Feminist Conversations: Reaching Back Looking Forward


The exhibition, “Feminist Conversations: Reaching Back Looking Forward,” is part of the CalArts Library’sCurating the Institute Archives Project, a student-led curation project of the Special Collections and Institute Archives Reading Room and the Library’s Quiet Study Room with materials from the Institute Archives. In the interview below, the co-creators of the exhibition—recent CalArts alumna Ekta Aggarwal and CalArts Institute Archivist Kathy Carbone—ask a series of questions to each other about the project and their experiences with it.


Ekta Aggarwal:: What inspired you to initiate this project?

Kathy Carbone:: The impetus for the project actually came from a remodel of the CalArts Library in 2017. The interim Dean of the Library, Susan Lowenberg, asked me to put (copies of) materials from the Institute Archives on the walls in two new Library spaces—the archives reading room and the library quiet study room. Instead, I suggested that we initiate a participatory student-led curation project in which students mine the archives to create exhibitions for the rooms, and she agreed.

Ekta, how did you find out about the project and what interested you in the project?

EA:: I saw the project on the library’s home page. I was interested because it had two of my interests, curating and archives, together.

KC:: So when you first came into the archives, did you come in knowing what you wanted to look at, or did you decide that day when you came in and we talked a little bit

EA:: I came in and you showed me materials related to graphic design, posters, and theFeminist Art Materials Collection. And once I knew that there was a collection of feminist art materials from the School of Art, I knew I wanted to work with that. I wanted to work with School of Art materials because I am from there. And I wanted to work with feminist art materials because that’s my interest.

Kathy, what did you aim for students to gain from this project?

KC:: The aim was to get students into and using the Institute Archives, which is underused and not so well known on campus. I also wanted to support—create a space for—students who were interested in curating.

Ekta, what drew you to the letters and the posters? Explain your process of choosing materials for the exhibition. What guided you?

EA:: I was drawn to posters because they are visual. But then I was also interested in reading the feminist art materials which includes letters, articles in magazines published by women about how media shapes our perception of female stereotypes, and the survey from the 1970s about how many women are employed in universities. And then I found materials from three CalArts feminist projects that piqued my interest: the publication entitledAnonymous was a Woman ( 1974); posters and letters from the Feminist Art Workshop (FAWS) and F-Word Conference (1998); and a poster from the Exquisite Acts & Everyday Rebellions Project (2007). We subsequently went through the letters, written by women who were part of theAnonymous was a Woman project and the Feminist Art Workshop (FAWS) and F-Word Conference, and formed connections, like tying a thread through time with these three projects.

EA:: How do you see this exhibition evolving in the future? How do we continue this conversation?

KC:: So I would love to see this exhibition travel, and to do some type of workshop around it and invite women to interact with these feminist materials. I think conversations about feminism are important to have and this exhibition is a way to open up those conversations.