On my previous post, I presented extracts from a recent interview by one of Angola’s most prominent writers, Pepetela, including one that made the local headlines where he states that “there is pornographic wealth in Angola.”
For anyone who knows the Angola of the past two or three decades, or reads articles like this one in the international media, that statement doesn’t require much of an explanation. However, the use of the word ‘pornographic’ outside a strictly sexual context may raise in some minds the question of its very definition: “what is pornography?”
For someone instinctively averse to pornography of any kind (as I noted here on the early days of this blog), the answer is straightforward: “pornography is something, anything, which intently seeks to pervert, corrupt and degrade – visually, verbally, graphically, physically, psychologically, or by any other means – the object or subject-matter to which it is inflicted upon, be it love, affection, sex, privacy, identity, or one’s own humanity... And it becomes criminal when is perpetrated against the will, without the consent and under the protest of its victim!
For others, the answers may vary according to their own philosophies of life, or just their degrees of exposure to different kinds of pornography.
Personally, although I had been pornographically attacked before on two occasions, I had never been exposed to pornography, whatever its definition, so persistently and viciously as since I started this blog … It’s a long and painful story that can be traced back to this post, reached a high with this one, then evolved to this one and this one, and this one... until exploding on this one!...
And behind it all was a white woman at the forefront (and the first post I mentioned above, preceded by this one, had on the background my questioning of her gratuitous, obscene, voyeuristic, indecent - in short: pornographic! - exposure on her blog of the most intimate sexuality of a group of Angolan female rural traditional dancers... having done so while revealing that the women in question had expressly said to her that in their culture no men should see or be informed of what they had exceptionally allowed her to see!...), with some men and women of different races and ages on the sidelines and the background - the most 'machista', misogynist, male chauvinist pig, inverted and reverted racist, obnoxious, arrogant ignorant, venal, bullish, bigot and criminal of whom eventually leading me to open this page on Facebook!
So, what do all of them have in common? The simple answer is: being from Angola or Portugal, or just from the Lusophone world in general, where the concept of ‘Black Feminism’ (and, within it, 'Post-Colonial Feminism' in particular) is virtually unheard of, except perhaps for Brazil…
And it is at this juncture – Black Feminism/Post-Colonial Feminism – that the issue of “pornography as violence against women” connects with the wider issues of sex, sexuality, sexism, race, ethnicity, gender, class and identity in social interactions.
Again: being instinctively averse to pornography, I cannot tell of the extreme violence the ordeal I have been subject to by that horrendously pervert, despicable white sorry excuse for a woman has constituted to my personal and professional life over the past 5 years!... Not the least because it came on the sequence of another pornographic attack by a black male in the work place which led me to leave a organization I worked for, as I mentioned here; not the least because, with a sordid combination of white supremacy and sexism and amidst the display of disturbing images of Nito Alves before being executed and of Jonas Savimbi dead (two political figures branded by some sectors in Angolan society as "extreme black racists"...) she obsessively targeted her vicious pornographic attacks and vitriol at what I have of most precious: my creative work, my poetry!... Which, by the way, had been from the onset of its publication, back in 1985, subject to "pornographic treatment" of all sorts, as I recalled here... So, she knew exactly what she was doing!... So much so that had no qualms about making it patently clear on her blog:
"E que a raiva do meu corpo, te deite brutalmente sobre a areia de uma praia qualquer, onde te arrancarei a roupa e os complexos, onde te amputarei o génio e a identidade, onde te extirparei a serenidade e o sorriso, para te possuir, selvagem, extinguindo-me na vontade de te engolir para sempre. Na intensidade de um orgasmo lúgubre, conseguirei então o que desejo, afinal, e que há de mais belo em ti: a tua alma pura e frágil!..."
Worse than that, I cannot put into words what seeing black men and women alike siding with her, particularly when knowing that, some years ago, she had been served with a public letter subscribed by a number of prominent Angolan citizens accusing her of racist practices at the local classical ballet dance school then under her direction!... And worst of all, I’m afraid I will never come past the fact that her arrogance and blatant racism have been fuelled by state-sponsorship (to use her own words, "tenho as costas largas"!...) - not the least because she is one of the recipients of an Angolan "National Prize for Culture and the Arts"!...
And state-sponsorship led to other sponsorship - that of the corporate kind: corporate finance, corporate politics and corporate media alike all went out of their way to roll up their sleeves and get up in arms as a 'multitute of seven dwarfs' in defense and support of the “innocent Snow White in the Jungle” supposedly “molested” by a “deranged, ignorant and predatory Black Woman”!...
And to add insult to injury, through a barrage of insults, I was silenced down, humiliated, demonised, denigrated, tormented, vilified, injured, dehumanised and even received death threats, while my blog was sabotaged, my email hacked, my privacy violated and all my life invaded!
In short: I was publicly lynched in a most unbelievable orgy of hatred - all of which throwing me into a deep depression and forced exile more than ever before!...
Well, as I said, that’s a long story!...
Let’s then go back to the short story: “pornography as violence against women”…
As this year’s March – internationally devoted to Woman in all her dimensions – draws to the end, this issue takes me back to the beginning of the month, when I attended the first event the British Academy dedicated to International Women’s Day, and started an exploration of Nancy Spero’s work. In my account of that event, I briefly mentioned the issue of race: including me, there were only three black women in there and, incidentally, none of us was in the panel. And (need to say?) there were no black men to be seen...
What I didn’t mention then was that during the drinks reception following the formal talks, while the three of us were getting to know each other, one of the panellists, Lisa Tickner, who had presented Nancy Spero, approached our group and one of the other two of us, a writer, questioned her over the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of white women to represent all women, to which I said something to the effect that “maybe that is just because we, black women, are generally under-represented in the academy (noting, in passing, that when I did my MSc at the Economic History Department at the LSE I had been only the third black person, and the first black woman, to have been admitted to that department since its creation), rather than necessarily a result of a conscious unwillingness on the part of the members of the panel, or the British Academy for that matter, to be sensitive to black women’s views and accounts of their own lives, experiences and histories”.
Well, I was left under the impression that my views didn’t sink well with my sista, but I felt somehow justified when I came across this interview by Nancy Spero with Sue Williams. Through it you will be able to relate to all the questions around the issue of “pornography as violence against women” I have raised so far. You will also be able to better understand what “Black Feminism” is all about – particularly if you pay attention to what they say on Lorna Simpson’s art work.
And, hopefully, you will also understand why is it that, at least in my experience, it is from the Lusophone countries, with Portugal and Angola at the forefront, that most resistance to contemporary notions of Black Feminism (and I say this while not considering myself a “feminist tout court”, as once I’ve noted here and, as much as I sympathise with the concept, not even a "womanist" as Alice Walker would have it, but quite simply a "humanist"), or Post-Colonial Feminism, comes from: post-colonial Angola is just an offspring of the brand of absolutist and totalitarian communist amoral/immoral left, which, from Portugal, has hold sway over our shores since 1974/75 (and then 'implemented' over the years by Cuba), and now with a renewed impetus under the novel winds of “recolonisation”:
Proud of its 'lusotropicalist and assimilationist ancestry', amidst confused/confusing notions and practices of "white negritude" and the replacement of "humanist ethics" by "ideological ethics" and of the Human and Social Sciences with ideologically inspired fictional literature and poetry and vulturistic art, not to mention the 'traditional' practice established by the founding father of the nation of 'educated' black men predominantly marrying white or light-skinned women, it very simplistically and insensitively, yet totally self-righteously (as Carlos Moore put it: "with Tarzan complex"), made ‘tabua rasa’ [or to use Sue William's words on her painting, After the Revolution, at the top of this post: "After the Revolution (the 'homage to women's groups') is Viva no Differencia and the Fascists are Left"!...] of all issues that composed the various dimensions of the colonial experience (e.g., while keeping pretty much a conservative view towards women's sexuality and reproductive rights - as in here and here - it wiped off gender issues from its discourse, except to 'proclaim' that men and women "ought to be equal" from the war fields, political prison cells and "re-education camps" to the literary production... it swept all race and ethnic-related issues under the rug of "monstros raciais e taras tribais", or "complexos de colonizado"!...), even though these issues have manifestly underpinned the long protracted post-independence conflict in the country, except for the “class struggle” - and not even that it was able to "manage" to its "ultimate consequences": the old top-down class stratification has never ceased to dictate all sorts of social relations in Angola in the post-colonial period, as the existing 'pornographic wealth' mentioned at the start of this post clearly states, or indeed the entire posture of 'that white evil sorry excuse for a woman', who has allways been privileged both in the colonial and the post-colonial periods, towards me leaves no room for doubt, or as it can be gathered from this story about a "friend" that I used to have, written "at the request" of this 'new' friend of hers!...
In fact, all the MPLA history is drenched in that same old race-based class stratification of the "O Mundo Que o Portugues Criou" and has always been determined by it. Hence my questioning of the Marxist theory's empirical basis as it relates to African History, Cultures and Societies, as I have expressed a while back here.
[As Mozambican sociologist Elísio Macamo argues in a recent article, Social Criticism and Contestation: Reflections on the Politics of Anger and Outrage: "If one looks at the context of politics in these two countries (Angola and Mozambique) in terms of the descriptive framework suggested here, one aspect comes immediately to light. At no point in their political history did they really manage to create the conditions for moral debate to take place. While they fought the wars of independence in the name of citizenship, their post-independence policies failed to define the citizenry in ways which would have given them a stake in moral argument. The commitment to building socialist societies meant in effect that the moral obligations of individuals were defined by those wielding political power. Angolans and Mozambicans remained subjects, not citizens, of a system of domination that took the burden of moral responsibility away from the individual and invested it on a vanguard party of cadres who were held to be in a position to interpret the will of the people.]
Thus, it just has this to say to us, Black Women: “on the face of racial, ethnic, sexual, gender or any other kind of abuse and attacks on your personality, integrity, dignity, identity and humanity, be calm, cool and collected, otherwise you’ll be branded a ‘ignorant, racist, extremist, terrorist, predatory and deranged black woman’!...
And we will brand the spectra of Nito Alves and Jonas Savimbi all over you and then invoke Simone de Beauvoir to deny your 'womanhood from the birth', Gilberto Freyre to strip you of your identity and Nelson Mandela to put you to rest once and for all!... As for your attackers, abusers and persecutors they can just get away with murder and end of story!...”
That's, after all, all they had to say along the centuries of colonial rule to all the Black Mothers of their "beloved" skin-deep, fair and straight long-haired "Creole Nation"!...
So… I’ll just shut up and leave you with extracts from that enlightening conversation (and this is not to mean that I totally subscribe to all their views) between Nancy Spero (NS) and Sue Williams (SW):
(NS) I express anger, dissatisfaction, in my art work. I also show women enjoying their own sexual pleasure. But let’s say in conversation I will not be as confidential or expose myself to the degree that I do in my art. So, with that in mind, I’ll ask you a few questions that could refer to both of us.
(SW) People think that I’m like my paintings, liberated and aggressive. When they meet me, they find that I’m shy and not too in control of my life. The work helps me to evolve.
(NS) Your work is critical of abuse of women, is it a call for action, getting out on the streets?
(SW) It’s different than wanting to do real things. They’re my babies, those paintings, so they’re not strictly teaching tools. They’re things that I create, and I like to. Somebody had told me that women thought my show was negative, which I had never heard before, since most people only want to say nice things to your face. And I thought, negative? I had always thought it was kind of happy.
(NS) Canadian law has taken over Catherine McKinnon’s definition of pornography as, “Material that subordinates or degrades women.”
We cannot ignore the threat to equality, resulting in exposure to all audiences of certain types of violent and degrading material. Material portraying women as a class, as objects for sexual exploitation and abuse, and the negative impact on the individual’s sense of self-worth and acceptance. (from The Nation)
When you depict a baseball bat shoved up a woman’s butt, that could be vicious porn. Let’s say you are showing in a Toronto gallery—Canada is the first place in the world that says what is legally obscene and what harms women. How do they know that your piece harms women?
(SW) They lay out little doilies. (laughter)
(NS) There’s a slogan: “Pornography is violence against women.” It doesn’t say that it causes violence. If it depicts it, is that in itself, violence against women?
(SW) You can say that men cause violence to women, so they should be banned, not just the photos. The photos aren’t the violence.
(NS) In the early ‘70s that was true too, but it was more conceptual. And now, the body in art has returned. During the ‘80s, I was attacked for using images of women. This has to do with one feminist theory that women artists should avoid creating a woman’s image for men.
(SW) Right, that’s the party line.
(NS) I could not abide more limits and regulations — you and other women like Kiki Smith, Lorna Simpson, Clarisa Sligh are all involved in the images of the female body in very different ways. Shifting times and interests.
(SW) I never thought of that, not being able to use the body, but your work is conceptual. You take from what’s already out there, don’t really alter it a lot—you’re not messing with it. The work becomes a whole new language; it’s not male art.
(NS) It’s a tool to investigate, to attack, to celebrate. In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir discusses women and their smiles, smiles to please, to accommodate. A woman has to be ready with a smile to ward off potential aggressors, not to give signals of fear.
(NS) I’m married to Leon Golub, and we have three grown sons. I would imagine that some women who don’t know me but have seen my art work wonder how I have been associated with a male artist all these years. Or male artists, or men in general wonder how he could be associated with me. It may seem illogical to them, but that’s not the point. We respect the straight forwardness of each other.
We were discussing how, in the ‘80s, a few feminists condemned the visual depiction of the female body because the woman’s image had been so subsumed under the “mastery” of the male artists’ gaze. An interesting point, but not necessarily to turn it on ourselves, once more limiting emotionally what “good girl” artists are supposed to represent. But I wanted to investigate women’s conditions from the extreme repression and torture of political prisoners to that of women as protagonist, activators freed of male control. I am trying to set things in motion, to re-inscribe women in history. We’ve always been there but we’ve been written out.
(NS) … Do you think that your work would be less appreciated by some women of color? Would there be a resentment towards your experience as a white woman? You might even still, in this terrible situation, be more privileged.
(SW) Yeah, I probably am more privileged in some ways, but then again, the system is the system. A busload of predominantly black women from Atlanta who had been abused came in to the show and wrote some comments. That’s quite a compliment for them to come and see my work, for them to see what an artist is saying about them. That made me feel really proud. At the same time, I saw Lorna Simpson’s show. It was really heavy work and it made me mad because it was true, and I don’t want to feel privileged. Maybe they had resentments because the lady was white.
(NS) Allegiances are mixed, many black women feel white women have not treated them equitably. All these differences of class, race, ethnicity, age, culture.
(SW) Males see my show and they don’t like it, they almost don’t believe it. I had the same reaction when I saw Lorna’s (Simpson) show. She was saying things as a black woman that I don’t know about. Each little thing was representative of her culture.
(…) I wanted to ask you, do you feel like you have a voice and you can speak?
(NS) It took decades but now I get my message out. I’d been working as an artist for 30 years without much response. Then around ‘83 the situation changed, or partially changed. The work reverberated, the same stuff hidden all those years. I infiltrate and subvert and celebrate, as I wish. Earlier in my career, I was excluded, ignored. I was angry and frustrated in my attempts to get some sort of dialogue going. I used fragmented writings of Antonin Artaud collaged with painted images as a means to express my rage at being silenced as an artist [1969-72, the Artaud Paintings and Codex Artaud]. Artaud’s tirades and screams of rage and anguish, his extreme introspection of physical and mental states resonated for me. If his hysterical and insane ravings would have been written by a woman, they would not have survived nor gained this recognition. Women artists are in the world too and will not be silenced.
(SW) I had no world. I could not function in the world I was in.
(NS) It’s tough entering the art world, becoming a participant. It’s a small elitist enclave—a special world, but then one may find a place.
(SW) It’s such a relief. I almost feel like a human being. I still have a prejudice against women. I mean why would I want to look at the past of women; it’s boring. They are not the ones who really did anything.
(NS) It’s a matter of learning the histories of other women—how women have been written out of history. How the struggle for equality has to be fought and won, over and over. It’s as if we always have to start from zero.
(SW) That’s what happened to all our energy. It’s gone somewhere else, not into the world.
“As far as I knew white women were never lonely, except in books. White men adored them, Black men desired them, and Black women worked for them” - Maya Angelou
Human Rights: Looking Beyond the Declaration(s)
A Proposito dos Monologos da Vagina
Poder no Feminino
Mulheres de Domingo
Mulheres a Preto e Branco
De Volta a Muxima
The Burden of The Black Woman