No Master Territories: Feminist Worldmaking and the Moving Image is dedicated to works of nonfiction that seek to invent new audiovisual languages for the representation of gendered experience. Concentrating primarily on the period of the 1970s to 1990s, a time when women’s liberation movements took hold internationally, it stages an expansive encounter as an act of intergenerational memory, unfolding across the spaces of the gallery, the cinema, and a library. Through a presentation of films and videos alongside documents and artworks, it pays homage to the important work of the past and responds to the urgencies of today. As the outcome of research conducted in dialogue with collaborators from around the world, the project aims to enlarge available histories by tracing multiple genealogies that circumvent the impasses of contemporary neoliberal feminisms.
The exhibition and cinema program focus on those areas of moving image practice that have been the most inhabited by women and the most engaged in an oppositional reformulation of all aspects of the cinematic institution, yet which are frequently pushed to the sidelines of film histories, feminist ones included: the overlapping and diverging traditions of documentary and experimental film and video. Emanating from diverse geopolitical contexts, the works on display range from activist tapes to avant-garde experiments and essay films, from docufictions to personal testimonies and observational documentaries. They typically adopt production methods very different to those of the industry and have historically occupied noncommercial, sometimes nontheatrical, exhibition contexts. Many are conceived in intimate relation to feminist activism, which has long recognized the importance of visual media as a means of domination and emancipation; others exist at a distance from any organized social movement; and some are made by women who do not self-identify as feminist but whose work nonetheless resonates with feminist concerns.
The title No Master Territories is itself an archival return, borrowed from a section heading in Trinh T. Minh-ha’s 1991 essay collection When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics. It is an abolitionist declaration, profoundly utopian, that speaks to the need for a bold reimagining of the world which would put an end to domination in all its forms, not only those related to gender. Gesturing to a feminist agenda that is irreducible to single-issue politics, the phrase deploys a geographical image, one freighted with the legacies of slavery and colonialism, to imagine a material and epistemological condition free from the tyranny of totalizing control and possession. It rejects the ideology of the artistic “masterpiece”, along with the romantic concept of the creative subject that accompanies it, and instead emphasizes cross-disciplinary pollinations. Unraveling the imperial partition of center and periphery, ruler and ruled, it opens a fluid space in which nonhierarchical, transversal, and perhaps unexpected connections can occur.
Rather than proposing an alternative canon or narrating another linear history, No Master Territories embraces a centrifugal form of presentation across space and time, overflowing the confines of a single encounter to underline the heterogeneity and abundance of this field of practice. The gallery display is organized in a loosely thematic way, guided by an intuitive logic that resists separation into distinct chapters, with no predetermined trajectory set for the viewer to follow.
A world with no master territories would look nothing like the one that exists at present. It is perhaps an impossibility. Nonetheless, this demand has a propulsive, generative force, registering a dissociation from punishing norms, sparking dreams of radical reinvention. The practices exhibited here take up this wager, rejecting the authority of received frameworks of intelligibility. They embrace the lens-based image as a wellspring of feminist imagination — a way of not only relating to the world but remaking it.
Erika Balsom and Hila Peleg
On terminology: The term “woman” is employed here in a maximally inclusive sense, encompassing all those who identify as such, regardless of the gender to which they were assigned at birth. As feminist writer and organizer Lola Olufemi has put it, the term “woman” is “a strategic coalition, an umbrella under which we gather in order to make political demands. ... In a liberated future, it might not exist at all.”
On image quality: Every effort has been made to present the exhibited works in the best available quality. However, owing to the variable status of the original materials and the precarious archival conditions to which many works have been subject, in certain cases the image quality may be less than optimal. These inconsistencies, while not ideal, serve as a reminder of the difficult circumstances under which some of these works were produced as well as testify to the lives these images have led, which too often have been marked by marginalization and vulnerability.