The Feminist Imaginary: Creative Pedagogies and Methods for Gender Justice and Change (Lancashire, UK)

Motivation for the conference

This international three-day feminist workshop brought together for the first time, feminist adult arts-based educators and researchers with women’s museum practitioners across the globe to explore how they are conceptualizing and operationalizing the feminist imaginary as a critical,
creative pedagogical contribution to a more decolonized and gender just world. The workshop was conceptualized in broad intersectional understandings of gender and the impacts heteropatriarchal colonial practices of exclusion, oppression, and misrepresentation have on diverse populations as well as theories of knowledge, representation, and imagination.

Bates (2019) argues that despite beliefs that gender equality has been reached, a 2019 study by the United Nations recognizes this form of inequality as “unfinished business in every single country of the world” (p. 1). The 2021 Gender Equality Forum study takes it further, describing this form of discrimination as “the most enduring defining inequalities of our time” (n/p).
Worldwide, “the powers that be are still predominantly male…the millennia old status hierarchy between men/male and women/female persists everywhere and patriarchal patterns of gender oppression remain more resilient than any of us suspected” (Vintges, 2018, p. 165). In 2011 Wiggins argued that gender oppression “was likely to get worse” (p. 3) and Shameen’s 2021 study shows how. She illuminates a disturbing “global patriarchal backlash [of]
rising fundamentalist and fascist agendas” (p. 2). Forces of “extremism, cultural imperialism, ideological colonization and neo-colonialism”, alongside sexist Xenophobia, Sinophobia “and the (re)imposition of patriarchal heteronormative family values…are shaping the parameters of public
discourse and consciousness” (p. 10). Through policy, rights are curbed and through the power of social media, messages of misogyny, intolerance and ‘white’ masculine supremacy invade the homes and lives of millions across the globe (p. 10). While deeply problematic, disparagements of feminism illustrate the power it is believed to have as a disruptive, transformative force because,
as Ahmed (2006) reminds us, feminism is what “gives us the strength to go on”, to resist, to stand up, to speak back and to take the risks needed to create change (p. 3).

The asymmetries of hetero-patriarchal colonial power that shape, maintain, and mobilize gender injustice and oppression are so deeply embedded in all our institutional and organizational structures, social and cultural practices, and interpersonal relationships that it has proven difficult
to see a way out (e.g., Ahmend, 2017; Bates, 2018; Criado-Perez (2020), Green, 2017; Ostrouch- Kamińska, 2019; Rajan et al., 2019; Shameen, 2021). To borrow from feminist Solnit (2014, p.10), we are faced today with a “failure of the imagination”, a failure to create and educate fully an alternative vision and consciousness of how a decolonized, gender just and healthy world could
look, feel, and function. An increasing number of educators and cultural theorists are both using and calling for more feminist imaginative and creative responses aimed to disrupt heteropatriarchal practices of exclusion, oppression, and misrepresentation, and equally importantly, to encourage a
sense of hope and possibility for change (e.g., Adler, 2016; Butterwick & Roy, 2019; Clover, et al, 2020, in press; Cramer & Witcomb, 2016; Manicom &Walters, 2012; Mullins, 2003). This is because more than any other senses, creativity and the imagination are best able “to help us know each other’s essential humanity [and] to shape who we are and what we can become” (Wyman, 2004, p. 48).

Kathy Sanford and Darlene E. Clover

Description of the SSHRC Connections Grant, 2022

Overall goal and specific objectives

The primary objective of this three-day collaborative workshop was to explore how forms of the feminist imaginary are being conceptualized and operationalized pedagogically across two similar yet currently distinct feminist aesthetic groups that work in the interests of gender justice and change in Canada and Europe. The first was feminist arts-based adult and teacher educators and researchers around the world who teach in universities, facilitate community arts-based workshops and/or use the arts as research tools to help bring change to the lives of LGBTQI people and immigrant, refugee, Indigenous and women living in situations of poverty, oppression, and violence. The second were curators of women’s museums. Established in 96 countries worldwide, women’s museums work with a diversity of populations, offer non-credit courses and connect with universities, arts-based workshops and activities, and curate exhibitions as “plays of [educational] force” (Benjamin, 2014, p. 10). Both groups use creative and arts-based strategies to make women’s and gendered lives and experiences visible and to (re)establish them as ‘knowers’, social actors, and creative beings (Adler, 2006; Ahmed, 2015; Carson et al, 2001; Fricker, 2013; Nazneen, 2015; Vaqhinas, 2017). Both groups mobilize the imagination, critical consciousness and promote a vision of hope and future possibility. Both groups are grounded in feminism(s) as a political force for change and contend with the complexities of categories of women, feminism, sexuality, and gender. Despite these commonalities of purpose and practice, these two groups have worked totally separately and know little of each other’s work. Although there is a growing number of studies of feminist arts-based adult education, none are connected to the critical-creative work of women’s museums. There are no studies of women’s museums in connection with feminist adult education nor do they take up the feminist imaginary as a tool of knowledge, representation, and change. By bringing these two groups together we were able to share perspectives, exhibitory practices and strategies, we could better understand how the feminist imaginary is being envisioned, articulated, educated, and made actionable and that our findings will contribute to gender justice and change across two continents and beyond. Our beliefs are grounded in Metis scholar Anderson’s (2017) call for practices of “radical relationality” (p. 38), the forging of links across “diverse fields of feminist action that have been separate” (Wiggins, 2011, p. 11) and are based on Ktunaxa scholar Green’s (2017) assertion that by investigating and working “across different spaces of feminist theorizing and organizing [we can better] address issues ranging from colonialism, racism, sexism to sexuality and emancipation” (p. 17).

The group we proposed to bring together combinined the scholarly and practical expertise needed to think through new interventions, methodologies and pedagogies related to the feminist imaginary. The proposed location allowed the PI and Co-Applicant to mobilize Canadian research on an international level in an international context. All organizing and planning was be conducted by the PI, Co-Applicants and collaborators. Dr. Victoria Foster, who lectures at the Edge Hill University in Lancashire, UK, who served as local host. Her background in Fine Arts and adult education informs her work with marginalized groups to raise the consciousness and provide critique of current policy initiatives. The UK context provided a rich opportunity for new learning, particular in connection to feminist imaginary, developing collaborative and arts-based feminist methodologies that inform feminist exhibitions. Working collaboratively as an international team of feminist scholars and practitioners, this workshop investigated how these two feminist groups envision, articulate, and operationalize the feminist imaginary as a process of illumination (visibility and consciousness), representation (storying and imagining) and provocation (resistance and action) around the world. The central questions that guided this workshop were: What does a new feminist imaginary mean and look like within and across these two diverse yet similar groups? How do they use creativity and imagination to disrupt normative patriarchal and colonial habits of consciousness? What new ways of seeing, knowing, and acting are being made possible?

There were two interwoven activities to this Connections project: 1) a three-day workshop where participants will share their research and exhibitory projects and will engage in participatory arts-based activities; and 2) development of follow-up outreach activities to continue the connection, development and dissemination of our collaborative work. The primary objective of the workshop was to further knowledge co-creation in conversation with other participants who are working as feminist adult educators in diverse locations and/or feminist curators of women’s museums and together to develop the foundations of a longer term, global study (Insight Grant and Association of Humanities Social Science and grant, UK). Included in the workshop were participatory performance and activist encounters such as feminist hacking, collage and found poetry activities.