The 64th Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference:
Sustainable Societies, Responsive Citizens
Bonn, Germany, 3-5 September 2011
Priscilla Otani, president-elect for our Women's Caucus for Art, and I attended as representatives of our NGO.
The happy sounds of many languages filled the six floors of the Maritim Hotel atrium as the conference began. At the Opening Ceremony, I found myself surrounded by businesswomen from China, people in niqab, saris, and caftans, youth, and many nuns (Catholic, Buddhist, Hindi) some of the representatives of more than 400 NGOs in attendance. We quickly coalesced into the "we the peoples" that starts the Charter of the United Nations. Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations
Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, via, video, set the tone for the conference. "We have to be prepared to make major changes…in our lifestyles, our economic models, our social organization, and our political life." He talked about "tearing down the walls between the development agenda and the climate agenda."
The call to action for this conference was: COMMIT! ENCOURAGE! VOLUNTEER!
I soon had a sense of both the messiness and wonder of civil society and how years of UN conferences have distilled a method for collecting the varied perspectives, views and recommendations asked for, in this case, by the General Assembly in preparation for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled for June 2012 in Brazil. At each of the Roundtables, to which all were invited, high-level experts spoke on the topics after which respondents from government reflected back or challenged them on their thoughts. Four to five questions at a time were then taken from the audience and the panel responded. UN staff recorded each of these discussions. The same process, minus the respondents, occurred in the many workshops. Side events gave even more intimate discussion opportunities as did the exhibits, both of which WCA was a part. UN Conference board members worked tirelessly throughout the three days to add to, edit and condense all of this information into the final declaration that reflected the expectations of NGO participants and civil society leaders for the governments attending Rio+20. The declaration was openly discussed for a final time at the closing. Individuals were able to come to the mike, ask for word changes, minor deletions and additions, before the assembly was asked, by show of applause, to accept or reject the declaration before it was given to the German government for presentation to the U.N. General Assembly.
The two key foci of the upcoming Rio+20 are green economy and poverty reduction with the aims of increasing corporate social responsibility, abolishing perverse subsidies (nuclear, oil), financing local sustainable development, and increasing transparency, accountability and opportunities for redress.
Sustainable development is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Our EMPHASIS needs to be on these FUTURE GENERATIONS and preparing them to be responsive citizens as they will have no choice but to transition to sustainability.
Prairie Lights: Recalling a key chapter in battle against hate
Thank you to Ed Kemmick for bringing up this chapter of Billings' history.
I had just moved to Billings and started writing an anti-bias children's literature booklet for the Billings Coalition for Human Rights, when leaders, news agencies and our citizens stood up to a series of hate-based activities, spawning what is now the national organization, Not In Our Town, which is having it's twentieth anniversary conference back in Billings this weekend. Our city council is now wrestling with a nondiscrimination ordinance and, again, these entities are standing up and urging these officials to do the right thing.
I have a feeling that full, if that is indeed possible, processing of this multi-layered, complicated yet rewarding and surprising project, will take months, if not years, but here is an overview and some initial responses ....
In March 2013, Wei Er Shen, President of LuXun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China invited the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA), through Jin Deng, to create an art-based cultural exchange and exhibition between artists and essayists juried through WCA and women artists curated in China. He and the Gallery Director Wang Yi Gang were interested in providing an opportunity for Chinese women artists to interact with artists from our organization, to learn more about feminist art history in the west and share their art with our artists. As the Main Representative to the United Nations for and Director of the International Caucus of the Women's Caucus for Art, I enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to direct this project and to further dialogue around women's issues within the framework of an exhibition. In addition to the exhibition, Half the Sky: Intersections of Social Practice Art included a sixteen-member delegation of selected WCA members, thirteen of whom, traveled to Shenyang for the opening of this exhibition and participated in three days of interactive events with the Chinese artists and students of the Academy. Over twenty-five volunteers from the U.S., working in teams, developed, prepped, installed, documented, publicized, fundraised, published, facilitated and traveled to create the many layers of this project. Logistics were beyond daunting, including the bilingual catalog, but, once one begins negotiations with a government such as China, one feels one must proceed, with hopes and bits of promises that the discoveries and connections and knowledge shared between our cultures would, indeed, like child birth, erase the challenges of remote management. And, the results certainly did.
A small village of volunteers made this possible:
I just rung off with Maureen Burns-Bowie , our WCA International Caucus UN Program Director, and still have chills of excitement and emotion from her description of our UN Program's presentation, "Impressions: Artists Consider the Millennium Development Goals" at the UN Commission on the Status of Women Conference. The packed room was profoundly moved by how our artists document and empower through their work: Ann's with the Rwandan genocide, Mary's with the widows from the Cambodian killing fields, Allison teaching women in Laos to photograph their lives. These women brought professionalism, responsibility, accountability, earnestness and dedication to this project. This is what it takes to pull off a stunning and impactful event. This demonstrates why WCA is an NGO of the UN and how, when we up our game, when we set standards for excellence as artists and activists, the results continue to echo in meaningful ways in our communities and the larger world. My gratitude and congratulations to all involved, but especially to Maureen for having the vision, for finding and bringing these impressive women together and for making this happen. More information and images will come soon from this group and I am happily anticipating them. Yes, artists do change the world.
My words as I narrated the introduction: "Throughout its NGO relationship with the the UN, the Women's Caucus for Art, of WCA, and its artists have created projects that cut across language and cultural barriers to bring attention to world issues. In this film, we will be sharing a rich array of artists and their works, all of which aim to start conversations, birth new ideas, support political freedom and transparency, expand the voices of all people, and create community,
To honor Priscilla Otani fully for her commitment to the Women's Caucus for Art - national, international and chapter levels, for her earnest mentoring of women, for her passion for global issues, for supporting artists with San Francisco-based ARC gallery, in which she and her husband Michael are partners and, and… is daunting. Her sharing of her intelligence, experience and business perspectives have reach so many and on many levels. Monday's national WCA board meeting was her last as reigning (yes, Karen and I gave her a crown) president. This was a very challenging year for WCA and some, in her new position as past-president, may choose to sit back and rest. Yesterday, she was excitedly talking about getting into her new additional role as interim treasurer and about her part in our Half the Sky delegation to China in April.
My connection with Priscilla began when I crashed a WCA meeting in NYC a few years ago in order to find out more about this art & activism organization. As soon as Priscilla began talking about her then-role with the WCA international committee and the WCA's NGO status with the UN, I was hooked - not just by the possibilities, but by her. Since then she has generously spent countless hours encouraging and mentoring me - convincing me to go to Bonn, Germany for the UN DPI/NGO Conference on Sustainability, at which we decided to push WCA's international focus beyond the UN to other global collaborations and then making it enticing for me to be the leader of this effort. Who knew two years ago, that I would be developing projects in South Korea and China? Certainly, not me. And mine is just one example of how Priscilla invests herself, her time, her heart into the women around her.
Priscilla is the kind of leader who makes volunteer-run organizations, such as WCA, stay effective. It is not just the number of hours she gave to make WCA work last year as she ran a board with key positions unfilled, but the priority she places on assisting her colleagues and the younger women coming into WCA as they define and expand their career paths and passions.
As one of those who has benefited greatly by her immense generosity, I want you to know, Priscilla, that I am a better person from knowing you and am forever grateful.
I was reminded of two Rilke quotes today. This one is an old favorite, often copied into my journals because my nature makes it so challenging. Es una cuestión del tiempo y de la fe!
Hye-Seong Tak Lee, a Korean Women's Caucus for Art Member-At-Large, independent curator, artist and lecturer at Gwangju University, spontaneously flew over to Los Angeles for the Women's Caucus for Art Conference and, in particularly, to attend the inaugural meeting for the newly formed International Caucus, for which I was the Director. She had no room at the hotel, so I offered her my extra bed. What she added to this already whirlwind of a kickoff, was a proposal for a collaboration between WCA artists and Korean women artists for exhibitions in South Korea. I had never directed an exhibition, especially an international one, but, my natural instincts to say YES and have faith in my abilities as a quick learner won out. This conference was in February of 2012 and the exhibitions, just concluded!
With Priscilla Otani's guidance, and many odd-hour conversations with Hye-Seong, with her as director and me as co-director, we tackled the complicated international logistics:
Woman + Body explored the range of sexual identification - female, transgender, and male - with a contemporary, 21st century view. The subject of the female body was well-explored in the 1960's and produced many discourses in the 90's, related to such issues as AIDS, cosmetic surgery, stereotyping and discrimination, but what is new?
1) Woman's Body as Subject: unabashed exploration of women's bodies and women's desires- unaltered, unadulterated images that set a new standard of beauty.
2) Transformation and Crossover: Bodies altered through cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, tattoos, sex change, cross dressing, costuming and other means to achieve a metamorphosis.
3) Man's Body as Subject: a woman's view of the male body - affectionate, lustful, critical, envious.
There was little English spoken, but, somehow, even when Hye-Seong was not there to translate, we communicated our collective thoughts on living as self-identified women. Shared meals and a night of Karaoke (with many repeats of the song "Gangnam Style", since we were in the Gangnam section of Seoul and the song is bi-lingual) broke down many barriers. The obvious matriarch of the South Korean artists was Park Youngsook, who graciously toured us around the Bukchon Hanok Village historic area and invited us to tea.
The short time line for this project was crazy-making, but the end product and the reception by the women artists there were deeply rewarding.
I created a video of the exhibitions: vimeo.com/99755522
Military women in uniform greeting us everywhere yesterday a the UN CSW Consultation Day. And silently reminding us of the sexual violence they are subjected to in service to our country. The day opened with Girl Be Heard's theatre performance about girl sex slavery - the actors taking the roles of 9 year old girls, Caribbean girls, Ukrainian girls, Mexican girls and pimps.The stories from them and others the rest of the day still shock even if heard before. Yet there were moments of light such as men volunteering to ring the doorbells at homes in which noises of violence are heard - disrupting the violence. Here is just a snippet from the Girls.
Here is a PSA about Girl Be Heard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RssOoRG0Of8
And here they are at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKkCaJ4tKf8
Photo courtesy of Girl Be Heard website
In NYC for the UN Commission on the Status of Women Conference, as a representative for the Women's Caucus for Art. Amazing and beautiful connections and I am just one day into it. Tonight Jean Shinoda Bolen, one of the women who mentored me years ago (at the Wise Women gathering at Feathered Pipe Ranch) and for whom I made one of my Ancestresses & Wise Women sculptures, inspired us. One of her many messages - we women must ignore fear, acknowledge our power and support it with conviction because we have an immense circle of women around us, supporting us as we do the important work that needs doing.
Soothing equine therapy under the blue sky at the ranch yesterday when two donkeys and three horses surrounded me, coming in close for hugs, noses breathing softly on my body with one blowing gently in my ear. My mother passed away on New Year's eve and I wondered if they sensed my grief.
A place to decant my brain, to capture inspiration and share fresh insights. [Posts from 2015 onward]