How To Dress Like An Activist

rourke 1

It was the yellowness of the room. Lead-paint-coated plaster. The way the sunlight streaked through the one window and splayed shadows on the yellow wall—flashing beige and grey.

He sat by her side, smoothing her hair and humming a song she recognized but couldn’t name. He had created her. He had brought her into the world and had shown her right from wrong. As far as she knew, his word was law, and she followed his advice as such.

The rulebook was constructed through mere preferential suggestion. He had always told her that women look better in heels, that “sensible” shoes were actually just self-indulgent. He told her that short dresses were sexy, that long hair was feminine and that women’s legs, when standing with feet parallel and together, should curve into three separate gaps: one at the ankle, one at the calf, and one at the thigh.

Of course, to her, it became implicit that all men would examine her as a specimen, analyzing her aesthetic relentlessly, adjudicating her body’s rights-from-wrongs. This overwhelming notion made her particularly conscious of any clear defiance of the rules.

When she left home for the first time, she discovered that hers wasn’t the only rulebook. There, in the depths of “Outer Comfort Zone” dwelled a population whose inhabitants challenged every norm she had grown to embrace.

She met The Photographer, whose unshaven legs protruded from scuffed Doc Martens, whose ripped jean shorts extended well past mid-thigh, whose hair was chopped short and who bore a spidery tattoo that trailed from her shoulder down to her wrist, circling her olive skin in place of jewelry. The offense struck severely. The Photographer did not have complete disregard for Law—she would often wear bright lipstick lips and dangling earrings, the kind that pulled at her earlobes, weighing heavily as she walked—it was that she chose her battles, maintain that this was what made her feel free.

It was a simple defiance, the regaining of autonomy over her body. Her legs, which in a month grew a shaded a chestnut brown with hair, itched when they rubbed together—but at least she was fighting the patriarchy? She felt less at home in her body, which, she convinced herself, was a stage closer to “figuring it out.”

One evening, sitting across from him at a booth, yellow-brown menus folded in their laps, she tried to find herself in the pale green. A woman approached. She was all bright-reds as he eyed the way her calves arced gracefully into suede stilettos, tight red dress wrapped around long torso. Maybe this was the kind of woman who without fail could obey The Law, who never thought to question whether they’d suited her, looking so thoroughly comfortable. She sneered, angrily—can’t you see that you’re putting our gender to shame?

She thought of the stinging red blisters, oppressive yellow rays of sun, and the blatant confidence that radiated from the woman’s blue-green eyes. She felt the warmth of his gaze, the hollowness of his affection, and the eternity that appeared within those who looked at her and see more than a “pretty woman.”

But what if she had simply appropriated The Photographer’s stark defiance of the mainstream—was it truly her own autonomous self-expression? In fact, she wondered, pressing down into the heels of her beaten Converse, whether she had become the same kind of analyst towards others that she’d despised, herself?

Yes, she was fighting objectification, but in doing so, had the movement taken on on a rulebook of its own?

It occurred to her, gazing at the woman, bathed in orange sunlight, what if this dress is just a dress? And what if, she thought, I prefer my legs to be bare?


words by Annie Rubin: “I was inspired by the merging of colours, the unsettling streaks, the abstract quality of, muted tones, and by the soft brushstrokes. This piece targets the objectification of femme beauty standards. As the protagonist is exposed to a counter-culture movement, she explores the dilemma of how or whether actively adhering to gender norms can be decisive and empowered. The stark difference between yellow and green represented the struggle against over-sexualization through counter-culture self-expression. I hoped to expose a systemic entitlement to harsh judgment, and to beg the question of how such assumptions work to keep the system alive.”

colour by Alexis Rourke

Review: Howl! and CKUT host panel on austerity

image via Ecole De La Montagne Rouge

As part of the Howl Arts Collective Festival, CKUT FM invited four panelists to discuss artistic resistances to austerity in a live broadcast at Casa del Popolo. In discussing the relation between art and the movement against austerity in Montreal, the chief question was: What is the role of artists in the fight against austerity?

According to the panel – which included artists Edith Brunette and François Lemieux, graphic designer Kevin Yuen Kit Lo, and photojournalist Amru Salahuddien- artists have a choice: they can use their creativity to smooth over the bumps or they can reveal societal tensions through their creations.

However, if art can be used as a space where it is possible to dream, to envision a new future and to picture new social relations, then artists have not only the option, but the responsibility to define and depict an anti-oppressive future in order to raise awareness about austerity and engage discussion.

In addition to the discussion by the four panelists, La Chorale du Peuple, founded in 2011 during the occupation of Square Victoria, denounced neo-liberal policies and inequality through their songs: “Que la vie est belle” and “Ça fait rire les Libéraux.”

A problem underlined by Amru Salahuddien, an Egyptian photojournalist who was on the ground during the Egyptian uprising, was the lack of connections within the international anti-austerity movement. Though the fight against capitalism seems to be a fight that has a certain level of continuity across time and space, the lack of links, not only on an international level, but also within our own communities, has rendered the anti-austerity movement quasi-ineffective.

Salahuddien parallelled the Egyptian and Quebecois students, stating, “while in Egypt, bullets were used against the protesters, the weapon used by the government against Quebecois students was neglect.”

Despite the possibility of connections between these two groups of protesters, Salahuddien criticized the fact that very little support was given to either group by the other: that, though our world is said to be shrinking through technology and social media, there is little global awareness or concern for movements that do not affect us directly.

Concluding the discussion was a conversation about hope, where panelists suggested that if art is used as a tool in the fight against capitalism and the structures of power, it is because artists have hope for a better future, despite their use of seemingly sinister artistic tools, like irony or dystopia, in depicting their criticisms.

Thank you to Howl Arts Collective and to Casa del Popolo for hosting this interesting panel discussion- click here for more events happening this weekend!

Jiliane Golczyk, 23 Apr 2015, Montréal