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‘Solidarity! Transnational Feminisms Then and Now’ Review: An Exploration of Global Feminist Iconography

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The exhibition “Solidarity! Transnational Feminisms Then and Now” hosted at the Lia and William Poorvu Gallery of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, offers a captivating journey spanning five decades of transnational feminist collections. This unique exhibit, curated by Durba Mitra — the acting faculty director of the Schlesinger Library, Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and Richard B. Wolf Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences — presents an unparalleled opportunity to delve into the history of global feminist solidarity, spanning from the 1970s to present day.

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are immersed in a rich tapestry of materials, including posters, newspapers, photographs, and memorabilia, each brimming with the stories and struggles of feminists from around the world. “Solidarity! Transnational Feminisms Then and Now” artfully weaves together the promises and limitations of global feminist unity, emphasizing the pivotal role of iconography in the activism of transnational feminists and women of color.

The exhibition peels back the layers of history to reveal the intricate and sometimes contentious narrative of international women’s rights, sisterhood, and collaboration. This is achieved by focusing on the United Nations International Women’s conferences held in Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, Nairobi in 1985, and Beijing in 1995. These landmark gatherings played a defining role in shaping a new global agenda for women’s causes on the international stage.

Each wall within the exhibition is dedicated to the posters of the United Nations International Women’s conferences. A striking transformation becomes evident as viewers transition from the initial conferences, such as the 1975 Mexico City event, where the posters feature more muted colors and simpler designs. However, as one follows the timeline towards the 1995 Beijing conference, it becomes clear how feminists incorporated more vibrant colors, invested greater effort, and embraced a more diverse range of voices.

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For instance, the wall text explains that the Mexico City conference drew participation from members of only 133 United Nations member nations, whereas the Beijing conference witnessed the presence of 17,000 delegates hailing from 189 member nations. This dramatic increase in engagement symbolizes the remarkable journey of transnational feminist solidarity over the years.

At the center of the exhibit, visitors encounter a compelling array of memorabilia, serving as a reminder of pivotal moments in the women’s rights movement. The exhibit’s centerpiece features a striking collection of buttons adorned with the iconic International Women’s Year dove symbol, representing global solidarity and the collective aspirations of women worldwide for gender equality. Surrounding these emblematic buttons are also rare, invaluable documents sourced from the archives of influential women like Robin Morgan and Florynce Kennedy, providing a glimpse into their thoughts, ambitions, and contributions to the feminist and civil rights movements.

Perhaps the most captivating and immersive aspect of the exhibition was the video showcase, featuring films from the video collection of the Women’s Video Collective Africa Project. This dedicated section of the exhibition included a cozy seating area where visitors could sit and enjoy a series of four distinct videos. These videos covered a wide spectrum of topics, from women candidly addressing issues such as poverty, literacy, and prejudice to thought-provoking discussions about the intricacies of marriage in Kenya. This part of the exhibition not only provided a window into the lives of women from across the globe, but also underscored the power of storytelling in fostering understanding and empathy.

Ultimately, “Solidarity! Transnational Feminisms Then and Now” offers a remarkable opportunity for visitors to witness the rich tapestry of feminist history and consider the challenges and triumphs of global feminist movements, both then and now. It invites visitors to step into the shoes of visionary feminist activists, and through the curated materials, understand the ongoing quest for gender equality and human rights. Additionally, the exhibition provides a thought-provoking examination of the enduring visual representation of women on the global stage, challenging viewers to envision a more inclusive narrative for contemporary feminism.

—Staff writer Allison S. Park can be reached at allison.park@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @allisonskypark.

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