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Project : FEMME - Island Arts Studio

8th March 2020, International Women’s Day. I see this day as significant because clearly as we can tell from rape cases (only 1.7% of which are prosecuted in England and Wales) the gender pay gap and cat-calling - amongst other things - sexism is still rife. However, this day isn’t just about opposing the marginalisation and prejudice that women experience daily, but rather it serves as a celebration of women - that is cis, transgender, black, white, young, old, from all nationalities and backgrounds - and what they have accomplished due to the lack of representation received.

Some years back, I organised an event at my school for which we had a speaker come in and held a non-uniform day and bake sale in order to raise money for Women’s Aid, a charity that seeks to protect and prevent women from domestic abuse. It is a charity that I think deserves far more attention, as domestic abuse is far more common than many people realise, affecting 1 in 4 women in their lifetime. Hence, when I heard about Project : FEMME, a night of performance and fundraising with all proceeds going to Women’s Aid, I was eager to attend and contribute to an important cause. As well as this, it is a night to watch female creatives in an accepting and encouraging space - what’s not to like?

I wasn’t sure of what to expect from the event, organised by Elle Argente. Honestly, I hadn't heard of any of the performers before or the space in Brixton in which it was taking place, the Island Arts Studio. Nevertheless, I turned up at 7:30pm on Sunday night, accompanied by two female friends and was only moderately surprised to find myself in a small, intimate space that could just as easily have been hosting a wine tasting. Not to cast stereotypes, but the room was filled with bra-less, short haired women (and some men) and the crowd oozed feminist.

At around 8pm, everyone began to gather at the back of the room, the performance space, while Elle herself introduced Tali Foxworthy-Bowers - a group comprised of five dancers, all of whom were dressed androgynously. They were incredible to watch in the way that they controlled their bodies and synchronised their movements to create an enchantingly contemporary performance shrouded in (appropriately) purple mood lighting. The dance itself was both intense and enjoyable.

After each performance there was a small break so we had given the opportunity to chat and reflect on the performance which made the event seem more social. The overall effect of Project : FEMME seemed like a carefully-chosen intimate space in which people with similar interests could genuinely catch up with one another and enjoy a night of empowering entertainment, all whilst supporting an important initiative. It was far better than the one-after-another stage show which I’d previously imagined.

Many of the acts were more like contemporary live exhibitions in their own way. We watched a film by 22 year old filmmaker and photographer Issy Wharton, as well as the construction of a live painting by Gina Southgate, who joked that of all the paintings she’d completed, she was mostly photographed wearing her extravagant hat that she sported during her performance. We also heard poetry from 23 year old Anna Vincent, stating that she likes to ‘write poetry that unsettles...that imposes an atmosphere or emotion’. Certainly, listening to her read out her poems to the small group that stood before her in the relatively enclosed space, there was a sense of entrapment but almost in a wilful sense. She had drawn us in in such a way that none of us wanted to leave.

Another act was four-girl theatre group Ofemmeded, all of whom sat on the floor blindfolded, making sandwiches which they then proceeded to eat in front of the audience, all the while Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines played in the background. Having read about them prior to the event and their focus on how being a woman impacts their work, I wasn't sure I understood the correlation between their motives and the theory put into practice. While I wasn't too appreciative of the song choice, perhaps this was intended - a move towards some sort of reclamation from the misogynist music industry? Thankfully, the night did not conclude here, with the final performance coming from 21 year old singer songwriter Ella McMurray, who graced us with an acoustic performance of her own songs exploring the hardships of romantic relationships, drawn from her own experiences.

Overall, I think it was a true and meaningful night to celebrate women and their talents (or other skills?) which made me realise how great they are but also left me with many questions which I hope and think was actually Elle’s intention. Perhaps art is not always meant to be understood in order to be enjoyed and moreover acknowledged in its own right. From Project : FEMME, I’ve come to realise firstly how weird feminists can be (but in a good way) but, more importantly, how supportive we can all be of each other and our passions. Though I knew none of the performers personally, I left the event feeling proud, as I do on this day every year, of being a woman - thankful for those who’ve paved the way towards gender equality, making our jobs as 21st century feminists so much easier.

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