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Women + art + climate + guinea pigs
Last weekend I went to a gallery for what must have been the first time in almost two years. Thank you Covid for turning me into a cultural boor. I can’t truly blame Covid, I list towards boordom. But I’d been wanting to see Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Movement, and it did not disappoint. It’s an almost revisionist history: what would the world be like if we knew not just the Group of Seven, Canada’s most famed cabal of men with paintbrushes in the woods, but the settler, immigrant, and Indigenous women who were working at the same time? Rhetorical question. It would be richer. The show is reviewed excellently by Joe Brean here, with so many bits of compelling detail:
Even in Ontario’s northland, they saw the place differently from the men, as in Cobalt, a 1931 painting of the silver mining boom town by Yvonne McKague Housser. What she noticed was not untouched wilderness, but intense resource extraction and the people who lived that life. Her sketch for the painting of ramshackle houses was initially rendered in muted tones and only brightened, on the advice of a male colleague at the National Gallery, into the “strangely Disneyfied” final version, as Milroy describes it, which today is her best known work, but “strays from her original perception of the place.”
Silver Mine Study, Cobalt by Yvonne McKague Housser, 1931
Women working contemporaneously to the Group of Seven created art that was less about landscape and more about social issues - extractivism, colonialism, the plight of people in cities. Indigenous women artists created unbearably beautiful pieces of great utility. And the settler women artists who painted them recorded their names, engaged with them, and built relationships, unlike many of their male counterparts.
The Bather by Prudence Heward, 1930.
Coiled basket by Sewiṉchelwet (Sophie Frank), c. early 1900s
Here’s a clumsy analogy that you saw coming from 30,000 electric slides away: It’s the same thing all over again with climate (with everything, really). I wrote as much in an op-ed for CBC last week. Having women (+ diversity) at the climate table isn’t just the right thing to do (because, you know, equity), it also makes for much better climate decision-making, policy, and action. It’ll also save the planet. (This How to Save a Planet/Degrees Pod copro is ESSENTIAL LISTENING on the subject!)
The Women + Climate TL;DR - Canadian women believe it’s an emergency at much higher rates than men, Women worry more, women leaders have lower carbon emissions, women experience more adverse climate effects than men, women are more attuned to climate risk, and women take more action. Ergo: Give the climate file to the ladies.
Of course, we need everyone at the table, but the underrepresentation of women, coupled with their overrepresentation as the people most likely to act does not a great Venn diagram make. We won’t win without everyone, and everyone means women, Indigenous women, women of colour, women in places where the water is already rising, and the heat is already palpable.
I had a brief flash of pessimism last week, when I felt some pushback to this idea that we need to centre women. In this economy? This is still a thing? But a thing it still is. And yet there is so much happening, from the new climate action being led by women, to this neat climate gender tracker, to the awakening of women everywhere, realizing their power, beating their chests, and screaming with a primal urgency that we will not let this happen while we are alive to breathe and dance and abstain from purchasing Live Laugh Love throw pillows.
I loved watching the first cohort of our women-centred Talk Climate to Me experience unfold. The comments, the chats, the expressions of solidarity, the awakening consciousness, the flashes of profound realization, the desire to do, to change, to help, and to learn. It was so neat to be in a (digital) room with so many women wanting to take action. (Please join the fun! Lunchtime sessions start next week!)
While only a few of the Group of Seven’s female contemporaries ever achieved anything close to commercial success, I feel so lucky that I know them now. (If you’re anywhere near Toronto, go see this show!) The problem with climate is that we can’t wait 100 years to realize the conversation is devoid of women. We need them yesterday!
If I’m honest, everyone’s fave Beyoncé lady anthem always fills me with a bit melancholy even as it hits, because it feels so far from reality. If only girls did run the world! Like Uninvited, it’s a revisionist history. But one that we need to will into being, for the sake of the planet.
The role of women in climate? Let me know your thoughts.
Sooo many good book recommendations. My to-read pile is threatening to bury me. I’ll share a few each week.
Your writing reminded me of the person who upended my thinking about nature, Masanobu Fukuoka. I seem to think you've read him? If not, "The One Straw Revolution" is one of my most well-worn nature texts. Stellar. Short. Mind-blowing thoughts from a plant-pathologist-turned-farmer in 1970s Japan. His work inspired our multiple-year filmmaking project on natural farming.
Am now enjoying Michael Pollan's This is your Mind on Plants.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers (also discussed in the interview I linked to last week.
Whose voices are (and aren’t being heard at COP26?: “COP26 is looking like one of the most inequitable, White, and segregated COPs to ever occur,” says Ayisha Siddiqa, a climate activist who traveled from New York City to Glasgow…read the whole story in Yes!
The colour of the climate crisis. A really cool digital gallery of work by artists of colour.
I loved this podcast interview with the amazing Giniw activist and lawyer Tara Hauska. I particularly loved how she frames why we fight:
Yeah. We’re essentially just playing with, how bad is it going to be? There usually comes a point in almost every interaction I have with folks that are asking questions about, what do you think is going to happen? What if we really are screwed essentially? The climate science is quite clear on that and that’s really hard. There’s climate anxiety that exists now and there’s climate depression and different things that are making their way through the population because we know. We know what’s happening. The way I’ve been taught and the way I understand things we have been wiped out before, when we were out of balance with the earth, we’re out of balance with nature, with animals. So to me that concept really isn’t like one that’s like the doom and gloom kind of thing. But why don’t we still want to fight with every last bit of our agency and energy and beauty to make the best world we possibly could, in that time?
Why don’t we want to build a world that has racial justice, social justice, gender justice, that is more reflective of the wealth that we’re part of and not to be the most beautiful human beings we possibly can be? The status quo, I think, is so much more than just the status quo of extracts of economy, it’s also, what are we going to do? Why fight? You hear that question, why fight if everything’s lost? Well, because we’re still in this pattern of growth. And so in this cycle of being that we get a little bit further along wouldn’t we want to give that and be part of that?
Maple (with the help of Teddy) picked the winner of Adam’s book. Congrats, Gisela! I’ll be in touch to get your mailing address.
Bey, of course!
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Have a lovely, cozy, joyful, restful weekend,