Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Goodbye Doris

Have you ever seen Calamity Jane? Its the 1953 technicolor musical that follows the story of the wild west heroine with her sharp shootin', rootin' tootin' ways and her secret love for Wild Bill Hicock. 

BUT, basics aside, have you ever REALLY watched Calamity Jane, and by that I mean Doris Day's extraordinary performance? She bolts off the screen like a ray of golden light all energy and purpose. As Calam', Doris fully embodies every ounce of the loud, bragging, arm flailing heroine. She is a powerhouse of acting. It's amazing when you see her move, when you hear her sing!

Doris' honey smooth voice was both soothing and invigorating, it could be lilting and soft or ramped up to full force, but never anything but perfection. 

How bothersome then, that Doris' talents not just for musicals but comedies and dramas too have been overshadowed by her branding as the virginal all American goody two shoes, that has become a kitsch cliche at best and a false caricature at worst.

In reality she wasn't all apple pie. She was a women making her way in a male dominated industry. She was taken advantage of and betrayed by those closest to her (three marriages, one bankruptcy and an ageist Hollywood system) and pigeonholed into money making projects that kept her in a safe two dimensional bracket, that she somehow manged to rise above and shine.

My appreciation for Doris didn't truly begin until my 20's. Before that I'd always assumed she was too blandly wholesome. My god, how wrong I was! Watching Calamity Jane for the second time as an adult I realised I too had massively underrated her. I was grabbed by her vitality and her ability to go full force into a character while never veering into absurdity. She owned every scene she was in, her very physicality projecting her beyond the surface of the screen.

Spending time with her well known later films, those screwball 60's romance comedies she's so well known for, its wonderful to see how she embraces the campness and runs with it. These films cemented the whiter than white stereotype associated with Doris but she made what could have been flimsy character roles into memorable iconic performances that defined an era of golden Hollywood and popular culture to come.

Doris' will always be linked with Wake Me Up before You Go Go

Iconic work by artist Alejandro Mogollo (used with kind permission by the artist) 

Doris Day has been there my entire life, a legend hidden somewhere in California. It was enough to know she still existed; one of the Hollywood greats. I fully respected her decision to retire in the 1980's and focus on her charity work for the Doris Day Animal Foundation, yet when she released her album My Heart, at the age 89 it was exciting to hear her lovely voice once more and know she was still working her magic.

To know that Doris has gone is a great loss. I hope that people look back at her catalogue of work and feel as wowed as I have. I hope she is always remembered for the right reasons, for her undeniable talent and skill as a performer and the charity work that will continue in her name. I hope that right now Doris is having the best time, her glorious mega watt smile lighting up the heavens, because, after all, who can make 'the sun shine brighter than Doris Day'?

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Hidden Pin Up #26 - Yaaaas Bitch!

I've been getting work ready for The Hidden Pin Up's next outing taking place as part of the Sexuality Summer School 23rd May at the University of Manchester. 

The school is a five day event that discusses and debates queer and feminist sexuality studies bringing together researchers, international scholars, filmmakers and artists and I'm really thrilled that we are taking part in this year's programme.

The performance is taking place in the magnificent Victorian Samuel Alexander building which epitomises historic western ideals of beauty with it's neo-classical columns and sweeping architecture. I cannot wait to see our dancer and spoken word artist perform against this backdrop highlighting centuries of stereotypes and misconceptions of just what beauty can be.

I recently came across this brilliant short video made by BBC 3 and in this film alone we revisit ALL the preconceived ideas and fetishes attributed to women of colour that have already been touched on in my research for The Hidden Pin Up. The comments on this video in themselves are an education!

Taking this as a cue I have been adding new embroidered feathers to the hessian burlesque fans that Lenai from the House Of Ghetto will be dancing with. The fans already hold a number of embroidered true stories collected from women of colour about their experiences of stereotyping and marginalisation and soon one fan will be filled. Here's just a few of the new embroideries so far,

Myself and Darren Pritchard, the project's choreographer, dancer Lenai Russell and spoken word performer Justina Aina will be staying after the performance next Thursday to chat to audience members about the work and give you a chance to see the fans and related Hidden Pin Up artwork up close. 

The performance is free to attend and begins 7.15pm. I recommend you arrive earlier to avoid missing anything and grab a good spot. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 15 April 2019

Rise Up Women!

Last week I was restrained by a policeman as I wielded a bat ready to damage the nearest object. I was proudly wearing a purple green and white sash that said 'Rise Up Women', while the likes of L7 and Pussy Riot blasted the air. I did this dressed as a respectable Edwardian woman in front of a crowd of onlookers who did nothing to stop me. In fact they cheered me on.

The onlookers were enthusiastic artists and I was their model for a very special drink and draw night held in Bury to celebrate the Suffragette movement with Riot Grrrl spirit!

The night consisted of a great DJ set by artist and collaborator Lee Crocker all themed around female empowerment and struggle. There were prizes for outstanding drawings and of course a beer or three downed throughout the evening. 

 The poses for the night took on a loose narrative following me as I plotted deeds, not words, including the vandalism of art work at Manchester Art Gallery in order to draw attention to the suffragette cause. In reality the three women who carried out this act used tiny toffee hammers which could be easily concealed, but for visual purposes I went with a regular hammer and swung it like a baseball player!

This was inevitably followed by my arrest

There were some great images created and it was hard to pick the winning drawings at the end of each section

Posing as a Suffragette was so much fun, and coincidentally, it was only recently I visited the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester to see for myself where the Suffragette movement was born. 

Walking through the heavy built up hospital complex off Oxford Road I was sure I was heading in the wrong direction, that is until I spotted what looked like a mirage. A single Edwardian house complete with cherry blossom and picket fence standing defiant to its steel and glass surroundings.

Looking around the tiny yet comprehensive museum area and reconstructed parlour it was really moving to be in the very surroundings that Emmeline Pankhurst had lived and campaigned. I am happy to say my Manchester Suffragette temporary tattoos are currently available at the Pankhurst Centre's shop and in buying them you will be helping to support not only the museum but the important work the centre does to aid women today running Manchester Women's Aid, Manchester's largest specialist provider of domestic abuse services

I couldn't believe the centre receives no major funding even as a site of national significance and is still waiting to be recognised for a brown sign. It seems women's history and continuing stories are rarely given the platform they deserve.

With this in mind, I felt incredibly proud to honour those women who'd come before and risked everything for liberty and equality. Even with the laughs and party atmosphere at the Riot Grrrl drawing event, it felt poignant to be representing the Suffragettes, especially as a Mancunian. I can't lie, at times I felt quite emotional and with lyrics like those of Change by Mavis Staples setting the tone how could I not?

What good is freedom
If we haven't learned to be free
(If we haven't learned to be free?)
What good is freedom
If we haven't learned to be free?
If we haven't learned to be free
Day after day, year after year
We're gonna change around here

X is the letter
Blue is the color
One is the number
Now is the time
Can we change around here
Gotta change around here
Say it loud, say it clear
We gotta change around here

Our Riot Grrrl night was really uplifting and bursting with creativity. I'm pleased to say we got some brilliant feedback from the attendees and you can see more photos and drawings from the event on my facebook page HERE

Rise up women!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Hidden Pin Up #25 - Push Festival 2019

 Photo by Chris Payne

Happy new year everyone! The Hidden Pin Up began 2019 with a bang taking part in Push Festival at HOME Manchester this weekend just gone!

Push Festival is an annual celebration of the North West's creative talents, showcasing two weeks of exhibitions, events and screenings and we were thrilled to present our performance of burlesque/vogue/spoken word as part of the launch night to kick the whole thing off.

The Hidden Pin Up is a collaborative art project between myself and Manchester vogue house the House of Ghetto, an all female black dance troupe headed by house mother and choreographer Darren Pritchard. The work explores the history of the hidden and forgotten figure of the black pin up girl and investigates the legacy of stereotypes and racial fetishisation that still plagues women of colour today. You can read how the project developed by scrolling back through this very blog for The Hidden Pin Up posts numbered 1-25.

The launch night was fantastic, with many other artists taking to the stage in the gallery to recite poetry, sing and introduce their work to come over the festival. The Hidden Pin Up finished the evening, taking the audience by surprise when Lenai Russell our fabulous dancer appeared amidst them as the notes Miss Celie's Blue's filled the air.

Photo by Chris Payne

Lulled into a happy fuzz by free wine the audience watched the first half of the performance, which takes the form of a traditional fan dance, with big smiles on their faces and many whoops and cheers. I think the nuance and meaning of the work might have been lost on them until Justina Aina our spoken word artist swooped in and really shook things up.

Her delivery of the inappropriate and thoughtless phrases aimed at women of colour which were layered over Lenai's graceful vouging created a disconnect that demanded attention. I'm pleased to say that we got our desired effect and the piece was met with much positivity.

Photo by Chris Payne

 Sunday saw us delivering the performance again on an hourly basis in the gallery with an additional opportunity to view the fans and costume in detail and chat to us about the work afterwards.

With high numbers of attendees, it was really nice to see so many people want to find out more and share their own experiences. The words used in the performance and embroidered into the fans were a great opener to discussions about sexism and racial slurs and where the topic stands in 2019. We also had some lovely feedback from reviewers on twitter:

Push Festival 2019 was a brilliant experience for us and thanks again to HOME for the opportunity! We have plans to take The Hidden Pin Up further so watch this space! Until then, to find out more and see extra check out my Instagram and also treat yourself to a limited edition Hidden Pin Up badge or art work from my SHOP.

Monday, 8 October 2018

The Hidden Pin Up #24 - Debut at The Whitworth Art Gallery

You've been on my mind
Sister, we're two of a kind
So sister
I'm keepin' my eyes on you
I betcha think
I don't know nothin'
But singin' the blues
Oh sister, have I got news for you
I'm somethin'
I hope you think
That you're somethin' too
On 22nd September The Hidden Pin Up made its debut at The Whitworth Art Galley. This was a day myself and fellow collaborator Darren Pritchard of the House of Ghetto (HOG) had been aiming towards for a long time and it was so worth the wait!

Working with HOG dancer Lenai Russell and singer Justina Aina, our two superb performers, we'd chosen a staircase in the gallery that not only worked as a great theatrical stage but also led the way up to the Bodies Of Colour wallpaper exhibition, which tackles the racial stereotypes and representations found in design through history, and tied in so perfectly with the themes of The Hidden Pin Up.

Arriving early on the day so that we could set up I felt excited to see people already turning up for the first of the day's hourly performances.

As the first notes of Miss Celie's Blues flooded the huge open space, everyone's eyes were led to the sultry movements of Lenai on the upper floor, hidden behind the hemp fans and wearing the hemp showgirl costume I'd created. As the song took hold she told it's story of female solidarity against oppression effortlessly, making her way down the stairs while dancing with the fans, which was no mean feat. I was so impressed with how graceful and focused she was and also noticed, after seeing the rehearsals, how the presence of the audience elevated her performance further.

Once the song had ended, the second half of the performance kicked in with a house beat and almost immediately Justina's powerful vocals layered over Lenai's vogue driven assent back up the stairs. The effect was exactly what we'd hoped for with the sensuous movements that invited the eye contrasting so vividly with Justina's provocative singing/ spoken word performance, sometimes humourous sometimes accusative, using the words of stories I'd collected from women of colour and stitched onto the fans. Justina was just brilliant and took the whole piece into a new dynamic.

The piece ended with both performers reaching the upper floor and disappearing from view as the music faded out. Loads of people turned up for each performance and the applause was really gratifying as was the huge amount of feedback.

 Many people said they wanted to see more, or would be happy to watch an extended piece and I personally wasn't expecting how moved many individuals were. Various people said the piece touched them deeply and they found the work powerful. This really fuels me and makes me feel that all the research and setting up was worth it!

Accompanying the performance piece I also ran two workshops that tied in with the Bodies Of Colour exhibition and the overall theme of racial stereotypes and misrepresentation that set the day. The workshops were a chance for participants to create their own political wallpaper designs inspired by the exhibition and The Hidden Pin Up. The results were impressive and there was lots of lively chat about the topic.

In all, the day was really successful and I'm so happy that the work spoke for itself and made such an impact. One woman told me she had traveled from Glasgow to see it! It was lovely to speak to people about the work, let them get close to the fans and to share ideas and thoughts between performances.

Thanks to everyone who came on the day, and for those who couldn't make it, we had the performance filmed professionally and will be sharing it in time. Also myself and Darren are hoping to take this work further, evolve it and show it again in the future, so definitely watch this space! The Hidden Pin Up will return...

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

The Hidden Pin Up #23 - THIS SATURDAY!

This Saturday 22nd September sees the debut performance of Hidden Pin Up at The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester! Myself and fellow collaborators the House of Ghetto are so excited to get this work up and running! The day will consist of performances every hour on the hour 11am - 3pm and these will be interspersed with two workshops that tie in with the gallery's wallpaper exhibition Bodies of Colour. 

The Hidden Pin Up looks at the fetishization of the black female body by investigating the hidden history of the black pin up girl and the legacy of racial stereotypes still found in modern day life. Taking inspiration from the traditional burlesque fan dance with a House of Ghetto twist, this site specific dance and spoken word vignette is political with some added phunk.

The Repeating Patterns workshops are a chance to create a collage wallpaper design and put your own spin on ideas of racial and cultural stereotypes using design tropes found within the Bodies of Colour exhibition.

Times run as follows:

Saturday 22 September, 11am - 3.10pm

All events are free, drop in, no need to book

Performance times:

11am – 11.10am
12pm – 12.10pm
1pm – 1.10pm
2pm – 2.10pm
3pm – 3.10pm

Workshop times:

11.15am – 12pm
1.15pm – 2pm

Hope you can make it!

Keep up to date with the project's progress on this blog and by following me on Instagram @gemma_parker_artist

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Northern Art Carbooty 2018 - First In The Fight!

This Bank Holiday weekend saw Northern Art Carbooty taking place on a very wet and soggy Sunday at Sadler's Yard and PLANT NOMA in Manchester. Yet, despite the weather we had a great turn out of people coming down to enjoy the live art, stalls, workshops and artisan food. 

I was there with The Tattooed Lady, tattoo dispenser machine, to distribute my Manchester Suffragette temporary tattoos as part of a new commission to celebrate the centenary of women gaining the vote in the UK (as a side note: I've had several men over the course of this project who felt the need to point out it wasn't just women but working class men gaining the vote too, and, yes, I know, that was great in its own right! But for women this was a MASSIVE landmark that gave [some] females the right to vote for the FIRST TIME EVER! I really don't understand why this achievement should be somehow 'put in it's place').

Dressed as a Manchester Suffragette, I manned the machine and helped apply the tattoos to people attending the event. I met loads of interesting characters from Manchester and beyond, some who knew about Manchester's involvement in the Suffrage movement and some who had no idea. I met two ladies from Switzerland who told me the centenary for them wont be until 2071! The whole day made me feel really proud to be a Mancunian and champion what the original Suffragettes stood for. They truly were 'first in the fight' and thanks to their effort and sacrifices Manchester played a key role in women's history and helped to change the world. It was amazing to see so many people show their support by wearing a tattoo!

(These guys from America were some of the first to receive tattoos and loved them!)

There was a great atmosphere throughout the day and I was joined by some of Manchester's best creatives. Taking a stroll around the venue on my break I met some faces I'd not seen for years! It was good to catch up and also see some of the gorgeous unique wares made by local artists

 Manchester illustrator Stan Chow and his iconic women prints

Eva Elliot of Margo Ceramics and her delicate jewellery 

Also I want to mention the brilliant art of Cammy Smithwick, who I forgot to take a photo of, but whose work I have loved for a while now. It was fab to see some of her handmade trinkets that make me think of booty from a wacky Victorian explorers backpack: unique, exotic and full of stories waiting to be imagined.

Fellow commissioned artist Nicola Smith performed her piece 'Monument' as an ode to modern women and the lack of statuary honouring women from history around the UK. This piece was performed/danced against a range of different songs about female empowerment, funny and on the nose, it really left an impression.

You can see more images and see if you were one of the people wearing a tattoo on my Tattooed Lady Facebook page HERE and also more about the day on Carbooty's photos HERE. A big thank you to Liz and Charlie for organising the entire event and asking me to be part of it and special thanks to Samira who volunteered her time to help me apply tattoos.