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WMC News: Lynn Hershman Leeson, South Sudan, Rihanna, WMC Live & more!

March 31, 2017

Visionary feminist artist finding recognition after 50 years

By Emily Wilson | March 30, 2017

After five decades of making art, 75-year-old feminist and media pioneer Lynn Hershman Leeson is being discovered by U.S. audiences and her work hailed as prophetic.

Hershman Leeson moved from Cleveland to California in the early 1960s to study art at the University of California, Berkeley, but instead got involved in the free speech movement. She has been making art ever since, and now through May 21 San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is showing her first retrospective in the United States, Civic Radar, which includes drawings, sculptures, performances, installations, and videos. The show is adapted from a larger one at ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, on view in 2014. Many of the works had never been displayed before. With that show, the art world began to take notice of her.

In Civic Radar, we see how Hershman Leeson’s work explores feminism, identity, surveillance, and technology, in such pieces as Lorna (1983-84), the first artwork to use laser disc technology, allowing viewers to play an interactive story of an agoraphobic woman, choosing if she commits suicide, moves out of her small apartment, or shoots the TV; the Roberta Breitmore series, featuring a persona Hershman Leeson created in the 1970s, wearing a blonde wig and makeup and even getting her own driver’s license and credit cards; and Room of One's Own (1990-93), where the viewer looks into a miniature bedroom, and eye movements trigger scenes and sounds from the female “occupant.” In a recent large-scale installation, The Infinity Engine (2014-17), Hershman Leeson addresses bioengineering, with a fully functional replica of a genetics lab that can identify the genetic makeup of viewers through reverse facial-recognition software. More >>

Image description: Lynn Hershman Leeson (photo by Lisa Blatt)

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Surviving the sexualized violence crisis in South Sudan 

By Anna Dubuis/Guest Blogger | March 29, 2017

Bidibidi Camp, Uganda—Grace sits staring vacantly ahead, her hands tightly clasped in her lap. She is 16 years old but has a tiny frame that makes her look no older than 13. Underneath her checkered school dress, a small bump sticks out. In four months’ time, she is due to give birth to her stepfather’s child. He raped her after soldiers attacked her village in South Sudan and her mother ran away to escape the shooting.

“I wanted to starve to death,” she whispers, speaking through a translator.

Sexualized violence is an everyday threat to women and girls in South Sudan, where civil war broke out in 2013. There are cases, like Grace’s, involving attackers known to the victim, as well as a torrent of rape allegations against government and rebel troops.

In December, Yasmin Sooka, chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said the scale of sexualized violence in the country had reached “crisis proportions” and described the levels of gang rape as “epic.” In addition, she said, widespread stigma leads to underreporting of sexualized violence. More >>

Image description: Reida Nyoka, 35, grows her own vegetables to supplement her children’s poor diet in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee camp. (Trocaire)

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This isn't about leggings

By Kinder L | March 31, 2017

United Airlines was thrust into the spotlight this week after a gate agent refused to let two female travelers board an aircraft. Their issue wasn’t concern for passengers’ security or managing inappropriate behavior: The girls were banned from boarding because they were both wearing leggings. United passenger Shannon Watts witnessed the incident at the gate and immediately shared her disappointment to Twitter. “A @united gate agent isn’t letting girls on flight… because spandex is not allowed?” Watts tweeted. The airline quickly found itself in hot water as people—including celebrities such as Patricia Arquette—expressed their disappointment and criticism of the company’s sexist dress code on social media.

United’s dress code is certainly problematic (and ridiculous) in and of itself, but this incident is not just about leggings.

This is about the eighth-grade English teacher who chastised my decision to wear jeans on a field trip because it wasn’t “ladylike,” while every other male student wore denim without question, and my male summer camp director who made me change out of my jean shorts during a heat wave, because apparently a girl’s upper thigh determines her value and worth.More >>

Image description: A person's backside in leggings with hands to their hips as they pull their shirt down with caption "Women should be allowed to wear whatever they want."

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Filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos puts women first in her new HBO documentary on abortion 

By Mankaprr Conteh | March 30, 2017

The trailer for Abortion: Stories Women Tell, award-winning filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos’s new documentary, opens on a hall full of people with boundless energy. We catch a glimpse of a low-hanging “Missouri Right to Life” banner behind them. “We are down to one abortion clinic in this state,” a man on a stage before the audience touts to roaring applause.

Droz Tragos’ film looks at lives entangled in the fierce political battle for and against a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Missouri, where lawmakers’ attacks on abortion access are particularly ruthless, is home for Droz Tragos. She paints intimate portraits of women who share the state with her.

The film follows several Missouri women who want abortions, provide them, defend them, and fight for them—women like those who claim that they would have “killed [themselves]” if they had been forced to carry a past pregnancy to term and those who state they “can’t believe that [they] are a citizen of a country that says it’s OK to kill a baby.” We meet women carrying fetuses with fatal anomalies who are faced with aggressive pro-life protesters or 72-hour waiting periods.

While she’s trained in fiction and screenwriting, Droz Tragos found it important—and satisfying—to center real women’s abortion stories and decided to have women tell their stories themselves. Droz Tragos recently decided to share some of her stories with the FBomb. More >>

Image description: Protesters holding signs in front of a court-- a screenshot from the documentary (Credit: HBO)

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What Rihanna revealed about humanitarian work

By Helena N | March 28, 2017

On February 28, 2017, Rihanna walked up the creaky wooden steps of one of Cambridge’s storied halls to accept the Harvard Foundation’s 2017 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian of the Year Award. While she is best known for her music, Rihanna was recognized that day for her less publicized humanitarian work—including her investment in a modernized oncology wing at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in her hometown of Bridgetown, Barbados, and establishing scholarships to support Caribbean students who want to attend college abroad, among other philanthropic efforts.

While accepting the honor, Rihanna made an impassioned plea for more people to become involved in humanitarian work for a simple reason: We should always strive to be in better service of others. While addressing an audience at one of the most selective, renowned schools in the world, the recipient boldly stated that one does not have to be immensely wealthy or hypereducated to engage in humanitarianism.

With all due respect to Rihanna, whose talent and willingness to give I fervently admire, I would have to disagree. Unfortunately, a foray into humanitarianism requires more than just the desire to help. The difference between supporting and believing in humanitarian work and actually engaging in it is that the latter requires significant financial investments that are not accessible to everyone. More >>

Image description: Rihanna accepting her reward. 

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WMC Live #202: Shannon Coulter, Molly Schiot. (Original Airdate 3/26/2017)

Robin on her 5 crucial lessons for beating the far Right, new-found sub-atomic particles, and fashion pluralism. Guests: Shannon Coulter, founder of the #GrabYourWallet campaign; Molly Schiot, author of Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History. Listen here >>

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This week WMC SheSource features experts on President Trump’s plans to rescind measures President Barack Obama set up to combat global warming, reports that recent U.S. airstrikes of Mosul have killed hundreds of civilians, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes being asked to remove himself from the Russian intervention investigation, the U.S. House Committee voting on whether or not internet service providers can sell users’ browsing history to advertisers, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ warning to sanctuary cities that will not comply with federal immigration authorities.

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