A day devoted to illuminating discussion of modernism and the garden space, based in the perfect location: the garden at Monk’s House in Rodmell, East Sussex, owned by Virginia and Leonard Woolf.… Event Review: Botanical Modernisms
My interest in Marianne Moore began in 2011, when I was doing a Creative Writing MSc at the University of Edinburgh. I took a course called Poet Critics, and, on a list of nine modernist poets, Moore was, shamefully, the only woman. This, alongside the fact we share a first name, made me infinitely more attracted to her work than that of her much-lauded male compatriots. When I actually got stuck into her Collected Poems, I realised we also share a love of animals, the natural world and deep sense of irony about… pretty much everything.
I decided to pursue a PhD and placed Moore’s animal poetry the heart of the project. Initially I intended to investigate the role of talking animals in poetry (Moore’s ‘The Monkeys’ is a real favourite of mine), but as my research developed, I was drawn to the idea that poetry focussed on animal otherness can lead to a spiritual (not necessarily religious) connection with nature. By the end of my PhD, my work on Moore had shifted to concentrate on her poetic connections between visual art and art in nature as a means of reaching towards the sublime.
It took me three years to secure funding for my project, and while the waiting and the initial rejections were difficult to navigate, I found deep comfort in Moore’s poetry. Her work holds an infinite source of wisdom, humour and intrigue, and even now, almost a decade after my first encounter with her, I take away something new with every reading. ‘“A kind fretful of speech”’ (I hope) pays homage to her style of syllabic verse, her penchant for quotes (all of which come from her poems) and the motif of the sea that appears in some of her most striking works (‘The Fish’ and ‘A Grave’, for example). But really, I wrote this poem as a tribute to a woman who, from beyond the grave, has enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, for which I am eternally grateful.
Words by Marianne MacRae
There’s grounds to get excited about the fact that British audiences are discovering Schjerfbeck only now: a clean canvas means that, since there aren’t layers of old paint to be rubbed out first, the discussion we create around Schjerfbeck can be made fresh, strong and feminist…… Exhibition Review: Helene Schjerfbeck at the Royal Academy of Arts
In appropriately apocalyptic weather, I duck into GroundWork gallery. The pouring rain provides the perfect atmosphere in which to explore the exhibition ‘Water Rising’ (9th March-1st June 2019) at the UK’s first gallery dedicated to the environment and sustainability.… Exhibition Review: ‘Water Rising’ at GroundWork Gallery
Speaking about Sussex Modernism, we caught up with Wolf her about curation, expanding the local, and the importance of ‘making’…… Curator Interview: Locating Rural Modernism with Hope Wolf
Enid Marx (1902-1998) was an influential British designer of the twentieth century. Born in London to an upper-middle class family of German Jewish émigrés, she was educated at the independent school Roedean, Central School of Art and the Royal College of Art.… Hands on: Enid Marx, constructing block prints & concocting vegetable dies
Artist Denise Wyllie is a London-based visual artist whose roots are in working class Haringey. In this interview with Eddie Saint-Jean, she reflects on her experiences at Kingston University, where she studied Fine Art and Printmaking, and discusses how craft, class and gender intersect, feature in and inspire her day-to-day work. From presenting lectures on famous women artists, to work celebrating Rosalind Frankin’s scientific achievements, Wyllie’s practice explores the legacy of female artists whilst also highlighting current need for better representation on art gallery walls.
Middle fingers up and pink pussy-hat on – Becky Harlowe (Lee Minora) makes her entrance into the room. She stands tall and smiles with a wide grin as she coos “Don’t be afraid, I mean well…” like a horror movie villain who has just broken into your house. Sporting a perfectly styled blonde wig, hot pink lipstick and three-inch high heels, she tells us to sit back, relax and “watch her make progress”.
Lee Minora is an American theatre-maker, solo-performer, comedian and commentator who “dissects red hot political and feminist issues with scalpel sharp humour and stealthy smarts.” Presented as part of The Sick of Fringe: Care and Destruction three-day festival at the Wellcome Collection in April 2019, Minora’s incredibly witty and uncomfortable show White Feminist does exactly that. First developed during Minora’s residency at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, PA, the show has also toured to San Francisco’s Fury Factory and the Edinburgh Fringe. It is no wonder, then, why Minora was asked to bring the show for its London debut as part of a festival that sought to showcase some of the most exciting voices looking at how the body is in dialogue with a world in pain, societal injustice and systems of oppression
Through her character Becky Harlowe, a well-intentioned but vain talk-show host, Minora beautifully crafts and embodies the quintessential “white-feminist”. To be brief, white feminism is the label given to feminist efforts and actions that uplift white women but that exclude and fail to address issues faced by minority groups, especially women of colour and LGBTQ+ women. Over the course of the hour-long show, Minora simultaneously dissects this identity before our eyes, using audience participation to draw awareness to the problematic behaviours of white feminists. As Harlowe demands us to repeat with her upon returning to the stage, “we are all Beckys today.”
Becky Harlowe’s persona draws direct characteristics from former American daytime talk-show hosts Megyn Kelly and Kathie Lee Gifford, such as her sleek blonde hairdo, constant references to her family and white wine drinking habit. The entire talk-show setting and “live audience” environment was crafty way to hold this critique of mainstream feminism and capitalist liberalism. Minora skilfully incorporates elements of the female talk-show to construct Becky’s character and identity. The “Becky’s Time” set has all she needs: a high table for where she can comment on the important topics, flowers to keep it feminine, a low side table for those more intimate side-segment moments, and a big “B” to remind us all who is the star of the show.
Throughout the performance Becky speaks in slogans, pulling out all the right words and phrases from the stereotypical, liberal non-intersectional feminist playbook, such as promising that she is always “100% real” on her show and referring to the audience as her fellow “citizen heroes”. She makes an apology for promoting a non-inclusive makeup brand and is devastated to find out viewers did not find it convincing. Becky asks us “Who participated in a march? Who signed an online petition? Who is tired of Brexit?”. No matter our answer, Minora’s skilfully improvised remarks ensures our eyes, and judgement, remain on Becky. Becky took up space at the Women’s March, Becky too suffers from outrage fatigue. Through her performance, she holds up a mirror to contemporary activism and its shortcomings, from the trendiness of protesting and ubiquitous well-meaning online acts to how racism and sexism fall on both sides of the aisle.
These crafted segments of the show continue to weave together the deplorable yet seemingly well-meaning image of Becky in front of us. Does Becky really feel this way or is she a feminist only when convenient?
Then we begin to see something of the ‘real’ Becky behind her TV persona. She moves to a segment for reading the live twitter feed and we begin to see her distress at the escalating language used by the commenters, starting with honest criticisms tagged with #boycottbecky to increasingly startling remarks promoting violence against women. This prompts Becky into the finest part of her character’s development where we see her inevitably start to break down over her confusion about what she has done wrong – “What do I do? I’m sorry white women voted for Trump! I’m sorry we stole yoga, but I don’t know how to give it back!”
We are all laughing at Becky: her narcissism, her ignorance and then – silence. In a true moment of weakness Becky discloses her own #metoo trauma. Minora uses this moment to gather our sympathy for Becky and demonstrate her character as both the oppressor and oppressed.
It works brilliantly. We start to feel sorry for Becky, for the traumatic experience she has gone through. Have we been to too harsh in our judgement of Becky? Perhaps this confession is the beginning of her journey towards change and real intersectional feminism. But then Becky goes back to reading the live twitter feed with a returning smile from all the tweeting supporters who commend her bravery and pledge their allegiance to “#Becky’sArmy”. Wearing her pink pussy hat like a crown, Becky announces that she is proud to lead the “#metoo” movement and stands defiantly towards the camera as if ready to “save” the world. That moment of potential enlightenment for Becky is gone.
Minora presents a wonderfully crafted and very convincing embodiment of the problematic and harmful “white feminist.” Her excellent in-character improvisation from audience interaction makes it clear that each performance is its own tailored experience creates a sense of intimacy within the audience and comfortability with Minora, especially as she covers some pretty uncomfortable topics. Minora’s success in White Feminist comes from her ability to both present and dissect a completely believable and recognizable character, who embodies the toxic ignorance inherent in white feminism.
However, there is a danger the show is merely preaching to the choir: a performance with a title such as this is likely to attract those already conscious of the limpness of white feminism. Another criticism is the lack of women of colour directly in the show, other perspectives to this weighty topic. That is something I had wished there was more of, and who knows – perhaps in the future “Becky’s Time” will have some well-needed guests to the conversation about race, gender and privilege.
The importance of this performance is how it acts a reminder that no matter how liberal or feminist or “woke” you think you are – especially white women – there needs to be a constant awareness and rechecking of our privilege: where can we improve and how can we be better allies to our fellow feminists of all backgrounds.
White Feminist was as part of The Sick of Fringe: Care and Destruction three-day festival at the Wellcome Collection in London on 6 -7 April 2019. For more information about the performance and Lee Minora, click here.
Words: Suzanna Petot, a freelance curator and writer based in London.
 “Lee Minora: White Feminist – The Sick of the Fringe London 2019”. The Sick of the Fringe.com. Accessed 15 April 2019. http://thesickofthefringe.com/london2019/lee-minora
 “White Feminism” Definition. Dictionary.com. Accessed 13 May 2019. https://www.dictionary.com/e/gender-sexuality/white-feminism/