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On Being Goddesses

words Ella Katz
27 June 2023

The Messy Periphery

I’ll never dismiss the opportunity to celebrate the work of women and femmes in the creative industry. Why then between the driving beats and the dazzling red light, did I leave ACMI’s first instalment of Goddess Nights feeling so conflicted? 

As an exhibition, ACMI’s Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion celebrates the women and non-binary people who have left their mark in film – both on and off the screen. While the exhibition features usual suspects, Marilyn Monroe, Olivia Coleman and Meryl Streep, it also effectively spotlights the less-remembered work that made immense cultural waves, like that of Michelle Yeoh, Anna Mae Wong and Pam Grier. In so doing, ACMI paints a clear goal: to expand the canon of ‘Goddessery’.

To accompany the exhibition, ACMI and Crown Ruler have planned to co-host three Goddess Nights. At the first, the line-up was top tier, featuring DJ JNETT, CD, POOKIE and Ayebatonye. Looking in from a darkened and cold Flinders St, ACMI’s Ground Floor was a hearth of vibrancy: red and pink light flooded through the glass onto the street. Bodies mulled, danced and collected. If you looked hard enough, you could make out DJ JNETT’s silhouette behind the decks, one hand mixing, the other moving to the music.

As a concept, the Goddess overflows with complex meaning. A Goddess is powerful. They’re also beautiful and sensual. They’re feminine, caring and wise. But when we celebrate women and femme creatives for these qualities, we don’t just celebrate their work, their art or their contributions to the world. We celebrate their sensuality and their mystique too. These two elements can be beautiful parts of an individual’s artistry. But unsurprisingly, not everyone fits this deified prism of feminine creativity… and nor should they.

I’m left with the question – who gets to be a Goddess and who doesn’t? ACMI tells us it’s the “trailblazers”, “binary-busters”, “agitators and instigators” of the film world. According to their catalogue, “Today’s goddesses unapologetically occupy spaces and roles that shatter glass ceilings”. But despite this somewhat ‘girl-bossified’ sentiment, you cannot tell me that black lesbian film-maker Cheryl Dunye gets to occupy the same corner of ‘Goddessery’ as Marilyn Monroe.

Reclaiming the word came up a lot when I spoke to CD and POOKIE. On stage, CD embodied literal magic. Her vocals were soulful and sensual, laid smoothly over the top of Jupita’s accompanying beats. On being celebrated as a ‘Goddess’, CD reflected “I’ve already reclaimed and redefined the word to have more depth to it, because it should obviously mean so much more than beauty and magic.” CD tries to embody a revised version of ‘Goddessery’ that includes “factors like hard-work, kindness, creativity and community.”

POOKIE – producer, songwriter, composer, DJ, and MC extraordinaire, whose song Flick has been high on my headphone rotation recently – played tracks that were hard, funky and sexy. POOKIE disagreed with my assessment of ‘Goddess’ as a limiting word. “When I think of a goddess, yes, she is fine, but she is also strong. Someone not to be questioned. Someone who moves with grace because she can. Not because that's all she is capable of”. Beyond power and strength, a goddess also offers “wisdom, affection and love”. This is what sets her apart.

Perhaps we shouldn’t emulate the more removed and institutionalised celebration of artists that we traditionally see within the male industry (where we tend to focus more on the process and product and less on creative elements like sensuality and mystique). Instead, perhaps it’s our Goddesses who more truthfully portray the intersection between our bodies, minds and art.

In both film and music, artists reach far beyond the binary. They can exist in spaces between, around and outside of our gendered constructs. POOKIE explains, “we live in an age where masc artists can also perform their truths, sorrows and joys and be celebrated for it.” However, there are some things that remain specific to the femme creative experience. While we’re finally seeing line-ups that aren’t just all-male or all-white, the industry is bigger than what we see on stage. When it comes to the producers, tech teams and programmers, CD reflects “it’s more white people and more men, especially in more exclusive, reserved spaces. I rarely rock up to a gig and see a woman setting up the stage or sound”. This has an impact, CD explains. “Because women are more nurturing, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable around each other as opposed to having a strong wall up when working with men. It can be a bit isolating at times.”

It’s persistent experiences like this that ACMI’s celebration didn’t leave space for. In channelling their energy into expanding, redefining and reclaiming the Goddess, have they left us with a rose-tinted retrospection? ACMI tells us anyone can be a Goddess, but unfortunately just by saying it, doesn’t make it so.

Leaving ACMI’s first Goddess Night, I wanted to know more about those on the messy periphery of femme creativity. I wanted to know about those who don’t get to be Goddesses, and those who never wanted to be.

ACMI’s remaining Goddess Nights will take place on Thursday 27th July and Thursday 28th September.

Feature image credit

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