Women’s Arts of the Body – BABEL 2015 in Toronto

The upcoming BABEL Working Group meeting will take place in my hometown, Toronto from 9-11 October 2015. The topic is “Off the Books: Making, Breaking, Binding, Burning, Leaving, Gathering.” For this occasion, I am organising a session on “Women’s Arts of the Body.” The full BABEL call for papers will be up soon, but here’s a sneak peek of my session. We will have space for a more traditional panel and for a breakout session that could involve performances, demonstrations, and so on, so I am hoping for creative proposals. Not only do we have quite a bit of time, this session is totally, 100% open, so please share this CFP with any colleagues you know doing interesting work on women’s craft and performance.

Women’s Arts of the Body

Organizer: Irina Dumitrescu (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)

Proposals to: irinaalexandradumitrescu (at) gmail.com

At the beginning of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Philosophy arrives to drive out the Muses from Boethius’ cell. It is often said that the Philosophy is female because Latin philosophia is a feminine noun, and, indeed, the dialogue that follows continues a masculine tradition of inquiry and authorship. And yet, woven into this scene are not only female figures, but traces of women’s craft. Philosophy is a cloth-maker, having woven her own clothes, the Muses are described as actresses and whores, and both Muses and Philosophy aim to cure the sick Boethius with their healing arts. Although the dialogue that follows aims to teach the ailing man how to distance himself from worldly things, it begins with feminine craft and arts of the body.

This session invites contributions about women’s arts of the body, types of making that are “off the books” in two senses. Women’s lived experience is notoriously marginal to the historical written record, either effaced utterly or distorted in its representation. So are a host of practices and performances relating to the body that either were not deemed worthy of setting down, or were indeed nearly impossible to record.

Such “arts of the body” include: spinning and weaving; needlework, knitting, sewing, quilting; cooking, baking, confectionery; brewing, distilling; pottery; cosmetics, hair-dressing; dancing, singing, acting; medicine, home-remedies, first aid; making perfumes and poisons; birth control, abortion, midwifery; sex-work.

Guiding questions are:

  • What biases do we find against feminine arts of the body, and how are they expressed in texts?
  • Under what historical circumstances do feminine “arts of the body” make it onto the books? When are they institutionally recognized, inscribed, recorded, or even just mentioned?
  • What effects do we notice due to the lack of a historical record? What kind of reconstruction or myth-making fills the archival gap?
  • In what cases do arts or crafts that had belonged to women become the purview of men, or vice versa?
  • How do women’s arts of the body intersect with race, class, and sexual orientation?
  • How are women’s arts of the body appropriated as metaphors for men’s work?
  • When does women’s work count as work? When does women’s art count as art?
  • How have women’s arts of the body been taught or passed down? What can be recovered about women’s teaching practices?
  • What kinds of gendered spaces are created or used for women’s arts of the body?
  • What tools can be used to recover and/or reconstruct lost arts of the body?
  • How are women’s arts of the body reflected and addressed in the contemporary world, including in online communities (Pinterest, Instagram, etc.)?

Contributions can take the form of a traditional paper, a performance, a re-creation, a tutorial, the presentation of an object and discussion of it, or some combination of these. Proposals that include a performance or hands-on aspect are particularly encouraged.

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