Can you tell me a little bit about yourself to start us off?
I am a PhD candidate in the Film, Media and Communications Program at Monash University, and an installation artist. Parisian originally, I now call Australia ‘home’. I have a serious love affair with Melbourne’s welcoming and creative edge. And last but not least, I collect dolls (there is a life beyond Barbie), zines and artworks from awesome female-identifying artists.
You’re a member of the Darebin Women’s Advisory Committee (DWAC). How did you get involved there and what do you do with them?
Three years ago, I read the DWAC’s call for applications at the Northcote Library and wrote an expression of interest. I felt thrilled knowing that Darebin council supported women as key contributors to policy-making. The Committee gives guidance to the City on proposed events, strategies and programs with a strong intersectional approach. Concretely, meetings with councilors and officers cover a variety of situations. Does a new sport facility have appropriate changing facilities for females? How to engage with isolated older women in situation of vulnerability? Does the organisation of a festival include specific considerations of safety for women? Beyond gender equity, I value that our gatherings are about building a more inclusive and civic community by taking its diversity into consideration.
Let’s hear about your research! What are you currently investigating and how did you decide on it?
I investigate the transnational representation of young femininity in the visual culture. Because girlhood is situated at the intersection of childhood and womanhood, I work on the historical construction of both axes. As a case study, I am tracing the depictions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) into the erotic landscape of contemporary Japan. Since my exhibition and artistic residency in 2012, I have felt deeply fascinated by Japan. The figure of the young girl seems to occupy a pre-eminent place in the cartography of desire. One could see pervasive ‘little Lolitas’ in many animations and cartoons. However, are Western representations that different after all? So far, my research has given me the impression of falling into the rabbit hole, but shh! I am still working on my findings.
When you’re not writing academically, you’re writing for your blog and other publications. What drives your creative writing?
I am driven by the desire to engage with an audience beyond the limitations of the scholarly ivory tower. I believe that researchers have the double responsibility of writing for their peers, and when possible of taking part in public debate. It is not just about giving back to people in the community. It is also about listening to their voices with a self-reflective posture in order to problematise our own assumptions. Books constitute an essential, but actually quite limited, access to knowledge. In the long term, I am interested in forging a bridge between academia and the community to foster critical thinking about the depiction of girlhood through a creative, discursive, and collaborative approach (watch this space!).
You’ve also exhibited work from France to Spain to Australia as an installation artist. What drove you to installation art as a platform?
Installation art is an alternative way of exploring a complex reality with a more intuitive approach. When I was a full-time artist, I used to design all-encompassing sensorial environments. With some of my previous thematics, such as childhood trauma and the weight of transgenerational repetition, installation art was a powerful tool to open difficult conversations. Well, too effective may be. Art could make the invisible visible, and put the unsaid to words. I felt powerless when facing questions and feeling the distress of viewers with whom I had the opportunity to interact. This frustration has been the motivation behind my PhD. I paradoxically needed a more cerebral mode to keep coping emotionally, and to keep interacting meaningfully with people.
What kind of themes are most prevalent in your works and why?
Girls, girls, and before I forget, girls! But those of a special kind. Those who have been left behind by mainstream narratives. My work is about marginal girlhood. It constantly asks which voices are missing. If during the last few years I focused on denouncing the sexual and emotional abuse of the female child behind the closed doors of the ‘home sweet home’, I am moving towards the study of the geopolitics of beauty. This shift from the familial order to the social one is not surprising. These are both sites of a multilayer power struggle which mirror each other. Stereotypical ideals of young femininity conveyed in the social fabric highlight dominant ideologies of race, class, gender, sexuality among others. As a mixed-race person from France and Cameroon, I am particularly interested in the socio-historical construction of black femininity. Its recent evolution in the toy industry and in popular culture has been quite exciting to monitor.
As a woman with a foot in both the academic world and the creative one, what have you found the challenges have been for you personally?
Sexism thrived in terms of unconscious bias in both spheres. For instance, I could not help noticing that, even though women represent half of the staff in many prominent universities, female professors are very under-represented. Studies have regularly pointed out how women have been the object of discriminatory practices in academia. Personally, I have found unconscious beliefs difficult to tackle. Any attempts to open the conversation generally end-up in pure dismissal (and you’d better not be too vocal about it or you will be conveniently labeled as hysterical).
In parallel, I have also been struck by the way I have internalized sexist (and racist) remarks, and the resulting lack of self-confidence I had in academia. When having good marks as a child, it was allegedly because I was studying in a developing country. As a teenager, it was supposedly because I had seduced the male teacher. And more recently, congratulations on my journey could not come without praising the help of my husband in the familial dynamic. I wish I had shut up the little voice that was telling me I was not good enough earlier. So ultimately, challenges include fostering structural changes and personal empowerment. We need to confront the issue on both fronts, the collective and the individual. I look with interest and admiration at the new generation of feminists who seem to have more confidence in their full potential. They are the ones opening windows into brighter futures.