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Women of the World (WOW) Festival 2023 – Stirring and insightful platform

Women of the World (WOW)  Festival 2023  – Stirring and insightful platform

It is one of the largest festivals of its kind anywhere in the world and seeks to spotlight and platform issues of concern to women. The latest edition of WOW took place at the Southbank Centre in London between March 10-12…

Personal reflections

By Suman Bhuchar, associate editor acv

SUCH a packed an exciting programme – I listened to the Views on the News with MP Rachel Reeves and then opted to attend the session on The Story of Art Without Men, where art historian Katy Hessel was in conversation with author Kate Mosse and gave us a fascinating insight into her book and what prompted her to write it.

Meanwhile in the main Royal Festival Hall, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was In Conversation with her local MP Tulip Siddiq.

Tulip Siddiq and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Hessel spoke of how women vanish from art history and how we can change that. She explained that she was prompted to investigate this after graduating from university in 2015 and looking at the seminal art history books, such as EH Gombrich’s seminal ‘The Story of Art’, first published in 1950 which left out women artists.

Hessel began posting on Instagram highlighting women artists and this led her to borrow the format of Gombrich’s book and write her own book, ‘The Story of Art Without Men’, which only features women artists.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

She gave several examples of women artists and their way of seeing – such as the 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi or the 19th century African/Native American sculptor, Edmonia Lewis who made ‘Forever Free’ a sculpture created in 1867, commemorating the Abolition of Slavery.

Hessel pointed out that it is only recently that women are heading up galleries – Maria Balshaw, who became director of Tate in 2017 and the influential curator, Frances Morris, now director at Tate Modern. It was an interesting and stimulating conversation.

Later, listened to the panel at WOW Big Ideas chaired by Jude Kelly (founder and CEO Wow Foundation) which featured former prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, actor, Shobna Gulati, Vice and Vice UK editor-in-chief, Zing Tsjeng, writer Alice Sherwood and they were also joined later by the Mayor, Sadiq Khan (who had been at the St Patrick’s day parade in Central London). See the caption for lead picture below.

Afzal has prosecuted many high profile cases – and has just chaired the Independent Cultural review of the London Fire Brigade, which concluded that the organisation has a culture of misogyny. You can read more about the review (see the link below) and he spoke about why he is driven to investigate and prosecute crimes against women. “I have been impacted by women’s experience all my life,” citing his mother as a strong influence.

Writer Sherwood talked about how she learnt about authenticity through exploring the lives of “con-women” who are also mis-represented with figures such as Mary Baker (Princess Caraboo) or Dorothy Matthews (occult queen of Harlem, Fu Fattam) or even modern day equivalents, such as Anna ‘Delvey’ Sorokin or Elizabeth Holmes.

Jude Kelly and Rachel Reeves MP

Tsjeng talked about how spotting a Chinese woman character in the background in the film, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ (2003) led her to discovering the life of Ching Shih, a sex worker from Canton, who ended up controlling a fleet of pirate ships in the 1800s. “Remembering takes effort,” she said but Tsjeng was driven to uncover this area and has recently published a book ‘Forgotten Women: The Women who Shaped and Were Erased from Our History’. (It features many characters such as Sarojini Naidu, freedom fighter, and Camile Claudel, sculptor and lover of Rodin).

Gulati spoke of how she looked after her mother, who passed away as a result of vascular dementia and then wrote about it in her recent memoir, ‘Remember Me!’ Subtitled ‘Discovering My Mother as she Lost her Memory‘. She said she wanted to look at what time means when we talk about memory and went on to read a short excerpt from her book.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, talked about the importance of allyship and pointed out that it is not too difficult to work to create equality in the world of work and beyond and to work towards creating safer spaces for women.

Katy Hessel with Kate Mosse

The Mayor’s Office has recently launched a short film and campaign, ‘Have A Word’ to encourage men and boys to reflect on their behaviour.

Khan stressed the need for male allyship even more so in today’s polarised world and pointed to many examples of how his office is working towards equality in London.

ACV later heard Lips Choir – the trans-inclusive women’s choir belting out pop numbers, and ended the afternoon silently singing along to ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’… the popular Eurythmics number.

The WOW live programme is a mixed bag of offerings but it is definitely an inspiring and empowering place to be.

Picture caption at top: Jude Kelly, Shobna Gulati, Zing Tsjeng, Alice Sherwood and Nazir Afzal

All pictures except top – ©EllieKurttz

Have a Word –

See more on WOW from acv on Instagram – One of four individual posts from Saturday sessions, including one on Brick Lane, Meera Syal on the panel of women discussing Midultling Marvellously; Home Girls Unite, where immigrant oldest daughters and Ify Adenuga, author of Endless Fortune and the mother of four brilliant British black entertainment figures, including rapper Skepta, discussed the cultural and generational divide of immigrant parents and their British-raised offspring; and where a panel of inspirational women from around the world discussed the Climate Emergency

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture