zoot suits, wonder woman, and abortion: what i learned at nwsa

In early November I attended the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference in Cincinnati. As the new liaison librarian to Women’s Studies and Queer Studies, attending the conference allowed me to learn more about the current scholarship in both disciplines. I also met many librarians who are now part of my professional network (and enjoy Indian food as much as I do).

As an art librarian, I attended sessions that focused on the visual and performing arts.

In Plain Sight: The (In)Visibility of Political Discourse in the Embodied Practices of Vernacular Dance Forms – Sonja Thomas described how her teaching of tap dance in higher education was considered unprofessional by colleagues. Even within dance, tap is not studied in postmodern curriculums. Thomas argued that tap has one of the most intersectional histories, including art, race, gender, and class. Kendra Unruh and Anais Lei Sekine both gave papers on the Lindy Hop. Unruh discussed the zoot suit as a means of resistance. Sekine compared the historical dance to the new trend of swing dancing and how an African American, low class tradition has transferred to a middle class, white (and heterosexual) phenomenon.

Body Politics in Mainstream Culture – Doctoral students from Texas Women’s University provided a very interesting session on the body in new media. Sheila Bustillos-Reynolds addressed ESPN’s magazine The Body Issue. In the annual issue, men and women athletes pose nude and are artfully photographed. The women athletes who participate are often battered by the media and sport culture for exposing themselves. Michelle Slaughter discussed the onslaught of criticism gymnast Gabby Douglas faced as she became an Olympic star. Douglas’  hair became the focus on social media, rather than her athleticism and grace. Audrey Lundahl examined rockabilly culture and the craze for fifties fashion that rose from the popularity of the television show Mad Men. She focuses on women wearing retro clothing while covered in tattoos, concluding that the liberation of male (power) association with tattoos counters the traditional gendering of the clothing.

 Beyond Betty and Veronica: Gender, Politics, and Comic Books – Mauricio Fernando Castro and Kara Kvaran both read papers about DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. Castro examined a single issue for instances of militarization in both the narrative and advertising. Kvaran gave highlights of the comic’s history and how the character’s change through time represents a new understanding of feminism. Samantha Meier discussed two all-women underground comics from the 1970s and addressed the larger comic culture’s discrimination of women.

Feminist Archival Sensibility – This entire panel session was about the new Judy Chicago Art Education Collection at Penn State University. As a feminist artist and teacher, Chicago donated her teaching project materials in 2011. The materials are beginning to be digitized and there has been a tremendous amount of interest and use of the in-house collection. Chicago’s work can be the catalyst for new scholarship on feminist pedagogy, historical art movements, and art activism.

Guerilla Girls waiting to present
Guerilla Girls waiting to present

Abortion, Art, and Activism: Visual Artists on the Reproductive Justice Landscape – Artist Heather Ault talked about her work 4000 Years for Choice. She uses graphic design and printmaking to create a new, positive campaign for pro-choice activists. Meg Roberts is a potter and founder of Plants for Patients (P4P). At an abortion clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, P4P provides each patient with a plant in a hand-made pottery piece to take home with her. Included with the plant is a handwritten note from a member of the community offering support for the patient as she begins the healing process. Guerrilla Girls Broadband is a brand of the Guerrilla Girls currently working on an interactive map that explores the political, legal, and anecdotal histories of abortion in the United States.

I also attended the librarian’s task force business meeting and their sponsored roundtable Transformative Collaborations for Research and Action. We discussed outreach to student groups, office hours, and zine collections.

Attending the NWSA meeting as an artist and librarian was an excellent opportunity for me to gain an understanding of how other disciplines view the arts.