The all-woman art collective, Images de femmes, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and will be featuring work by some 70 women artists. The kick-off is today, Saturday, March 2, at 1:30 pm at the Mile End Library with a reception and vernissage. In addition to a sister art exhibit across the street at AME ART, workshops given by local artists are scheduled throughout the week, and culminates with Rythmes de femmes, a celebration of women and music at the Rialto Theatre on Sunday, March 10.
While Images de femmes has always had a strong visual arts focus and a growing music component, in the past it has also featured literature and film.
At the vernissage in 1994, Governor General recipient, playwright and novelist Marie Laberge and internationally acclaimed playwright Abla Faroud read from their work. Award-winning documentary filmmaker, screenwriter and director Mireille Dansereau presented Les seins dans la tête in 1995 and Les cheveux en quatre in 1997. While documentary filmmaker and long-time Mile End resident Sophie Bisonnette showed Des lumières dans la grande noirceur in 1996, with the film’s star Léa Roback in attendance. In recent years, Bisonnette has been widely praised for Sexy Inc: Our Children Under the Influence, a documentary about the media’s hypersexualization of children.
As one might expect, the idea behind Images de femmes arose around a kitchen table in the fall of 1992, when Claudine Schiradin and some friends discussed what Mile End women artists could do to celebrate International Women’s Day. The abundance of cheap, spacious apartments had attracted droves of young women artists. “But they had no venue in the Mile End where they could show their work,” says local historian and long-time Images de femmes participant Kathryn Harvey.
The Mile End of the early 1990s was hardly the thriving artistic neighbourhood it is now. “It didn’t have much identity at all,” notes Harvey. Empty storefronts lined Park Avenue, and north of St.Viateur, there were plenty of crack houses. “I can’t count the number of times I witnessed police cuffing some young dealer lying face down with a cop’s boot on his back,” she adds.
The Mile End’s turning point came in 1993. Not only was the dilapidated YMCA torn down and rebuilt, but the Habs also won the Stanley Cup, filling cafés on Bernard and St. Viateur streets with screaming fans during the playoffs. There was also another important initiative. A citizen’s action group, le Comité des citoyens du Mile-End (CCME) successfully convinced the city of Montreal to buy the old Anglican Church on Park Avenue and convert it into a library. This development project not only added a library and meeting place to the neighbourhood, but it also provided Images de femmes with a much-needed venue.
The CCME has been instrumental in assisting initiatives like Images de femmes. “Their work has made the neighbourhood the creative, vibrant place it is today,” says Harvey.
CCME member Baska Séguin, artists Françoise Barraud and Nancy Héroux, and Josée Moreau from the city of Montreal were key figures in organizing the first ever Images de femmes. However, by 1996, the annual event had become so popular that even the library was too small. They typical neighbourhood solution was to ask local merchants to display the work of up-and-coming artists.
“Residents of the Mile End did their socializing where they shopped, in doorways, and out on the street, having no other place to congregate,” says the local historian. As a result, there has always been a strong relationship between members of the community and shop owners, who have always been more than willing to lend a hand to aspiring artists.
This tradition is alive and well today. A number of Mile End businesses still feature the work of local artists in their storefronts and shops. The first week of March is a great time to go for a walk in the hood and see the work of the next generation of aspiring artists.
For a listing of the Images de femmes events, “like” their Facebook Page or follow them on Twitter at @MileEndIdF. Tickets to the March 10 Rythmes de femmes are on sale at the Rialto ticket office or can be purchased at the door ($15 general admission, $10 for students and seniors).
Heather Leighton blogs at the Unexpected Twists and Turns.
IMAGE: Françoise Barraud, Images de Femmes, 2003