Madrid

Delphine Seyrig, Sois belle et tais-toi! (Be Pretty and Shut Up!), 1976, video, black-and-white, sound, 115 minutes. From “Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Delphine Seyrig, Sois belle et tais-toi! (Be Pretty and Shut Up!), 1976, video, black-and-white, sound, 115 minutes. From “Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“Defiant Muses”

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Giovanna Zapperi, the exhibition “Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s” explores the intersections of cinema, video, and feminism in France through the figure of the actress turned activist Delphine Seyrig (1932–1990). With galleries devoted to themes ranging from a critique of cinema to psychiatric reform, the exhibition carefully tracks Seyrig’s shift from her career on-screen (she starred in seminal works by filmmakers such as Alain Resnais) to her political collaborations within a feminist framework. Key here is how at the time of the women’s liberation movement in France she picked up a Porta-Pak to engage in a multivalent media critique and thereby explore women’s experiences and struggles as part of the feminist video collective Les Insoumuses (the group’s name is a portmanteau combining insoumise [disobedient, defiant] and muses, rendered in the show’s title as “Defiant Muses”) with the activist video maker Carole Roussopoulos and the translator Ioana Wieder.

In the second gallery, Seyrig’s video documentary Sois belle et tais-toi! (Be Pretty and Shut Up!, 1976) presents a trenchant critique of the film industry. The work captures the singular experience of actresses, including Jane Fonda and Maria Schneider, edited together to produce a common narrative of exploitation and structural sexism—a theme that finds resonances with critiques of Hollywood today. Other parts of the exhibition turn to questions of sexuality and reproductive rights. Many of the videos on display highlight Roussopoulos’s ethics of filming, in which the camera becomes a listening device rather than a megaphone through which a filmmaker might claim to speak on behalf of others. In Les prostituées de Lyon parlent (The Prostitutes of Lyon Speak Out, 1975), for example, sex workers present themselves on their own terms and in their own voices, while the mode of filmmaking foregrounds the importance of care and communication between women.

Produced and directed by Les Insoumuses, with Nadja Ringart joining the usual trio, Maso et Miso vont en bateau (Maso and Miso Go Boating, 1976) combines playful editing, humor, and repetition to disrupt state-televised speech. Here, Françoise Giroud, at the time France’s secretary of state for the status of women, participates in a flagrantly sexist roundtable discussion otherwise composed of all men. As they speak about women’s roles and make claims about women’s “limitations” vis-à-vis men, all couched within the “myth” of the love of women, the collective’s homemade intertitles interrupt the participants’ statements with HUH? WHAT? Such disruptions recall the Situationist detournement of cinema, but with a trenchant critique of patriarchal values that was not central to the Situationist project.

The curators also present a cartography of struggles beyond Europe—from those of the Black Panthers to antiwar protests—and foreground a frequent blind spot of Western feminism: the legacy of colonialism. Accordingly, they prominently feature Françoise Dasques’s documentary La conférence des femmes—Nairobi 85 (The Women’s Conference—Nairobi 85, 1985), with its demands for intersectional alliances across race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. Seyrig’s first video, Inês, 1974, which features a harrowing reenactment of the torture of a political prisoner in Brazil during the military regime, is projected in a neighboring gallery.

“Defiant Muses” draws heavily on archival material housed at the Centre Audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir, which Seyrig, Roussopoulos, and Wieder founded in Paris in 1982. A final gallery traces the archive’s history and how it preserves essential documentation of feminist movements within and beyond France. The curators have leveraged this archival material to track feminist investments in experimental modes of video production, which enabled the conditions for another kind of speech that countered the dominant narratives of film and television. Across the show’s various spaces, audiovisual traces work to actively displace oppositions such as private/public, domestic/social, individual/collective, national/transnational. In form and political ambition, the exhibition thereby echoes Angela Davis’s appeal, captured in Dasques’s Nairobi footage, that we join hands across differences while acknowledging the specificity of each person’s oppression.