Delphine Seyrig (1932-1990) is best known for the roles she played in French auteur cinema, most notably in Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), where she became the symbol of an idealized and sophisticated femininity. But “acting” was not merely a profession for Seyrig: during the 1970s, she became indeed an activist working collaboratively within the framework of the feminist movement. At the same time, working with women filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras or Ulrike Ottinger allowed her to explore a variety of female roles and to unravel her own image as a diva. Around 1975, together with activist video maker Carole Roussopoulos and translator Ioana Wieder, she produced a series of videos under the collective name “Les Insoumuses” (Defiant Muses). In their tapes, such as Sois belle et tais-toi (1976), SCUM Manifesto (1976), and Maso and Miso vont en bateau (1976), video became an emancipatory tool and an agent of political activism. In 1982, the three women established the “Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir” in Paris, thus providing an unprecedented audio-visual archive of the struggles of the time, in and beyond France, which include the fight for legal abortion, against torture and the Vietnam war, for the rights of sex workers’ and political prisoners, and the involvement in the antipsychiatry movement.
Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France (1970s-1980s) explores the intersection between the histories of cinema, video and feminism in France. Focusing on the emergence of video collectives in the 1970s, the exhibition proposes to reconsider the history of the feminist movement in France through a set of media practices and looks at a network of creative alliances that emerged in a time of political turmoil. Seyrig as well as actress and friend Jane Fonda, cinematographer Babette Mangolte, poet and painter Etel Adnan, writer and activist Kate Millett, or philosopher Simone de Beauvoir appear as knitting nodes of a wider, plural, transnational fabric. Videos, artworks, photographs, archival documents, and films are associated within sections that convey the multiple political concerns that the feminist movement was raising at this precise historical moment, which resonate with a set of problems concerning art and politics today, as feminists keep on building alliances, rise against the film industry’s structural sexism and challenge normative gender roles. Seyrig’s troubled positions in-between aesthetics (cinema, video), work (profession, industry) are marked by a continuum between the actress and the activist thus reminding of the on-going significance of the 1970s feminist slogan: “the personal is political”.