Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

just speak nearby our minds::final project

rayj's picture

 [just speak nearby the borders of our minds] <-- link

This is a piece about borders. About communities. About movement and restrictions and ideologies. I wanted to interrogate how feminism is at times bounded by qualifiers, that is, to differentiate between French feminism and Third-World Feminism, and the ways in which those are both appropriate and constructed such that the result is constructed identities viewed as essential.

Among artists in the 20th and 21st century, explicit reference to prior works has become a mode of producing pieces. This may be in the form of collage or pastiche of some kind, and in video art, it is typically through found footage that these references can be made. Video Artists like Dara Birnbaum have spoken on the power of reappropriating footage, specifically, in her case, from popular media sources, but some of the logic remains in what I have done. Birnbaum wanted the agency to engage with the images being presented to her, to take ownership and subvert their meanings to create new meaning, asserting that she wanted to “talk back” to the media. Further, she asserts:

I consider it to be our responsibility to become increasingly aware of alternative perspectives which can be achievable through our use of media—and to consciously find the ability for expression of the “individual voice”—whether it be dissention, affirmation, or neutrality (rather than a deletion of the issues and numbness, due to the constant “bombardment” [of television media].[1]

For me, to take footage and use it for my own purposes is a powerful act of agency, and of juxtaposing images and sounds in ways that creating new understandings or possibilities for analysis previously unseen, unheard, unimaginable.

Explicitly referenced in this piece are Trinh Minh ha’s documentary film, Reassemblage (1983), a video entitled, “Sh*t White Feminists Say” (2012), and Gayatri Spivak, a postcolonial theorist. Spivak emerges as key in my understanding of these questions of global feminism, as she has contributed important work that pushes on how Western ideologies, values, and ways of thinking have colonized thought elsewhere, dominating which issues (or strengths) are privileged and how those issues (or strengths) are spoken about, theorized about. “Sh*t White Feminists Say” is an iteration of a series of homemade videos on the theme of “Sh*t (identity group) Say,” which highlight stereotypical perceptions of how members of these perceived groups speak and express themselves. Here, the audio from the video serves to highlight how at odds the concerns of white, Western feminists can be with those of people in other parts of the world (or other parts of this country). Minh ha’s Reassemblage has been most important to my work, both specifically and more broadly influencing my thoughts about a Western relation to the rest of the world. Minh ha powerfully asserts that her intention in creating a documentary set in Senegal is not “to speak about, just speak nearby,” a phrase that drove much of this video, for its ideological possibilities of less directive and colonizing depictions of the other.

Formalistically, I have attempted to create in viewers a sense of the abruptness of borders, of jumps between locales, to highlight their constructedness, as well as comment on how such borders are only fixed in our minds, that the lived experience is much more fluid, which becomes evident through the viewers’ sense of discontinuities. Moreover, I’ve looped and repeated clips, mostly from Reassemblage, because of their importance to my ideological frameworks about how the Western World, and white feminists of a certain class, here, speak about and think about other areas of the world, that there is at least an conceptual notion that a border exists between us and them, but also that we must breach that border to right the wrongs we see at play there, to remake non-Western feminists of the kind described above in our image.

There is a portion of the video which asks a series of questions about ant feminism. That is, what would it mean, is it possible for an ant to be a feminist? I intend to be ridiculous. I intend to ask questions that seem to be pointless to point to the ways in which slight reframing, rephrasing of those questions, to not speak about an insect but another human, are questions that are asked and are similarly, in my mind, ridiculous. Can a man be feminist? Can a radically religious woman from Iran be a feminist? Can a conservative pundit be feminist? And how are those different or should be different? This is probably the least “finished” of my ideas here, but it is something I am working through, something that feels important to me, about how we think about who gets to be feminist and how that can differ, contextually. In an early draft of my ideas about this video, I said the following, which I think still holds true:

Informing this idea of understanding feminisms across geographies, across the globe, across the street, is Judith Butler’s work with grievable lives (Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?), which interrogates Western conceptions of humanity, and how we decide who to spend our grief on, to be capitalistic. Similarly, who counts as feminist? Do you have to be familiar with The Canon?  Do you have to consider suffrage a watershed moment for your movement? For your sex? Do you have to have a Western understanding of even what it is to be female, to be male? Who is a part of our movement, who doesn’t get a voice? To call to mind the work of Spivak, who do we speak for and who do we silence, deliberately or more covertly? [source]

I’m still thinking about these questions, and I think this video, this exercise of trying to make meaning through this medium, which is meant to be viewed by others, helps me try to be definitive, in certain ways, about these ideas. I want feedback and questions and statements from other people who engage with this text I have patched together, to know about our sense of borders and if feminism should be bounded in certain ways.

 **I have been greatly informed in the possibilities of video art as an artistic and political medium through my coursework with Pr. Hoang Tan Nguyen, in the English department, and his course, "Video Practices" most specifically**


Birnbaum, Dara. “Talking Back to the Media,” Resolution: A Critique of Video Art (Los Angeles: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 1986). [link]

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (New York: Verso, 2009). [link]

emiller619 “Sh*t White Feminists Say,” accessed at, uploaded to YouTube, Jan 19, 2012.

Minh ha, Trinh (dir.). Reassemblage, Jean-Paul Bourdier, prod., 1983. [link]

TheWeekInGreen. “Interview with Gayatri Spivak,” accessed at, uploaded to YouTube, Dec 4, 2009.


[1] Dara Birnbaum, “Talking Back to the Media,” p. 56.