The Dark Madonna: Women, Culture and Community Rituals, a Symposium

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 With a broad base of co-sponsors included the four “ethnic” studies centers at UCLA, Chicano, African Studies, American Indian,  Afro-Am Studies, as well as Latin American Studies and women’s studies ) community organizations, such as the Asian Pacific Women’s Network, Hispanic Women’s Council, and Watts Community Housing Corporation,  in addition to art world organizations (Wight Gallery, UCLA Museum of Cultural History Museum,  Museum of African American Art, Afro-American Museum, The Dark Madonna symposium sought to bring together a diverse group of participants and speakers.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The discourse of the Dark Madonna[1] rested on a notion of similarities among women and connections across the differences.    In 1984  “suggesting and affirming the commonality of women” while also arguing that “we can only understand our shared humanity by respecting our individual cultural and racial uniqueness” went against the prevalent tide of (academic) feminist theory. [2] In what follows, I explore the “grammar of liberation” reading closely to reveal how constructions of sameness and difference subordinated or subsumed the latter to the former.  I see this rhetoric not as a betrayal of feminism’s interest in differences between/among women, but in an attempt by both activists and scholars to “save” their movement which appeared to be foundering by the mid 1980s.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Suzanne Lacy remained committed to exploring the meaning of relationships across the identity factors that divide women.  She never was simplistically committed to some sort of universal sisterhood, but she retains the faith of early women’s liberation, that in addition to women’s differences, there are commonalities too, and the exploring those bonds has meaning and significance for political movements and the transformation of society.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 She explained the origins of the idea behind The Dark Madonna as a desire for more connection with black women

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 At that point in time, it was hard to talk about an emotional bond that might exist between black and white women because the national consciousness of racism made our approaches as white women to women of color quite circumspect. We were often paralyzed by fears of our own racism and guilt about our built-in privilege. … Adrienne Rich addressed that in her article[3]. She talked about how, even from childhood, some white women had black housekeepers, substitute mothers, and how later that translated into a longing for more connection with black women. I didn’t have a black housekeeper—we were working class—but there are certain ethnicities, in particular black, that are extremely attractive by virtue of some shared qualities. I find black women incredibly mothering, strong, and wise.[4]

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What I find so fascinating is that in 1984, inside a university like UCLA, feminist scholars also agreed with this project.  The publicity materials for The Dark Madonna symposium weave back and forth between celebrating the ties that bind women to one another and acknowledging the differences that divide them.  The description of the Symposium stressed these commonalities, claiming in the collective “we” of “women:  “in  mythic images of women, we see ourselves reflected,” but also referring to “multi-ethnic cultures.”

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In what I refer to as a grammar of liberation, the written descriptions of the symposium created the notion of an “ethnic” difference at the individual level, subsumed, at times, by a commonality of gender  qua “women.”  As many scholars have argued, the homogenizing terms “multi-ethnic” “multi-cultural” and language of diversity, shift the emphasis from power relations to a hypothetical level of equality that does not yet exist in American society, hence the very need for projects such as The Dark Madonna.

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However, the papers given at symposium itself contain a wealth of specificity about various group’s of women’s interactions with the iconography of The Dark Madonna.  In what follows, rather than valorize some while excoriating others, I want to use The Dark Madonna symposium as an entré into a very specific moment in the politics of women’s culture, one that hinged on attempting to save a social movement while shifting its theoretical foundation by creating this new discourse of simultaneous difference and sameness.

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click on bolded links to read as book, use right side bar to navigate to page of your choice.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 [1] Suzanne Lacy, documentation book of The Dark Madonna, np

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 [2] The name itself, The Dark Madonna, represented a desire to be as inclusive as possible.  During dialogues with community participants in February of 1984, the original title “The Black Madonna” [the name used in scholarly circles for the icon] was deemed divisive by at least one participant of mixed ethnic heritage.  While black community members expressed their concern with the rejection of the label “black.”  By April of 1984 the planning documents reveal the name change to “The Dark Madonna.”

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 [3] The piece to which she refers is probably “Disloyal to Civilization” which was first published in Chrysalis

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 [4] Oral history interview with Suzanne Lacy, 1990 Mar. 16-Sept. 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.


Source: https://politicsofwomensculture.michellemoravec.com/about-2/contention/the-womens-culture-wars/the-dark-madonna-1985-1986/the-dark-madonna-women-culture-and-community-rituals-a-symposium/