Last year, in September 2014, Marta, Lo and Madeleine were in Malmö, Sweden, working at the UNM festival. UNM stand for “Ung Nordisk Musik” and is a yearly festival for young composers, sound artists and performance artists living in Scandinavia. Out of 35 participants, only six were women. An open discussion was held at the festival about politics in new music. During this discussion, one of the participants stood up and said that he did not understand why we were discussing feminism. He said it was a non-issue, and that equality was not a problem in the contemporary music scene. A woman sitting in the panel burst out that it wasn’t ok for him to say such a thing. “Look around this room, of course it’s a problem with equality in our scene!” she said. Only a couple of other participants joined in opposing him. The rest sat quiet.
We have to talk about something that is really hard to talk about. We have to talk about the unwillingness of many people to see this ignorance and blindness towards (in)equality in our artistic area, and how it affects us as women. Maybe you agree with what you just read, and you think this sexism is horrible and really unfair. But it stops there. Because the next time you produce a concert, organize an exhibition or order a commission, you’ll call your pals, the guys – people of the same sex as you.
Waking up has been a long process. Maybe we were naive to think that we were working for the same future- a future where male domination among composers of contemporary music would slowly fade out and make space for greater variation. It’s not your fault. You have not actively made the choice to be at the top of the pyramid of privilege. But you might not be doing so much for either us or other women to get access to your world. There are a lot of excuses. You say that there are no women in the scene, or that they are not as good. This is something that is repeated at every point throughout music history. We have heard from day one that there are no women of importance before the twentieth century, and even then that there are very few.
“I have no clue what to write. When I get the chance to write something, I often get stuck and can’t express anything. I mean, I get the chance to speak out loud – but then I can’t do it. Am I not brave enough? What is the fucking problem, that when I’m given the opportunity to speak I can’t do it? What am I supposed to do with this opportunity? Is this really what I believe in? Is it ok for me to be pissed off? What will people think? A man said to me that I shouldn’t let feminism go to my head. Is this what’s happening now? I’m not an angry feminist. I’m just a young woman, accustomed to the patriarchy. I’ve been taught how to follow – how not to let anything go to my head.”
The climate in the music academies in Sweden (one of the worlds most equal countries) is incredibly stingy on examples of female composers and artists. Many courses have none. In some places, the standard critical artistic discussion is very disengaged and inefficient- sometimes completely dead. In the department of composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, three out of a total of eighteen teachers are women, and in Gothenburg and Malmö, all of the composition teachers men. Western history is written by sexist and racist men who have deliberately undermined the work of women. We should know better today.
We call for a broadening of the musical-historical perspective. We demand that all schools and teachers update their history books about classical and new music, and highlight the women in that history with names, faces and music.
“I often find it easier to surround myself with girls when discussing feminism. Then we are all on the same side. We fight the same fight. They give me strength and confidence. I find it easier to work on my own projects, to be my own boss. I think it’s because I have set the rules and terms myself. There is no one I have to reckon with, no obvious role for me to fulfill. I can be – unreservedly and without hesitation – strong as hell.”
We have been told that we should be patient and hopeful- that it’s changing slowly but surely. We have been told that we are self-sabotaging our message, by being loud and demanding. But we have been given an entrance (we are published here, are we not?). And it is our duty to speak up, although it is hard. We have a responsibility to bring attention to this matter. Feminism is not a cool outfit, it‘s a full-time job. We have learned that nothing will happen by itself, and nobody else will do it for us. Since that festival, Marta and Lo have started Konstmusiksystrar (Art Music Sisters), an initiative for young composers and sound artists who define themselves as women. Konstmusiksystrars aims is to inspire and support young women who write contemporary music. Konstmusiksystrar’s website has a list of all our members and the list is growing rapidly.
Madeleine became the chairman of UNM Sweden this past Spring. This year, six of the eight participants in the UNM festival are women, which is the highest number of female composers Sweden has ever had in the festival. In June of this year, Kajsa contacted Marta, Lo and Madeleine to form a feministic collective that would reach out to all the corners of the scene. Kajsa is the chairman of the Swedish Society of Sound Art, and also the in-house curator at Harp Art Lab. We have loads of ideas about how make a change, and we will. Now is the time to join us. No more empty words – for real. Let’s get to work!
Marta Forsberg, Lo Kristenson, Madeleine Jonsson Gille and Kajsa Magnarsson
Special thanks to Katt Hernandez for the translation.
Photo: Klara Andersson
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