all began with a poem.
A poem written in 1989 by an inspiring American poet. We read it for the first
time a couple of years ago on the front-page of the Women's Studies site of the
University of Utrecht. It's still there:
Most people in the world
are Yellow, Black, Brown,
Poor, Female, Non-Christian
and do not speak English.
By the year 2000
the 20 largest cities in the world
will have one thing in common
none of them will be in Europe
none in the United States.
Its simple wording, its factuality, continue to make this unpublished poem by Audre Lorde incredibly powerful. Powerful in the sense that once you've read it, you can no longer ignore it, nor forget it.
But what do you do with it? In the previous six City of Women festivals we had an embarrassingly small amount of "artists of colour" on our programme. We wondered why.
Yes, there are the obvious production reasons: with our limited festival budget we could hardly afford to fly in dozens African, Asian or Latin-American artists. But this was no excuse for not having invited the numerous great musicians, writers, visual artists, film-makers of colour, that are living just north of the Schengen border. The reason for not selecting them was definitely not because they were not "good enough", or because they lacked imagination, inventiveness, innovation or relevance. Their absence at City of Women just happened to be a fact.
We know exactly why we have never included work by men in the festival. By doing this, City of Women aims at pointing at certain mechanisms, which are solidly and stubbornly in place, which privilege men in culture and the arts. City of Women reminds us that if, for instance, you are a curator or programmer who wants to make a relevant pertinent contemporary arts festival, you are likely to select more men than women. And this is not necessarily because you are a male chauvinist, but because you have chosen the line of least resistance.
So we decided to apply the same strategy to the category of 'colour', and selected only artists who are not living and working in Europe or North-America, and/or 'artists of colour'. By doing so it became clear that by adding 'colour' to the category 'woman', there was a double discriminatory mechanism in place. If you are working from a 'white', 'rich', 'Christian' 'English-understanding', 'European' position, you have to exclude in order to be able to point at the mechanisms of exclusion.
Sven Lindqvist opened his brilliant research into the origins of European genocide and study of Europe's violent involvement in Africa, Exterminate All the Brutes, with the words: "You already know enough. So do I. It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions."
Koen Van Daele