Liminal Spaces, Beyond the Page Workshop
Coconut and Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Icing

Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 1

This was my first visit to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (or ACMI as it's better known) at Federation Square and I was really impressed with the enticing looking exhibition spaces leading off from the main entrance and foyer. We were there to see the Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion exhibition but I could easily have spent more time exploring the rest of the gallery.

The start of the exhibition featured glamorous goddesses and screen icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Madonna wearing iconic pink dresses symbolising femininity.

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 2

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 3

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 4

The exhibition included posters, magazines, costumes, photographs and moving images from a wide variety of films with women in starring roles. There were Hollywood and Bollywood stars, African and Asian actors as well as gender busting pioneers. We saw sultry screen sirens such as Marelne Dietrich and Mae West who got around the Hayes Code for morality with innuendo and double entendre. The Hayes Code forbade among other things the portrayal of mixed race relationships and sex outside of marriage.

I often think that the funny thing about the past is the way that we think people were less enlightened, less progressive, less everything really. But it's not the case as you can see from the movie poster above of When Roaring Gulch Got Suffrage, made early last century. Women have fought for equality for a very long time. 

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 5

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 6

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 7

My favourite parts of this exhibition were the clips and exhibits about films in other languages. There was a short from the Indian film, Pakeezah (1972), starring Meena Kumari that took an incredible fifteen years to make. Unfortunately Kumari died three weeks after the film's premiere and she didn't live to see its success in both India and Pakistan. Audiences fell in love with the costumes and would buy their tailors tickets to the movie so they could make them clothes based on those of the film.

You've probably never heard of Anna May Wong. Don't worry, I hadn't either but we should know her name. She was an Asian American actor and movie star working in Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s. Unfortunately she was limited to playing either the villainous Dragon Lady or the subservient White Lotus. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act which fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment, Chinese characters were viewed as villains. Any nuanced Chinese roles went to white actors such as German Luise Rainer who won an Oscar for her 'yellowface' performance in The Good Earth (1937), a role Wong had lobbied to play.

There was also a 1906 French comedy from Alice Guy-Blaché, Les Résultats du féminisme (Consequences of Feminism) that did a gender switch and had the men sewing and ironing while the women smoked, drank and made a mess. At the end of this seven minute satire, the men overthrow the matriarchy and gain their freedom.

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 8

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 9

IP - Goddess Power  Glamour  Rebellion 10

Unusually for an exhibition, it left me wanting more. I could have easily spent another hour or two immersed in the world of screen goddesses. I would have loved to have seen African, Indigenous, Latinx, Eastern European, Asian cinema and actors represented in more depth and detail. But this was a good beginning.

Seeing this exhibition made me want to rewrite the histories and our narratives to include a much wider and broader range of woman. After seeing the Cressida Campbell exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra earlier in the year and talking to a friend about history books that are writing women back into the narrative, I am hopeful that we are on the crest of a wave, make that a tsunami, that will wash away the past and bring equality to our art, our screens, our books and our histories.