The Politics of Photography: An Interview with Mary-Ann Kennedy

In the run-up to the launch of the GHIL’s online exhibition ‘Forms, Voices, Networks: Feminism and the Media‘ on 23 November, 2021 at 1pm GMT, we chatted with artist and activist Mary Ann Kennedy. Kennedy is a founding member of the Photography Workshop (Edinburgh)/Portfolio Gallery and the WildFires network for women who work in and with photography in Scotland. She is currently the Programme Leader for the BA(Hons) Photography degree at Edinburgh Napier University. The interviewer is Jane Freeland, the coordinator of the International Standing Working Group and a historian of feminism and gender in modern Germany working at the GHIL.

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Sustaining ‘Information for Women’: The Informationsdienst für Frauenfragen, the American Military Occupation, and Women’s Politics in West Germany, 1951–1990

‘The Women’s Affairs unit…is based on the recognition of the fact that German women are in a decisive position either to promote or retard the development of Germany as a democratic state.’1 This statement appeared as part of a 1949 report by the Women’s Affairs branch of the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS). The post-war ‘surplus’ of women meant that there were an estimated 7 million more women than men across occupied Germany. As such, the Western authorities (in this case, American) invested time and resources in the late 1940s and early 1950s in ‘retraining’ programs for women.

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  1. National Archives, College Park, Maryland, Reports Women’s Affairs, box 51, file 5, Women’s Affairs Branch, Semi-Annual Report, 1 July-31 December 1949 (accessed July 2008). []

‘Doing Well, Don’t Worry’: Exhibiting Archives as a Feminist Practice

In 2014, my colleagues at the Cairo-based Women and Memory Forum (WMF) and I decided to establish a women’s museum in Egypt. I was motivated by two things. The first was the absence of feminist narratives in museums in Egypt and across the Arab region. While Egypt hosts more than seventy museums, not a single one is dedicated to women’s history and only a handful of these museums are specialized biographical museums on famous women figures. The second was the expanding collections of archives and objects of material culture housed at WMF.

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Understanding Social Change through the Digital Humanities

How has the mass media supported, enabled or challenged women’s emancipation? How have feminists used the media to promote women’s issues and rights? How have these messages been interpreted by the public? And how has this changed since the emergence of the mass press in the late nineteenth century?

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Framing Women’s Rights in Nepali Street Art

If you walk down the streets of Kathmandu, you can’t fail to notice its vibrant street art scene. When I first visited the city in 2018, I was taken aback by the juxtaposition of heritage buildings and slick urban iconography that defined the capital and its environs. Outside the Zoo in Patan, for example, a long grey wall is adorned with girls’ hand-prints. The prints flow from the pen of a schoolgirl, painted in her uniform, drawing on the wall with her back to the viewer. Above her, the English words ‘Wall of Hope’ float in a deliberate scrawl. In the corner of the work just visible is the signature ‘Pink Riches’—a Minneapolis-based street artist.

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The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part Two: Transnational Strategies and the Feminist ‘We’

With this post, Johanna Gehmacher returns to the issues of tradition-building and historicization within women’s movements. Using a book that combined trans-temporal and transnational strategies to legitimise and incite feminist activism in West Germany in the 1970s as a case study, Gehmacher examines the production of meaning within feminist movements and the interconnection between visions and politics of the past, present and future in feminism. Part One of this series can be found here.

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The Production of Historical Feminisms, Part One: Historical Awareness and Political Activism

In the early 1970s, a slim pink book designated as the first issue in a series titled Frauen(raub)druck (Women’s (Bootleg) Print) became a best-seller in the burgeoning women’s movement in German-speaking countries. To categorise the influential publication is, however, a challenging task for more than one reason. Bearing two titles but no year of publication, the book lacks unambiguous and comprehensive bibliographic information.1 Also, the editors remained anonymous, and beyond a connection with the West Berlin Women’s Centre (Frauenzentrum Berlin), it is difficult to ascertain their place in the feminist milieus of the 1970s. But importantly, by linking the movement with two distinct historical and political contexts (early twentieth-century German research on gender roles in ancient societies and 1960s US-American radical feminism), the book raises questions about how to conceptualise historical awareness in 1970s feminism. To better understand the specific relationship between past, present and future the editors imagined, we have to go back to the critical feminist thinking on the production of historical feminisms that has developed since the 1990s.

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  1. For more information on the publication and its historical context, see Johanna Gehmacher, ‘Macht/Lust – Übersetzung und fragmentierte Traditionsbildung als Strategien zur Mobilisierung eines radikalen Feminismus’, in Angelika Schaser et al. (eds.), Erinnern, vergessen, umdeuten? Europäische Frauenbewegungen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt, 2019), 95–123. []

Not your Average National Hero: Scattered Archives and the Women of the Indonesian Anticolonial Movement

In her captivating autobiographical novel Buiten het gareel [Out of Line], the Indonesian author Suwarsih Djojopuspito painted a vivid image of her experiences as an activist teacher during the last few years of Dutch rule in Indonesia. The book, published in Dutch in 1940, tells the story of Sulastri, an idealistic young teacher who runs a non-governmental school for Indonesian children together with her husband, Sugondo.

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The Spaces Between: Interstitial Archives and Childbirth Activism in 1970s West Germany and the United States

Most people who know me will tell you that I enjoy fewer things more than foraging in archives. I have been an archive rat since my days as a researcher on a national historical commission. My love of unusual nuggets (an asbestos sample), dust-encrusted fingers, and the tangible vestiges of previous researchers (documents bedecked in cigarette burns), is even becoming a monograph about one archive and its uses and abuses in the post-World War II era.

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Knowledge Trouble – Practice, Theory and Anxiety in late 1970s Feminist Movements

The British Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) of the late 1970s was marked by intense anxiety and discussion about the status of ‘theory’. At their last national conference held in Birmingham in 1978, the WLM buckled under the weight of a decade of collectively generated, epistemic and ideological complexity, cut across by social divisions of race, sexuality and class. In the aftermath, a radical feminist day workshop was held at the White Lion Free School, London, in April 1979, partly ‘out of a sense of desperation at feeling that none of the most evident and vocal factions at the plenary represented the politics of very many women in Women’s Liberation.’1 The meeting was also an occasion to unpick the movement’s ideological and, increasingly theoretical, density.

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  1. ‘We are the Feminists that Women Have Warned Us About:* Introductory Paper’, in Feminist Practice: Notes from the Tenth Year! (Theoretically Speaking) (London, 1979), 1–4, at 1. []