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The City of Women is no coincidence

1

On a hot spring night, Mara Vujić, director of the City of Women Festival, accepted to answer a few questions. A couple days later, the woman from Slovenia sent back the 'intervju', as she calls it. This is all just online foreplay but you better get ready: Mara's coming to town!

FD: City of Women is the name of your project. Is it pure
coincidence or is there a reason that it has the same name as the
1980 film by Federico Fellini?

Mara V: It's not coincidence. The name of the festival is inspired by Fellini's movie La citta delle donne where a man (Mastroianni) who travels through male and female spaces toward a confrontation with his own attitudes toward women in general and, his wife in particular. The name carries strong symbolic and political connotations and at the same time triggers curiosity, especially in men's imagination. :-)

FD: What is City of Women's goal?

Mara V: City of Women aims to raise the visibility of high-quality innovative creations by women artists, theoreticians and activists from all over the world. Since 1995, it has presented the artistic and cultural production of women in the performing arts, music, visual arts, new media, film and video, literature and theory, and thereby aimed to provoke a debate and raise awareness as to the currently disproportionate participation and representation of women in arts and culture, as well as in society as a whole. City of Women simultaneously provides a platform that focuses upon and considers pertinent critical contemporary issues.

FD: Would you describe City of Women as a Festival or a combination
of several projects?

Mara V: For the past 17 years, the International Festival of Contemporary Arts – City of Women is our main annual project, organized by a non-governmental Association for the Promotion Women in Culture - City of Women. I see the festival as an entity which - year after year - introduces a new theme of artistic, cultural or socio-political relevance, inviting scholars from the fields of cultural and gender studies to address these issues. Besides the festival, the Association produces several projects such as performances of woman artists, exhibitions, symposiums, round-tables, workshops… We could say that the Association City of Women augments its main activity the Festival - with several complementary projects.

FD: Between Past and Future was last year's Festival theme. How did
that play out artistically?

Mara V: In terms of last year's topic – Between Past and Future – the festival related to the eponymous book by Hannah Arendt who, back in the 1960s, argued that the condition of human existence, robbed of the traditional, transcendental, religious and moral standards employed to bridge the abyss between past and future, lost direction. It was interesting to confront different projects from all fields of art as actual examples that readdress the basic concepts such as tradition, history, authority, freedom, education, culture, whilst commenting on the present from the individual or collective perspective.

FD: Why would Ljubljana be a different place without live art
created by women?

Mara V: City of Women is a trans-disciplinary festival which, among other, includes live art projects. We have dedicated much space to performance and live art in the past years, an artistic expression that isn't so much developed in the Slovenian cultural space.

We believe it's one of the most vivid and fruitful approaches in art nowadays. Live art makes use of a strategy to 'include' a diversity of practices and artists that might otherwise find themselves 'excluded' from all kinds of policy and provision and all kinds of curatorial contexts and critical debates. Based on the City of Women's aesthetic and political guidelines, the festival has - from its very beginnings - promoted and presented live art and performance practices, although it has had neither possibilities nor structures in the regional context for any ongoing and reflective development of such disciplines. Thus the Live Art Program aims not only to enhance the integration and positioning of women's art, but also to present live art practices in the broader regional cultural domain. One of its primary objectives is to investigate why live art is becoming an ever-more applicative term, as well as an ever-more frequent artistic expression or genre designation for artistic productions in visual, performative and new media arts. The convergence of disciplines is also no coincidence, and is transpiring at aesthetic, institutional and policy levels.

Ljubljana would definitively be deprived of a chance to be a culturally and artistically vibrant city without powerful women performers and live artists.

FD: If you had to bring live art to the internet, what would
cityofwomen.org look like?

Mara V: The City of Women Festival would be a paradox city if it were on the internet. We do document all our festival events with photo and video and publish them on our website. That's also true for live art events. But I would like to emphasize this specific artistic expression needs to be experienced in real time and space, since atmosphere and power of exchange between the artist space and audience can hardly be virtual.

FD: Can live art be political? Any example from City of Women?

Mara V: It certainly can. Regina Jose Galindo for instance, uses her body in terms of a politically inscribed female body, which reflects upon a violence-soaked reality in relation to women issues, and paints powerful narrative images of the suffering, poverty, pain, horror, and fragility of an individual in a metaphoric as well as semiotic sense. These themes, tackled by Galindo in a manner embodying extreme courage, modest humbleness, breathtaking seriousness and discipline, directly refer to the existing power relations in her native country of Guatemala.

Furthermore London-based Israeli born Jewish performance artist
Oreet Ashery has an ongoing interest in the intersections between "Jewishness," race, gender and the Arab and Muslim world. In Hairoism, Oreet Ashery takes Eleanor Antin’s The King (1972) as a departure point. Whilst Antin examines her male and political self, Ashery exposes the history and absurdity of the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

FD: Montréal is waiting for you. You'll attend the OFFTA festival.
What's your expectation of OFFTA and in what ways do you think City
of Women and the OFFTA could collaborate?

Mara V: I was in Montréal once and I am looking forward to visit it again, since I find it extremely rich in a cultural sense. Since our festival hosts women artists I hope to have a chance to see interesting new productions of Canadian women artists at OFFTA in order to be able to continue exchange between the Slovenian and Canadian cultural spaces. In the past years we have presented several extraordinary artists coming from Montréal like Alexis O'Hara, Edgy Women, Mara Verna, Antonija Livingstone, just to name a few. In the future, my hope is that this collaboration will offer an opportunity for artistic exchange in both directions.

City of Women: http://cityofwomen.org
The OFFTA Festival takes place in Montréal from May 27th to June 4 2011: http://offta.com

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