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Opening Night of the Dark Madonna

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The limits to which sameness in difference (or difference in sameness) could be stretched became apparent at the very start of The Dark Madonna symposium.  The opening panel, Friday night, consisted of only white women.  Two panelists, Moira Roth and Arlene Raven, came from the feminist art world.  Karen Blair and Martha Banta, held professorships.  In addition, Lacy, Rowe and Tonelli all spoke.  Not surprisingly, questions from the floor centered on the issue of race.  Esther Broner, a Jewish feminist scholar scheduled to give the closing paper of the conference, spoke first.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 “describing herself as a little confused, she [broner] asked why there had been no mention of black women.  Were there no rituals, or pageants or tableaux thay had participated in?  I hunger for this knowledge.”

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Broner was followed by a woman, identified by the press only as “a latina” who lamented “I drove a long way to get here.  I was very excited about  learning about the Dark Madonna and the opening session has six white women up there.”

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 “we didn’t plan the panels”[1]

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The above quote is taken from an 1990 oral history interview with Lacy by Roth, in which Lacy distances herself from the events.  The notion that Lacy had nothing to do with the selection of Moira Roth and Arlene Raven two of her close friends, seems unlikely.  Her account is disputed by Gary Sue Goldman and Karen Rowe of the Center for the Study of Women [2].  Goodman recalled at

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 the moment in the symposium when we were called on the carpet for having an all white panel and Suzanne basically says …  I didn’t do the planning.  I wanted to stand up and say bullshit baby you’re the one who recommended those people. … She was the one who was negotiating with them, not us … in public for her to disclaim responsibility for that seemed pretty unfair to me.[3]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 At the very least, Lacy had seen the program before the event took place and had raised no objections to the composition, which seems to have been set from the earliest proposals .[4]

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 However, because Lacy traveled extensively between Minnesota and California during the year and a half planning of the Dark Madonna, and because the CSW had primary responsibility for the symposium, while she was overseeing the art, Lacy may have believe that the overall composition and balance of the panel reflected their work, not hers. The division of responsibilities reflects in part the politics of women’s culture in the early 1980s, by which time the production of knowledge increasingly moved inside academia, while interaction with the “community” primarily shifted to activists outside universities.  Rowe recalled ” the only part of the project that we could have responsibility for because it was what we could do best was an academic symposium.”  At one point, Lacy wanted the CSW to take responsibility for organizing the dialogues, and Rowe remained adamant that ” we can only do this part of it [the symposium]t.” [5]

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 What emerged in the aftermath focused some on the disparity of women of color on Friday’s panel, but also displaced the issue on to the topic of the presentation made by one participant, Karen Blair.  In the 1990 interview Lacy claimed “To make matters worse, one woman was going to talk about black women’s clubs and theatrical organizations at the turn of the century, but changed her mind at the last minute.”[6]   In contrast, the organizers from the CSW, Goodman and Rowe proved more willing to take some responsibility noting that

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 2  if you want to put the blame anywhere it really traces back to when we initially contacted these people how was the project described to them. Unfortunately it was not described to her[Blair]  in such a way that she understood exactly what she was meant to do.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Rowe revealed considerable understanding of the difficulties for a white women speaking about black women’s history ” whether or not she [Blair]  in this context would feel comfortable doing that knowing that perhaps a black woman talking about it would be much more effective ”

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Archives reveal that the abstract submitted by Blair did not reference black women, although the reference to her abstract throughout the planning process of the conference wavered back in forth in the title given to it.  For example, in an early proposal for The Black Madonna, and in the grant application to the California Council for the Humanities, Blair’s project is given the title “American Women and the Uses of Pageantry: Black Women’s Clubs 1900-1930 and describes Blair’s field as ” social history of black women.”   However, the abstract Blair submitted to the symposium, included in the CCH grant application, had the title “American Women and the Uses of Pageantry: 1900-1930″ and contains only a passing reference to ” neighbors of all ages and races” who participated in the pageants she intended to discuss.  Her book, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868-1914 (1980) gives little indication that black women provided a major focus of her research.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In any case, however, the changed content of Blair’s presentation would have done little to alter the composition of the opening conference.  It remained, despite the very representation on the next day’s panels, of Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women, (five of the fourteen people on Saturday’s program were white), an extremely telling indication of the focus of the conference, which remained on women not race.   Unlike the opening panels, two of the three panels on Saturday contained men, a situation that led to considerable comment on the audience evaluations.

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16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 [1] Oral history interview with Suzanne Lacy, 1990 Mar. 16-Sept. 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 [2]Tape recorded, Debriefing with Karen Rowe and Gary Goldman with “the Dark Madonna” Saibra Vickland 12-13-85, Center for the Study of Women Collection, University Archives, UCLA

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 [3] ibid.  Rowe also recalled that “Suzanne was very helpful in suggesting other people who might talk in the area of performance art”

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 [4]   Rowe probably contacted Banta, her colleague in the UCLA Department of English, and I suspect that Kathryn Sklar, a member of the project’s advisory board until she departed UCLA probably recommended Blair.  A conference program included in a proposal titled the Black Madonna, which dates it to earlier than April 1985, contains the panel that occurred during the event.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 [5]Tape recorded, Debriefing with Karen Rowe and Gary Goldman with “the Dark Madonna” Saibra Vickland 12-13-85, Center for the Study of Women Collection, University Archives, UCLA

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 [6] Oral history interview with Suzanne Lacy, 1990 Mar. 16-Sept. 27, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

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Source: http://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/opening-night-of-the-dark-madonna/