While the former might be a fitting title for my latest opus, it doesn’t hold a candle (nor a lighter, flashlight, or road flare) to a gem I saw this week at the Montreal Fringe Festival: “…And God Created Woman”. When asked to give a review of this multimedia-modern-dance bonanza, I reached the root of my disdain in two words: pretentious and clichéd.

Now, I’m going to do my best not to rant, but to set the scene I must summarize this piece as two leotard-clad figures representing the ‘oppression’ faced by women, people of colour, queer people, and other less clearly defined ‘minorities’. Sounds inoffensive, at best, but the problem was really in the intensely regurgitated approach. For example, a man and a woman doing a dance to represent “Hey, Wife, get me some cigarettes!” appears strikingly similar to a 6th grade drama piece, especially when set over simplistic and unattractive electronic music.

So, having made my point about the overall badness of the show, the fact remains that it is still art. I am not of the opinion that one can deem things artistic or not, but my opinion does dictate that this show completely blew, unlike the rest of the Fringe which is possibly the coolest thing since plastic-coated ice cubes. But, to its credit, at least this piece got me thinking past that of my angry reviews; what is the future of activist art in a culture with so much anti-oppression theory?

I found myself frustrated walking out of this show, deciding it must be a catch-22: anyone who left feeling inspired was probably learning ‘new’ things (racism is bad, sexism is real, etc.) and anyone else was probably feeling annoyed at wasting 30 minutes watching a live-action after-school special. Now besides the “how did you not already know racism was bad?!” exclamation, there is the lingering feeling that maybe it’s all been said as far as activism in art…. Could this be?

One of the lowest points of the performance was when the female dancer donned a silk sheet in the style of a burqa and did a ‘middle-eastern style’ dance to try and somehow represent muslim women’s oppression. Why is it that we make the statement “Woman in Afghanistan are oppressed” (a statement made verbally in the show) and do not dissect it? Is there nothing left to say? Oppression is individual and widespread. There are as many stories as there are people, so boiling it all down to a burqa and a pair of gyrating hips was, to me, offensively simplistic and emblematic of the kind of racism these artists were trying to fight. If you ask me, lifting the burqa is not the job of art, but telling the story beneath it is.

The only answer I can come up with, which is surely one of many, is that we need to be telling these stories (and hopefully setting them to better music) instead of making blanket statements about oppression with no depth. It a crime to simplify someone’s experience just like it’s a crime to submit him or her to social erasure. A woman wrestling with a man for a job is not enough to explain their existence, and a woman putting on a silk sheet is not indicative of muslim women as a whole.


What do you think the future of activism in art is? Write to me at gee.alibee@gmail.com or comment to tell me!

Please, please, please, don’t confuse this piece with the Vadim film by the same name!

Also, please, please, please do attend the Montreal Fringe Festival or check out your local fringe! It’s international, and all kinds of awesome!

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