Finding Space for the Expression of Feminist Law Through Art
Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women was the first organization to give financial support to TEMPLATES for Activism. In
January 2001, CRIAW awarded the project one of ten research awards to support a preliminary stage of investigation into effective space, in the National Capital
area, for the presentation of contemporary art and art actions that addresses feminist legal engagement.
The approach stems from one of legal scholar,
Elizabeth Sheehy's, key visions: to give sustenance to women who work in this difficult domain and to honor their work by bringing such art into the many spaces of
law. Fitting sites would be those where legal research, analysis, defense, education and other related public actions occur. Addressing the dearth of images of
women in Canadian [and world] halls of justice and legal education, these activities would recognize women's presence and reflect women's work and vision
concerning law and justice.
A survey and analysis form was developed through consultation with artists, lawyers, arts consultants, an anthropologist, Canadian Artists Representation and others.
Among others, points of research integrated into the questionnaire were:
availability and size of the space, standard C.A.R. fees to artists, types of viewers and/or site users, content, dimensional or material restrictions, available
or additional lighting, environmental qualities such as wall construction, lighting, sound and smells, delivery and installation constraints, hours of access,
liability, theft, durations of exhibition periods, possibilities of touring bodies of work/shows, administrative details.
Sites researched included a
sampling of legal clinics, Ottawa's courthouse including the Victim Support Services, university libraries and women's centers, NAWL offices and others.
During the early phases of this research, preparation for NAWL's 14th Biennial conference began. This international event proved to be a highly effective context
in which to present a feminist analysis of law, through art, to a wide range of audiences. These groups included a broad cross section of women [and men] connected
to the legal community as well as educational, artistic and general populations.
Working with NAWL's planning and programming committees, which included a representative from Disabled Women's Network Canada highlighted notions of physical access for the study. For example: finding a gallery in Ottawa suitable for the conference's Bridging Visions exhibition was thwarted by the fact that the city has not only a shortage of public galleries, but a severe lack of such spaces that are accessible to viewers in wheel chairs.
The research also showed that Federal and Provincial court houses are unlikely sites as the The Canada Council Art Bank is contracted to place works of
contemporary art in these locations. Interestingly enough the Council also places pieces from its collection in a good number of private law firms in the region.
So there is proof that appropriate funds are allocated for art rental services of some forms and subjects of contemporary art.
Copies of the research questionnaire developed for this template are available upon request. A final research report
will be available soon.