As we close in on the 101st anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote on Aug. 18, OZY’s Weekender tips its hat to several inspirational women, past and present, who have fought for gender equality. Their poems, songs and art will stay with you well beyond the weekend.
Sohini Das Gupta, Reporter
listen more to women
1. Bop to Jorja Smith
“An artist’s duty . . . is to reflect the times,” Nina Simone once remarked. Gen Z singer-songwriter Jorja Smith, who cites Simone as a musicalinspiration, belts out warm, woodsy R&B numbers. With timely storytelling, she draws on fear of the police in “Blue Lights,” sisterhood in “Peng Black Girls,” social justice with “By Any Means” or just a bad crush in “On My Mind.” With a knack for dipping into the intimate and creating modern, timeless songs, the English singer’s childhood diet of punk, hip-hop and reggae shines through in her blend of neo-soul and grime. Give the 2019 Grammy nominee a listen this Saturday evening, and bop to her collaborations with Drake,Kendrick Lamar and Stormzy. Still haven’t had your fill? Check out her South African Amapiano-influenced new single “All of This.”
2. Let Rachel Sermanni Serenade You
If Jorja Smith recharges your evening, save Scottish indie-folk musician Rachel Sermanni for a sleepless night. With a luminous voice that both grounds and elevates, she’ll whisper “Breathe Easy,” and if you’re like me, you’ll slide into an untroubled sleep, dreaming of highlands, waves and morning skies. The lyrical pulse of songs like “Don’t Fade” and “Waltz” is a little like natural light, changing shape as time goes by. Check out her ephemeral performances on YouTube, including live acoustic sets by the sea or in the heart of a woodland. Take care not to miss “Song for a Fox,” a pleasure for its lyrics alone, and “Lay My Heart,” which might best be saved for the closest of friends.
3. Watch Out for Mereba
With Smith and Sermanni, you can sample quality R&B or folk. WithMereba, you can wolf down both at once. An American singer-songwriter, rapper and producer of Ethiopian descent, Mereba’s sound blends strains of folk rock, hip-hop and R&B with narration to create an experience both melodic and dissonant. Pay attention to the lyrics of her 2019 album, The Jungle Is the Only Way Out, and you’ll realize that alienation was a huge part of the 30-year-old’s experiences growing up. Living at different times in Ethiopia, Philadelphia and Atlanta may have shaped her eclecticism, but it also marked her as the perpetual outsider. “Black Truck,” from the same album, is atribute to her father, who “wasn’t a materialistic person” but “wanted this specific Lexus” — a metaphor for making it in America. Much of Mereba’s own music plays out in similes; beautiful like a “Sandstorm” but uncomfortable like a grain of sand in your eye.
“As someone who loves sprucing up my wardrobe yet is constantly fussing over making informed, sustainable choices as a consumer, it’s hard to stay fashionable yet environmentally conscious. At least when it comes to footwear I know that I’m set to look fresh while minimizing my carbon footprint while I have my Cariuma sneakers on. Knowing that my canvas OCAs are ethically sourced and sustainably made makes me feel good every time I put them on.” — Sandya, OZY Employee
Art of the present often borrows from the past, and Yugoslav-born Marina Abramovićembodies both.The self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art” is as relevant today as she was in 1974, when at a gallery in Naples, she made her body available as an “object” for the audience to do with as it wanted. Putting her safety at risk provoked a visceral reaction from the gallery-goers. The Serbian artist was presented with a rose and pierced with its thorns, offered water and kisses, but also stripped, violated and made to bleed. Vulnerability, society and radical confrontations lie at the heart of herlarger body of work. In the ’70s, she stood naked with fellow artist and then-partnerUlay to block the entrance to a museum. In 1988, she walked halfway along the Great Wall of China to mark the end of their torrid relationship. As with her famous 2010 retrospective at MoMa, where she held the gaze of strangers, Abramović’s art — censured as often as celebrated — is well worth the discomfort.
2. Back to the Future With Guan Xiao
Beijing-based artist Guan Xiao’s installations and sculptures toy with everyday objects, creating visual cues for the audience and raising vital questions. The millennial artist attempts to use the past, sometimes artifacts from seemingly disparate cultures, to question the present. Are we similar in our differences? Her work also hints at a high-tech future we can’t predict, but can certainly imagine. She has been known to experiment with breaking free from technology while working in her studio, which doesn’t have an internet connection. Her sculptural work can be abstract and forward-looking, melding techno-futurism with ancient Chinese influences. Her videos, meanwhile, tend to pose a near-absurdist interpretation of the society we live in. David, a nod to Michelangelo’s sculpture, is a commentary on the commercialization of the Renaissance master’s timeless work of art. Also at the heart of many of her works is the relationship between sound and image, with spoken words and faint electronic music adding an eerie edge.
3. Artemisia Gentileschi’s Painted Revenge
Centuries before Abramović or Xiao, there lived a 17th-century Italian woman who protested male violence — with a paintbrush. After being raped as a teenager by her art teacher and denied justice by a Roman court,Artemisia Gentileschi moved far away from the capital to seek an unusual revenge. The teen could not remove the hand of benevolence Pope Innocent X had placed on her rapist. Instead, she turned to the canvas to release her pain by reimagining the end of her story. In her rendition ofJudith Beheading Holofernes— a widely painted gruesome biblical episode immortalized by Carvaggio and others — she paints her rapist as Holofernes and herself as his killer. Blood spurting, eyes bulging, the torture is almost palpable. If the transcripts from the courtroom are to be believed, Gentileschi had wanted exactly that: “I’d like to kill you with this knife because you have dishonored me,” she recalled having shouted at her attacker. For one of the greatest female artists of the Baroque age, art came at the price of deep suffering, and her painted revenge is as powerful as ever in the #MeToo era.
Listen Up: Gladwell is back! Check out the new season of Revisionist History, from Pushkin. Every episode reexamines something from the past and asks whether we got it right the first time. This season, Malcolm Gladwell is finally out of the house, and taking you into the streets and even under the sea. Find the new season of Revisionist History here.
WhateverEllen Bass says, she says simply. Gently. The California-based poet and teacher, who studied withAnne Sexton, has won her own share of awards and hearts with a style that’s direct and intimate. The trick is to “speak from me to myself and then from me to you,” she reckons. As someone whose appetite for bedtime reading dwindled post college, I still often turn to “Gate C22,” from her 2012 book of poems,The Human Line. Get her work in paperback or flip through digital archives to read gems like “How to Apologize.” There are also audio renditions by her readers to be sampled. Bass has a warm relationship with her fans: In 2019, students from around the worldwrote to her, in response to herreading of the poem “Lost Dog” — and she wrote back. The bestselling author also heldpoetry workshops for many years in the California prison system.
2. Taste Amrita Pritam’s Words
It’s hard to effectively translateAmrita Pritam’s poetry, written in British India (now Pakistan) in the 20th century. But for those lucky enough to read them in their original form, a meal of her Punjabi words can taste of love and loss, rain and soil — those undeniably universal elements. So time and again, people have tried totranslate them, cementing her legacy as a feminist poet who was ahead of her time. Indeed, her relationship with the self and the trauma of the partition are easily located in her poems, but the guiding force of her literature remains love. Between her loveless, arranged marriage, her obsessive affection for fellow poet Sahir Ludhianvi and a then-radical live-inpartnership with artist Imroz, there was plenty of fire to fuel her poetry. Her swan song, “Main Tainu Phir Milangi” (“I Will Meet You Yet Again”), was written under the looming cloud of death, elevating her last written words from the physical to the cosmic: “I will meet you yet again/ How and where/ I know not.”
3. . . . and Hawa Hassan’s Food
There’s no celebration without good food. So we turn from poetry to cookery withHawa Hassan, the Somali-born home cook who has been adding calorific and cultural richness to the ever-evolving food conversation in America. With a cookbook, In Bibi's Kitchen, and a show on Food Network, the CEO of Africa-inspired condiments companyBasbaas (think coconut cilantro chutney or tamarind date sauce) is expanding her repertoire like a supersize pantry. But the kind that’s packed with berbere and hawaij. Most of Hassan’s recipes spring from one emotion: homesickness. After moving from Somalia to the U.S. as a refugee, she stopped eating her traditional food but later missed it. If you’ve felt that heart-to-stomach pull toward a dish from your childhood, the 75 recipes from bibis (grandmothers)across eight African countries might serve you well. Feeling lazy? Watch how to cookswordfish, the Somali way, from your couch bubble — there’s always another day to conquer the kitchen.
buys for women
1. Spice It Up
There’s no better way to prep for that Somali lunch you’ve mastered (in theory) than by ordering a spice rack. Ditch the puny old containers in your pantry so that the right mix of cumin, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon can bless your first attempt. Sleek and sturdy, this rack is perfect for organizing and retrieving your spices. Because you don’t want an unfortunate spice swap halfway through yourdoro wat, do you?
2. Sleep, Sugar
Are you (or your girlfriends) losing sleep over the many duplicities of the patriarchy? I feel ya. But it won’t do to stay up long nights, even a hustling girl’s gotta rest. Show yourself some love by grabbing a beautiful silk sleep mask. No shame in committing to peaceful slumber until the world wakes up from its own.
3. Read. Relax. Repeat.
Where do you put the precious works of all the powerhouse women you’ve promised to read? For every preloved copy of Alice Walker and Virginia Woolf, or that new Hala Alyanbook arriving in a few days, consider the safe embrace of this stylish bookshelf. Super-functional, it is also designed to add a chic element to your room. You deserve no less!