Me You And Everyone We Know: A Conversation between Ashik Zaman & Jacquelyn Davis
The editor-in-chief of C-print Journal, Ashik Zaman and writer and arts/culture critic Jacquelyn Davis share a conversation about the recent and ongoing women's movement, putting the art world to the fore while probing the question of what can and should be done in practice to promote progress and actual change.
A.Z: A little over a year ago, on International Women's Day (2017), a text was published in tsnoK (The Mole Speaks: A March 8th Confession & Call to Strike/Boycott The Man & The Space) addressing a situation of the alleged misdemeanor and sexual misconduct of a gallerist, creative director, CEO, art collector and museum board member in relation to an art critic and curator. I found it to be such an important text shining light on what is a structural problem and what many people will have been aware of but that had not up until that point really been put to the fore with such force. Just a few months later, the #metoo movement began to take shape following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, but looking back now, I think the text didn't have the immediate impact that could have been expected. I feel everyone took note and talked about the related events described, but no collective measures were taken. Why do you think that is?
J.D.: Change won't come from the action of one person. The patriarchy is complex and deeply entrenched (often perceived as “just the way it is, the way it always will be”) for members of a civil (and uncivil) society. The text was the first anonymous voice of many to surface in Stockholm. These initial declarations related to the women's movement took the hardest blows of distrust, mockery and dismay. It is easier to sweep a few demanding voices under the rug than it is to sweep millions of them – for when there are only a few, their observations can be written off as anomalies (and these women may be accused of being weak, hysterical, deserving, unsuccessful, resentful, vengeful, “a screaming witch”). A woman may be seen as an inconvenient thorn – instead of complicit and accommodating. Each voice accepts the responsibility of confronting the beast – to single out who and what stands in the way of women's progress. The first voices were given no map and had no clear examples to follow (omit historical figures from other contexts). The March 8 text expressed a serious predicament (abuse of power) but in a satirical light – perhaps, to entice a bored, ADHD-affected art scene. Similar to violence or pain, troubling incidents and experiences of harassment (as well as assault, rape) are often confronted from a distance (to dilute the horror) – whether it be emotional, psychological or spatial. The manipulation and inequity illustrated in the text between one of Stockholm's established professionals and an immigrating aspirant seems evident.
There were several months (March to October 2017) when the text circulated, more or less, on its own – before the #metoo movement took off. Responses from ranging professionals (aside: usually caucasian, middle-class, cisgender, Swedish native speakers) in Stockholm's art scene were diverse – from sympathetic to concerned to dismissive to normalizing to patronizing to combative. Peoples' “true colors” were observed during this pre- #metoo interim of half a year (and well into the movement but from a shifted angle) from both public and private conversations which took place – as well as from silences and disassociations from those who didn't want to get involved. If you wait to support those who speak up until it's comfortable, trendy, socially acceptable and now: marketable to do so, you risk strengthening the hypocritical machine.
Reminder: the #metoo movement did not originate in Sweden despite claims that Sweden spearheads the international feminist front; #metoo stems from Tarana Burke's 2006 grassroots initiative and was magnified by the political climate in the United States, in this instance, as a response to President Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, ad nauseam. Many other countries have already been confronting this problem; Peru and India continue to fight against femicide. There is trouble with influence and crowd behavior – unfortunately, those who wait too long to speak up or hesitate to support those who do may be viewed as cowards or sheep. Limited initial collective measures occurred in response to the text because it could be written off as fiction. Other reasons: it is easier to go with the grain – people tend to choose the easier option; individuals have a lot to lose by taking sides (e.g., friends, money, status, respect, opportunities, jobs, community); perhaps, some people are only invested in the concept of “solidarity” when the term personally applies to them, their well-being, immediate environment or people they know and appreciate – this is a troubling aspect of human behavior: the egoistic tendency to look after one's self or others believed to be significant, usually affirming their lifestyle or position.
There is this idea that people only have so much empathy to give, so they reserve it for those closest to them and not strangers; also circulating is a critique of Swedish attitudes and behavior. The text received a blurry, delayed response and was not met with the same level of support which later surfaced from the more socially accepted, media promoted, celebrity ordained and approved #metoo movement; there appears to be hesitation, passivity or reservation to support someone who isn't affluent or famous, but who is, well, faceless. Perhaps, the Swedes must become more receptive to certain activist methods and approaches: face-to-face interaction, spontaneous confrontation, humor, a more vital free press; or perhaps, Stockholm fell short responding because the patriarchy is a monster – or headless monster? For when you are forced to aim your arrow, can you find its eyes?
A.Z: You mention this time span between when the text was first released and the later rise of the #metoo movement and the varying reactions that could be experienced. On the less supportive side, people, and I guess we are talking partially about women, being accusatory and in disbelief about the Mole’s account, feels of course underwhelming. I also remember my first reaction was thinking that there are two sides two each story which is telling of how we are so programmed to want to discard uncomfortable realities. Looking back, can you think of a few specific encounters illustrating the initial skepticism and resistance and a subsequent change in approach and tone that would appear hypocritical to you? Or specific situations where one could feel certain people are unduly capitalizing on the “breakthrough”?
J.D.: Some women have never been harassed (nor have they been victims of more serious offenses), and others seem to take pride in being skilled “players” of a faulty system. These “players” often use the patriarchal system to advance their position, with the ambition to replace or usurp the man's position of power by infiltrating, manipulating and working within the system, using entities along the way as tools or tactics to acquire more power – not by questioning, rejecting, reforming or revolutionizing structural components. Only mastering what exists. Essentially, these women sign a deal with the devil. Yet such “mastery” only provides the illusion of progress.
Some women I have spoken with look down upon those who speak up – perhaps, because they cannot relate or they do not possess a parallel experience (hence leading to complications of intersectional feminism: can a caucasian upper class straight woman and married mother of three ever truly understand and empathize with a single working class queer asian transgender immigrant, etc?). Some cannot afford to support the perceivably “unprofessional” perspective of the tsnoK piece, or they feel that the writer of the March 8th text (the Mole) lacks “integrity” (yet the function of a parody is to mock that which deserves to be ridiculed – when an anonymous woman is objectified and harassed with intent to demean, it seems fair that the art scene where the incident occurred be similarly reduced) or worse: because some women have been harassed before but now normalize it (e.g., “you're just that age” or “certainly, you must have encountered such behavior by now”) yet have managed to reach their “goals” despite their own #metoo experiences. Women who accept this dynamic and seamlessly move forward are accomplices.
Here's an example of skepticism: many women self-identify as “sex positive feminists” – but they may be viewed as promiscuous or irresponsible. Sex positive women can be viewed by some as “asking for it” because they express themselves outside the norm. Yet, a goal of sex positive feminism is complete autonomy of the woman's body – because sexual freedom is seen as essential to women's freedom. Yet, when a woman exercises freedom over her body and sexuality, this does not mean that others are entitled access to it. The woman alone should have freedom over her body, and she should choose who has access to it – no matter what her position may be. Other examples of skepticism (and hypocrisy) were noted. For instance, pre- #metoo conversations with certain curators were not supportive in the beginning, but rather: accusatory or dismissive of the Mole's narrative, yet after the movement began months later, these same curators were observed capitalizing off of its momentum (e.g., suddenly organizing femme-focused, politically fueled exhibitions in institutions). One should reconsider what “solidarity” means if it only applies to the theoretical realm. Or: if it only applies to your close friends, favorite femme artists and bourgeois world. Signing timely petitions and curating feminist projects are useful, but be cautious of charged initiatives which conveniently appear “at the right time” or under opportune conditions – such “on-target” responses risk converting political significance into a marketing ploy.
Another instance: when a certain exhibition space's co-partner has allegations of sexual misconduct, but the space later attempts to ignore the accusation, erase it, harness and appropriate the movement's political momentum to profit by creating a special solo show highlighting an established woman artist as tribute to International Women's Day for their hand-picked audience. This type of contradictory behavior occurs if an audience or participants are isolated, ignorant of the abused, oblivious, far removed from politics and ethics, or: those associated prioritize profit, career advancement, etc. Another instance: when the director of a museum speaks on a #metoo panel while this same director sits on the board of a foundation where art works from the foundation's collection are simultaneously being sold by a company co-founded by an individual accused of sexual misconduct. Another: when certain galleries publicly claim to support #metoo or #notsurprised initiatives, yet these same galleries (or their represented artists in which galleries often share profits with external collaborators) are still working professionally with individuals and companies harboring allegations of misconduct towards women in the community (e.g., external company x, gallery y and represented artist z split profit three ways, or represented artist z makes a 50/50 transaction with external company x). It is imperative to scrutinize business transactions between individuals, organizations, institutions and companies, so as to monitor the flow of power translated into economic terms (i.e., money is power) – ranging from those suspect to identified, to those who claim to be supportive, to those viewed as “innocent bystanders.”
A gallery can refuse doing business with others. Gallerists regularly refuse or ignore proposals from artists and curators; these same gallerists can refuse doing business with individuals or companies who have either been suspected or identified as #metoo perpetrators or power abusers. For example, a gallerist or artist can refuse to sell art to questionable collectors; everyone upholds the right to be selective. Feel free to question whether or not possible collaborators (e.g., specific companies, organizations, institutions) have functioning HR departments, unionized employees or safe methods for employees (and prospective employees) to report abuse. If these entities fall short, one may halt collaborations until satisfied. Those who freelance or participate in gig economies are at a higher risk. It is important to notice which fields still remain docile or silent while other fields (e.g., art, medicine, theatre, film) have united on some level. For instance, regard Stockholm's fashion world (which now mingles with the art world), and ask these questions: why haven't these women been able to speak up? What are the agencies representing models and stylists doing to protect them? And I don't mean advertising vague, detached support for the cause in your feed to score “feminist points” with your followers.
Skepticism also comes in the form of distrust of the voices, yet most women speaking up get little to nothing by sharing – stakes are high because women sharing narratives carry the burden of proof, encounter backlash and confront real threats (e.g., humiliation, legal action). And a pattern exists. The accused “routinely responds by trying to impeach the credibility of the accuser,” and the accuser usually faces repercussions. Yet these first accusations can lead to more accusers coming forward to confirm behavior of the accused, leading others to realize that they are one of many being targeted. But this dynamic (a whistleblower followed by others confirming the perpetrator's behavior and then uniting) tends to protect recidivist harassers because, unfortunately, the first voice has no guarantee that other victims exist – so most remain silent. I have read about the construction of a beta system incorporating “information escrow”; it aims to protect accusers using confidentiality and a trusted intermediary:
The government, legal system and work place are currently inadequate handling #metoo allegations, so speaking up is one of only a few existing methods – especially, if harassed by men in considerable positions of influence and power. A criminal conviction verifies guilt, but the current legal system is not up to par. Therefore, individuals should consider trusted whisper networks, blacklists and alternative warning systems. Initial “resistance” (resistance to change, that is, not resistance to the patriarchy) also came out in the form of reluctance to communicate; those who spoke up encountered others shocked into silence or absent from a conversation which some felt was forced on them. After watching events unfold, we know this: wearing a designer tee-shirt on the cat walk declaring “The Future is Female” is not going to cut it.
A.Z: The Swedish art scene did eventually launch a collective stand #konstnärligfrihet (“artistic freedom”) joining a reported number of 1625 women, transgender and non-binary persons in the petition. I as a man in the art scene will have had extremely little insight into the deliberations and process behind it, and I gather the basis for it was a closed Facebook group where open discussions took place. To the extent of my knowledge, conflicting views related to how to regard what is misconduct informed by #metoo and where lines go and what sort of actions should be put under scrutiny more closely and not. I have spoken to some women who found the tone to be too adversarial and affronting. Were there any personal epiphanies that come to mind relating to the process?
J.D.: I was in the group. To respect privacy, my response will be clipped. I remember several key impressions: ranging from someone not understanding the point, to someone frustrated that the process of coming together was taking too long, to someone in awe that something big was happening and how wonderful it was to be a part of it, to someone who thought that the group wasn't good enough to take on the responsibility, to someone scared for their safety, to someone relieved because they were no longer alone. The group focused more on sexual harassment, assault and rape in association with art schools and didn't really address when it occurs within the art world's work force, private companies or privately funded institutions. It is easier to address policy changes within government funded schools and institutions which depend upon public funding and ideological shifts affirmed by politicians. How to monitor and implement policy changes behind closed doors of private entities is a real challenge. The group's focus was to exercise solidarity, to prevent future incidents, to locate patterns and threats, to brainstorm and plan, to join voices to publicly declare discontents and demands. My epiphanies came more so from private conversations: this is a phenomenon which affects and damages women (and others) located on every point of the spectrum. I remember the words of Audre Lorde: “your silence will not protect you.” If you cannot fight for yourself, then you cannot expect anyone else to fight for you.
A.Z: There are of course the claims and the common perception of Sweden as a leader of the feminist front, as you mention, which makes you think of how cultural and societal differences would possibly impact the reception of a movement like #metoo and a text like the one written by the Mole but in reality you will obviously find the same cowardice everywhere in large quantity, even where you would least expect. Here or elsewhere. On a related note, what was your reaction to Catherine Deneuve and others in France denouncing #metoo more vocally as a “witch hunt”?
J.D.: Catherine Deneuve's perspective that men have the “right to bother” struck a bitter chord with me. Deneuve's declaration is influenced by the French Libertine Movement, where more rebellious individuals fought traditional ideologies and puritanical oppression by expressing their sexual freedom. Yet, what Deneuve neglects to consider is that one's sexual freedom should never impede upon another's. In a world where everyone wants to be free (e.g., free to be open, free of shame), this does not mean that anyone is free to take someone else's freedom. It's a delicate balance: the freedom TO vs. the freedom FROM.
I am in an argument with a friend which stems from Deneuve's stance. My friend loves getting attention from men, and she affirms a core part of her identity by receiving such attention. She invites the male gaze and wants to confront their desires. My friend agrees with Deneuve who argues that the #metoo movement fosters a new puritanism and unwarranted paranoia – and that having multiple partners or casual sex outside marriage denounces obsolete patriarchal taboos. Deneuve is a modern-day Libertine. But here lies the conflict: a Libertine does not aim to hurt, offend, hinder or oppress anyone in their quest for sexual freedom – on the contrary: Libertinism supports the Pleasure Principle. A Libertine wants to live a life devoid of sexual restraint and incompatible morality, but: a Libertine lives in the real world where compromise is necessary. A Libertine should never force another into sexual intimacy. And that is the key point: consent. Frankly, Libertinism is best suited for utopias, being an extreme form of hedonism between parties who mutually agree to participate in debauchery. In the real world, specifically the work force, Libertinism often compliments or justifies corruption – career advancement should not be dependent on whether or not one responds to sexual advances. Women applying for jobs, working or attending school have agreed to be in a straightforward interview or do their assigned job or study specific subjects for a degree or recognition. Such negotiations should be based on intelligence, skills, talent, aptitude, resourcefulness, drive – not one's body, gender, sexuality, orientation, relationship status, reproductive capacity.
As for the “witch hunt” perspective: many political parties, interest groups and concerned individuals agree that an efficient way to combat the patriarchy during this era is to march, strike, boycott and even: call out specific individuals and organizations who are misogynistic, abusive or detrimental. These collective actions aim to highlight needs and concerns ignored or suppressed due to previously using more acceptable negotiation methods (i.e., stemming, in part, from a more compromising “lean-in feminism”). I overheard other criticisms: (1) those exposing individuals, companies, etc. are viewed as “killjoys” who ruined the “party” for those who abide by (and usually profit from) the status quo; (2) some believe that the movement is “bigger” than any singular action (e.g., calling out misogynistic entities) – certain individuals do not believe that “the answer” lies in the action of calling out anyone, but rather, that a widespread structural overhaul and shift of consciousness is the desired strategy. The former criticism is an opinion. The problem with the latter criticism is that it discredits how important reform is when implementing structural changes needed to combat the patriarchy which is, in my perspective, too powerful to rebel against in one motion. One point of speaking up and exposing misogynistic entities is to identify them, so as to move away from them, or remove them from the overarching structure, thereby leaving voids and spaces to replace, repair or alter. Such removals loosen up the larger structure, aiming to create flexibility for metamorphosis. Think of reform via speaking up against specific entities as aggressive “editing” rather than a complete “rewrite” or “smash.” Or: think of each voice as one stab, kick or punch of many needed to make an impact.
A.Z: It makes me think of having seen a video on YouTube that made headlines involving Rose McGowan who of course has been a key and central figure in the movement. She was giving a reading at Barnes & Nobles for her autobiographical book Brave when she was being heckled by transgendered woman who questioned what she had done for transgendered women who in her view particularly face abuse and adversity in society. Rose duly lost a bit of her temper but said it so well; “We are the same, sister” and asked rhetorically; “What have you done for women?”. I do think myself that instead of questioning the flaws or ineffectiveness of an action in relation to a massive goal, it’s important to credit the individual who does unlike many, take a public stand. Everything counts, everything is seen or heard by someone, whether the acknowledgement is there.
It sounds idealistic but feels motivated. It’s easy to get discouraged but I reckon it’s important trying to remain optimistic and adopt a mindset that things can really be achieved.
Having said that, and getting back to the art world specifically in spring 2018, be it that things will inevitably take time, how do you feel things are progressing on an international level? I think for instance of the situation involving Artforum and Knight Landesman who I believe up until recently was still a co-owner of the magazine even if he stepped down as editor. All of this had been addressed by the group behind We Are Not Surprised (“WANS”) in a second letter calling out as well Artforum’s move to file a motion to dismiss curator and ex-staff member Amanda Schmitt’s lawsuit against him.
J.D.: I have no idea what it's like to be Rose McGowan. She is obviously strained, and many think of her as a leader – for better or worse. The clip reveals a lot about how far we've come and how far we still have to go. In three minutes, we see a screaming transgender audience member and an exposed famous woman on stage unable to recognize the other – unable to unite, ending in antagonism. The patriarchy knows this tactic well: turn competing rivals against one another, and soon, neither will exist as threats because they now aim to destroy each other instead. In the clip, we see McGowan's faҫade crumble – ultimately declaring boredom and seeking truth. McGowan is no politician trained to grease wheels and say the right thing at the right time; she displays contradictory moods. Yet, I believe that she tries to preserve her humanity while under glaring lights.
This has turned out to be personal; I have not been able to write for Artforum again yet. Many of my colleagues have either taken a time-out or are permanently MIA. I am boycotting due to how the situation has so far panned out: Landesman is still co-owner, and Schmitt's allegations have been downplayed. So, I shift energies to solo projects and work with others until a solution surfaces. Select artists and darlings have my attention – usually women or newcomers. I love the art world when the energy feels right, but I cannot turn my head. Yet, I regularly turn the lens my direction and dissect my own hypocrisy – no one is innocent. Those who strike and boycott often lose money and stall advancement, and support still falls short. Words increase awareness, but a hashtag or post does not suffice. I wait for more people to take a stand: move away from the greedy, “entitled” and oppressive. Cut ties, and choose sound collaboration partners. You can always boycott those who do not boycott. If you cannot strike due to some factor outside your control, then support women professionals, artists, curators and critics – help them reach their potential. We notice when you do. It comes back to you.
A.Z: I must say that what you say about turning the lens towards one’s own direction to face the own hypocrisy strikes a chord with me. Even as I say every action counts and is necessary and believe the words as I say them, there’s also a part of me that sometimes reacts intuitively with skepticism to what is felt frivolous. This will have been the case with recent social media uproar in Sweden surrounding the controversy of the departure of the permanent secretary of the Swedish Literary Academy, Sara Danius, following a debacle that stems from one of the member’s (Katarina Frostenson who also resigned) husband’s, Jean-Claude Arnault’s alleged sexual misconduct towards a number of women. Sara Danius is known to wear tied blouses and as a tribute and in support of her my Instagram feed was full of women and men wearing tied bows around the neck.
My reaction was, perhaps not so much that it is self-indulgent, but that it isn’t enough and makes me wonder why it requires for the rise of a social media campaign to which the contribution may appear simple, for certain people to raise their voice about issues talked about in the media daily. And then as quickly, I realize again, no, the collective action and effort bears power and should not be underestimated or undercredited. Ultimately it comes down to what you were you were speaking about before about costs. It costs to speak your mind when no one else is, it costs less when everyone is and it costs to refrain from undertaking assignments or jobs that pay your bills on the account of your principles and beliefs and feels even less motivating when people around are not following suit.
J.D.: I wore a pussy bow blouse that day because it symbolizes a real-life incident of power abuse; I didn't feel like a hypocrite when wearing it. I partially justified it by focusing on the catalyst for the sequence of events which led up to Danius taking the fall: 18 women, alleged victims of sexual abuse and rape, anonymously spoke up because the system failed them – as it failed Danius. And they probably knew that the system would fail them – hence why they initially chose the media to seek justice in lieu of the legal system. In certain media sources, Arnault is described as an “Anarchist,” yet, this is a misnomer. The 18 women who collectively spoke up against him better represent Anarchism. This crisis specifically confirms that all women are affected, regardless of position: the anonymous and esteemed. I don't like every woman who crosses my path (nor do I like every woman who wore a pussy bow blouse), but no woman should suffer such offenses. You don't have to like, know or even recognize someone in order uphold a basic level of decency.
Perhaps, we should instead see these “collective actions” for what they are: collective gestures or reminders of what still needs to be corrected. Not actions, in the true sense, but compiled signs. Something is very wrong with society if we trick ourselves into thinking that a gesture is synonymous with an action. A gesture is a signal or tool to assist in enforcing action. We may lose the ability to differentiate between thought and action – in part, because the integration and utility of social media convinces that gestures (e.g., “thoughts and prayers” or audio-visual stimuli) are sufficient substitutes for reality or its subsequent change. This debate has been going on for a while: simulacra and simulation as threat. Social media users will probably always be self-indulgent, narcissistic and promotional. This is often the desired intent; certain individuals (you know who) make a killing capitalizing off of and feeding egos. But the phrase “put your money where your mouth is” exists for a reason.
A.Z: Just the other day I was reminded of what to me in the moment struck as “male rock star privilege”. A well-known male critic was scheduled to talk at a regional art fair where I was involved and for reasons not entirely known to me, just got up and left before the talk began without offering any explanations for his swift departure neither prior to nor after leaving. Ultimately the remaining panel was left facing the consequences of his absence. The panel did exceptionally well all things considered but in the midst and rush of everything his absence you could say was excused instead of letting it exactly known what happened: Audience, this person has decided not to be with us and you. This sort of behavior I believe is so easily excused when the people are men and I think one important aspect to stress that is omnipresent in our conversation here is “privilege”; white and male privilege or more accurately white male privilege.
J.D: History confirms that if one has enough money and/or power, they can create rules, social mandates, cultural dictations and zones in their favor. Excuses and apologies are sometimes uttered when the powerful slip up and are caught with their hand in the cookie jar “testing certain boundaries,” yet as we discussed, these are merely gestures. With enough money and power, one may choose who they associate with, where they live and go – and even, as we see in Stockholm's art scene, who specifically constitutes a catered audience and where media coverage originates (e.g., rigged = when press coverage for an exhibition space originates from a magazine also owned by the director of the same space; when a curator receives press coverage for their curated exhibition from a magazine where the same curator serves as contributing writer). Well-positioned individuals often choose their interactions, and if any are predicted to be undesirable, difficult or revealing, the privileged may be absent – or remove (erase?) threats entirely.
Just as one “male rock star” might exercise his so-called privilege and not be present, there are others – the anonymous, unappreciated, unrecognized, excluded, banned – who do not have a choice in matters. Exclusion also manifests itself as: leaving out an international audience via choice of language, creating VIP lists in exclusive venues, not really listening when others speak – opting for pretense. For instance, exclusion is illustrated by those invited (or not) to speak on a panel to discuss controversial topic x; if one zooms in, the invited panel speakers may be contradictory. Perhaps, one speaker maintains the status quo and consistently reaps the benefits of white male privilege while given the stage to politely argue “the necessity of increased transparency in the art world.” If transparency only applies to the analysis of a discussion's theoretical content but the positions (whether rightfully deserved, inherited, quietly decided behind closed doors or otherwise) of those speaking is not scrutinized with analogous transparency, we risk participating in a farce. Some are too disturbed to play along.
A.Z: While responsibilities of acting are collective, the actions of some inevitably bear greater impact and power than others, depending on your position so to speak in the art world. To be in power and position as a key influential curator or say for instance a leading gallerist, people could potentially mobilize opinion quite effectively if voicing up. I think in the least and to a start, one thing many people should feel an obligation to do is to reflect on the position and privilege they hold and thereby coming to terms with to what extent they actually have the power to influence and change things that are messed up. On a final note, what are some concrete actions as opposed to gestures you think collectively could be carried out here and now in Stockholm. On an immediate level, what should be done from here to motion things in the right direction?
J.D.: Individuals should take stock of how their own empathy and prejudice function. If you are turned off or tuned out, it will be difficult to act alone – much less collectively. Are you objectifying, fetishizing, assuming or projecting? Take inventory of yourself, what you believe and stand for, where you are positioned and how you can help. If you have doubts, educate yourself and listen to others before speaking. There are many informed people who may serve as guiding lights. Become the devil's advocate, put yourself in the shoes of others, break down larger problems into smaller tasks. Use logic to determine if what you are saying and doing leads to actual change, and if not: stop fooling yourself. Sadness and anger can paralyze and cloud judgment. If it becomes too much, remove yourself – then return and convert emotions into fuel for meaningful action; do not confuse an emotion with an action.
Just as individuals can call out #metoo perpetrators and power abusers, they can also expose hypocrisy, contradiction and inequity. Collectively, the art scene owes it to itself to hold participants accountable, especially since the action (or inaction) of one can affect (infect?) the entire unit. Some actions to consider: (1) Make a conscious effort to direct a percentage of your time, money, assets and energy towards improving the socio-political milieu and supporting your cause, so results are experienced firsthand and for others (known and unknown); (2) Increase awareness – go out of your way to understand and assist someone who contrasts yourself; (3) Move away from power abusers, and end (or if impossible: significantly minimize) collaboration with them – both creative and economic; (Re)direct energies into a beneficial direction, towards those affected by injustice as well as allies, so as to mend that which deserves to thrive; (4) Believe the women who speak up, and invest in creating sound methods for others to have a voice; (5) Monitor and get involved in already-existing institutions, organizations or political factions, and participate in reform and activism. For example, contact the media, KRO, the gallery association director and Sweden's minister of culture with stories, observations, complaints, requests for support and policy suggestions. Yet: do not expect everyone in positions of power or influence to help (you have your politics, as they have their own) – DIY; (6) Ask more questions. Ask better questions; (7) Do not accept the unacceptable. You reserve the right to say “No.”
Jacquelyn Davis is an American-Swedish writer, arts/culture critic, independent curator and publisher. She currently resides in Stockholm
Ashik Zaman is the editor-in-chief of C-print Journal
Portrait credit: Håkan Stergos Machlis