FemFest showcases female empowerment through art
By Tessa Elliott-Israelson, Arts Contributor
“You run your own pussy let me run mine,” shouts El Jones, host of FemFest 2009, which ran last weekend at The Company House on Gottingen Street.
FemFest was a showcase of local female talent that supports and promotes women’s artistic endeavours around Halifax. It was hosted by the St. Mary’s University Women’s Centre, a student-run organization that works to create a woman-friendly campus.
The audience members inside The Company House are mostly women, but there are also a few men (there is an abundance of pixie cuts, as well as a few mullets). Most people seem to be students or people in their early 20s, but there are some older people here as well.
El Jones sets the mood with a powerful slam poem about South African runner Caster Semenya – whose gender is being questioned – followed by a witty piece entitled “Why can’t people leave my vagina the fuck alone?”
The rest of the first half of the show includes a couple of up-and-coming singer songwriters who are clearly excited to be there. They have the requisite angst-filled lyrics paired with sweet voices. This contrasts nicely with some well-placed belly dancing.
After a quick intermission the audience seems more vocal, maybe due to the drink specials that include the Butch option “Blue Balls” and the Fem option “Sour Pussy”.
Then there is more spoken word poetry and raw acoustic vocalists – a high point being the edgy and soulful Katie Day channelling Janis Joplin – who declares, “There’s a shit load of talent here.”
The show finishes off with a demonic dance number by Bang Bang Burlesque, followed by a DJ who tops off the night with some Lauryn Hill.
Overall the reception seems good. While the room never gets completely packed at The Company House, more people filter in throughout the show. Most of the audience members seem to know at least one of the performers and cheer wildly for their friends on stage.
FemFest is actually a few “fests” – featuring singer-songwriters, a variety of dancers, and spoken word, as well as a craft fair and story-telling night. All the proceeds of the events go straight back to the artists themselves.
FemFest falls in the middle of the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which began on Nov. 25 and ends Dec. 6. This is the first time the event has had a weekend of its own.
“I don’t want to say it’s exclusively for women,” says Caitlin Blennerhassett, a student at St. Mary’s University and the sole organizer of FemFest 2009. “It’s for anybody who wants to celebrate the female community.”
Blennerhassett hopes all audiences will join the celebration. She is encouraged by the feedback she received before this year’s show from local media, artists, and preview audiences.
She explained that she is doubly motivated with strong feelings about both women’s issues and the local Halifax music scene.
“Basically my job involves talking to artists, nailing down set lists and locations, directing and stage managing the shows, and promoting it as much as possible.”
Blennerhassett got involved with the event when she applied to be a co-ordinator at the St. Mary’s University Women’s centre.
The shows have been widely promoted all over Halifax. They have relied heavily on online promotion, successfully using social media tools like Facebook to get the word out.
“We wanted to get visibility not just for the show and the artists, but for the women’s centre itself within the community, as a safe space for women on and off the university campuses,” she says. “We hope women will keep us in mind if they need something.”
Blennerhassett says the purpose of FemFest is to create awareness and spread a positive message about female expression.
“We’re celebrating moving forward and taking action. Maybe that’s idealistic, but it’s a good time.”
Here, feminism is definitely not a bad word, but neither are men the scum of the earth.
The message is female empowerment through art.