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  • Writer's pictureanne

The spirit of feminist_mas

Eeeek – December is here … and as the festive season descends upon us, no amount of ‘bah humbug’ will make it go away. For many of us, this time of the year still holds a certain magic, evenings at home sipping hot chocolate, the sparkle and lights are quite irresistible. But on the flip side, we also know that it’s more capitalist BS. We're in the middle of brutal cost-of-living and energy crises - all courtesy of a corrupt tory government whose new austerity measures, extended last month, mean more kids going hungry, more impoverished families dependant on foodbanks, more women forced to stay with violent partners because they cannot afford to leave and more people unhoused … with that in mind it can be hard to summon the festive spirit. OK – I’ll get off my soap box, but you get my drift!

So if you need some light relief, some escapism or a simply looking for cool, fun, affordable alternatives to beat the festive fever, look no further. There are loads of fab things to distract you and fuel your intersectional feminist fire. Wherever you fit on the scale of ‘I really love xmas to not at all’, feminist_mas has something in store for you.

End of year exhibitions
For love, and for country, 2022. Amy Sherald
For love, and for country, 2022. Amy Sherald

Go to West End and do something that doesn’t involve shopping. Go to a gallery instead and see Amy Sherald: The World We Make. She rose to fame after painting Michelle Obama’s official portrait. Her poignant depiction of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in Louisville in March 2020, further cemented her reputation. This is her first solo show in Europe.

Her new paintings are imposing, and not just by their size. Sherald uses a striking combination of vibrant colours that give her paintings amazing texture. Her use of colour is significant in more ways, notably, she uses a grey monochrome for skin colour. It reminds her of the old family photographs that inspired her to paint, because she grew up with virtually zero representation of Black people in portraiture.

Absolutely love how she confronts traditional Western canon, in ‘For love, and for country’ (2022), for instance, where she beautifully recreates the iconic photography ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ (1945) and how her work brings to life and humanises the Black experience by depicting her subjects in both historically recognisable and everyday settings.

A God Blessed Land (Empire of Dirt)’ (2022) portrays a man proudly sitting atop of his tractor. It was inspired by a farmer friend she spent time with on the land, who told her how this part of American culture slowly disappearing. It also references traditional farm paintings, the history of agriculture in art, the story of land ownership and land loss … and you might recognise a slight touch of American Gothic. Artistically it is simply stunning – every blade of grass glistens. Hauser & Wirth. Ends 23 December. Free.

Leisure Lady Black Black Dress and Red Pumps, 2022. Tschabalala Self
Leisure Lady Black Black Dress and Red Pumps, 2022. Tschabalala Self

Just nearby, at Pilar Corrias, you can catch Tshabalala Self: Home Body, an exhibition of new paintings, drawings, sculptures, and functional objects. Hands up, I hadn’t heard of Self before stepping into the gallery. Her work is vibrant ... but what is behind the powerful, colourful mostly seated, mostly female personages? The show’s title holds an important clue. Self’s work provides a window into the so-called private sphere of the home and underscores the inherent tensions at work in domestic settings, where socially prescribed identity and gender politics dominate our alleged safe-spaces. How befitting, as we approach the season where most women will take on the role of lead ‘homemaker’. Her exploration of the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality, is inspired by her observations, as a teen, of the racialised, objectified and hyperbolic representation of Black women’s bodies in popular culture. Ends on 17 December. Free.

You can also see Seated, a large bronze sculpture, in Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross.

Ends 31 January. Free.

Give Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland tackiness and rip-off prices a wide birth. Instead go for a lovely walk and head for the Serpentine where you’ll find not one but two fabulous exhibitions. Barbara Chase-Riboud: Infinite Folds, covers over seven decades of sculptural work exploring memory, history and power; and pioneering Sudanese artist Kamala Ibrahim Ishag whose States of Oneness looks at our connections with the natural world.

Both end 29 January. Free.

Get away from the hustle and bustle and the xmas shoppers, grab a quiet drink in one of these two old school, no frills, characterful London pubs – The Monkey Puzzle and The Heron Bar. If you’re feeling particularly brave on xmas morning, you could also head to the Serpentine for Peter Pan Cup (note – open to serpentine swimming club members only).

It’s difficult to think of a better antidote to xmas than the Barbican’s brutalist concrete architecture and what a better time to go! Totally recommend the two stunning exhibitions they currently hosting. Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel is a beautiful, soulful tribute to feminist icons from pre-revolutionary Iran - as in the 1979 revolution.

As you enter The Curve, you are greeted by a shimmering monolith, reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a soundtrack, which weaves together songs by Iranian singers from the period - and a poignant reminder that it is illegal for women in Iran to sing in public. The exhibition consists of 28 delicately painted miniature portraits of incredible women such as these - Rebel (Portrait of Zinat Moadab), 2021, and Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season (Portrait of Forough Farrokhzad), 2022.

Ends on 26 January. Free.

Carolee Schneeman: Body Politics. A major retrospective tracing over six decades of radical, avant-garde, experimental feminist art. Her work is very much rooted in 60’s liberation movement, but continues to be relevant in the issues it addresses from sexual expression to the objectification of women, the violence of war, cancer and more. In the same sense as the women depicted by Soheila Sokhanvari, Schneeman was a trailblazer, going against society's limitations and constantly breaking new ground. She recognised and challenged the history of patriarchy and power structures throughout her life and work, which includes begins with paintings, sculptural assemblages, kinetic works, theatre, film, multimedia installations - always pushing the boundaries. It's a lot to take in because there is so much raw, creative expression and energy in her art, because it is truly radical, personal, and always defiant.

In the above images, she addresses gendered gaze (Sir Henry Francis Taylor, 1961); the story of a woman overlooked in the annals of patriarchal history (Pharaoh's Daughter, 1966); the body not just as a subject, but as something with which to experiment in creating work (Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions for Camera, 1963); and research into female sexuality (Vulva's Morphia, 1995) ... and that is just a fraction of what's on show.

Ends 08 January. Standard ticket - £18.00.

After seeing these two in one sitting - you'll need some down time. Coffee in the Conservatory is always a treat ... or head to the Martini Bar for something stronger.

And last one.

If you are into sci-fi and video game, make your way to the Zabludowicz Collection, in Chalk Farm, and enter LuYang’s world of animations and avatars. LuYang NetiNeti is not just any old multi-media exhibition, but an exploration of the human body and mind through a combination of Buddhism, neuroscience and digital technology. Definitely on my list. Ends 12 February. Free.

Now for more ‘traditional’ festive activities …

Head to the Africa Centre for their Spirit of Africa marketplace on 17th – 18th December and find a lovely range of contemporary Afrocentric fashion, food, art, and entertainment including workshops catering to specific interests … and it’s a stone’s throw from the Southbank, which always scrubs up nice for the festivities. Book FREE ticket in advance.

If xmas markets aren’t your bag, wander the backstreets of London instead with Treadwells’ London Witches walking tour, on 16 December.

Pantos are a bit like brussels sprouts - oh yes they are - you either love’m or hate’m. If the former, head to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for the cheeky Cracked – Snow White… with Extra Bite - until 6th Jan. But if you’re having none of it, try La Clique’s alternative melange of sexy cabaret and contemporary circus - until 7th January.

Other entertainment options include Singing in Solidarity, a Winter Concert by Together Productions to mark International Migrants Day - 13 December; A Very Polari Xmas, performances and dancing by London's multi award-winning LGBTQ+ literary salon -

15 December; and Women’s Voices, an interactive exhibition showcasing women using music as an expression of freedom and rebellion around the world - 16 December.

For quirky gifts and cards try the Vagina Museum or Topple and Burn for some cool AF politcal jewellery. And there is, the gift of time to yourself to rest, reflect and recharge … and to others, if you have some spare, a day volunteering at a local foodbank or community kitchen.

Whatever you do, wherever you are ... may there be snowflakes in abundance! ❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️❄️


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