Northwest Film Forum, in partnership with UW Bothell Cultural Studies Masters Program, hosted its third celebration of the International Women’s and Trans People Day on Saturday, March 4.
Performances featured women artists from Youth Speaks poets, Cultural Studies students, and a special performance by Sister Spit, a women and trans poetry roadshow.
This is the first year the event included transgender people into the discussion of women’s history, feminist performances, film and other forms of artistic expression.
The event took off with the Sister Spit performance, followed by a mixed-art collaboration from Cultural Studies students at UW Bothell. The performance was a combination of poetry, dance, video compilation and indigenous people’s drums. It focused around the current political events surrounding the new president and immigration, race and gender issues the country is facing.
UW Bothell students and Sister Spit members then took to the stage for a panel discussion.
The panel’s original topic was supposed to be Decolonizing International Women’s Day: a discussion of the histories of the day from a transnational perspective. However, the panel’s free-flowing form took a different turn and focused around the history of the Sister Spit organization and art as a form of resistance.
“We had a lot of ideas of what we wanted to talk about and didn’t end up having a lot of time for that,” said Emily Fuller, UW Bothell Cultural Studies Master’s student. “We wanted to talk about the history of the event and talk about it from the transgender and transnational perspective. We wanted to have an informal discussion and the conversation naturally flowed into talking more about Sister Spit and how creative practices relate to activism.”
UW Bothell’s Cultural Studies Program were represented by Emily Fuller, Daniel Kissinger and Nejat Kedir. Sister Spit members Cathy de la Cruz, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Jennifer Espinoza, Maya Songbird, and Celeste Chan are all part of the 20th anniversary Sister Spit tour.
When asked about how their work and art intersects with resistance, panelists were eager to share their input.
“My own existence is the kind of resistance to the system,” said Delgado Lopera. “The fact that I’m not even supposed to exist. I’m an immigrant, I’m a queer, and I’m a Latina. Just the fact that I’m able to create work from this body is resistance in itself.”
“I’m a black woman in America, and I didn’t ask to be that way,” said Songbird. “And I’m not just black, but I’m also a woman with extra weight, and an artist. Everything is throwing daggers at me every day, but I’m still here.”
Kedir said art is one of the disciplines that doesn’t have standardized testing in the educational system, and that allows for it to become a space in which resistance can flourish within the system.
“Art also has the potential to be a propaganda tool, but it also has this radical potential to capture the resistance and create space for a different imagination,” Kedir said. “It can create ways in which our silences can be spoken in a different manner.”
Next, the panel touched on what it means to be a part of the Sister Spit 20th anniversary tour. The organization started out as an all-women poetry roadshow, but now welcomes artists from all genders, as long as they share the historic idea of Sister Spit and their focus on feminism, queerness and inclusion. For many, it has become a safe haven where they can take a stand and freely express themselves through their writing.
“The idea that this has been able to sustain itself for 20 years is amazing,” de la Cruz said. “The idea that a group of all women can go out there and tour just like some rock band is incredible. Sister Spit makes sure that these poets get paid for their work and performances. It’s not the way that I usually get treated as a poet and an artist.”
“I’m infinitely grateful, especially as a transwoman and a lesbian, to be a part of Sister Spit,” Espinoza said. “I’m not interested in forcing myself into spaces where I’m not wanted, but these spaces where we get to perform get you to be a part of something where you feel loved and wanted.”
The last topic discussed was how these women, by putting themselves out there and speaking about so many personal things, are able to heal and not feel like martyrs. While the experience and reasons for doing this are different for everyone, the consensus among the poets was that what they do is not martyrdom.
“I don’t see this as martyrdom, because I think there is something so powerful in being fully seen and witnessed, when you have a certain amount of invisibility,” Chan said. “Your story is always predetermined for you, assumed to be this or that. But here you get to have the space and say, ‘No, this is my experience, and let me tell you, it’s messy and complicated.’”
The rest of the event included a poster making session, a screening of a short film, Gender in Film, PhotoVoice Presentation: From the West Coast to the West Bank: A Photovoice Project Examining Women’s Health & Human Rights in the U.S. and Palestine, and Images in Time and Space Student Work Screening.
“I don’t know much about the actual history of the International Women’s Day, and these spaces can be very problematic and not the most intersectional,” Fuller said. “It’s probably why it had been renamed to include transgender people as well this year. While I can’t say what the Women’s Day means to me as a whole, this manifestation of it that took place in this event was a positive thing that felt good.”