REPRODUCTIVE LABOUR: An exhibition exploring the work of Cinenova (9 February – 26 March 2011) at SHOWROOM, London by Basia Lewandowska Cummings

‘Reproductive Labour’ is an exhibition of the acquisitions of Cinenova, established in 1991 following a merger of two feminist film and video distributors, Circles and Cinema of Women. As a collective, it seeks through distribution to address the under representation of women in the history of the moving image, to (re)write them into a cinematic inventory. The word ‘inventory’ is key to the exhibition. Cinenova has filled The Showrooms space with its own archive of material, essentially installingits office into the gallery. The films displayed date back to the late 80s and early 90s, the show then acting as a catalog of marginalized political films involved in movements from that time. It seems a tribute to a bygone militancy. The videos – lined against the wall – all have hand-written labels that speak of the low-fi nature of Cinenova’s history. The day I visited, the film beings screened was Away From The Sidewalk (1985) by Gold Oruh, a documentary about female politicians in Nigeria. As you browse the collection, the voices from the film wander around, breathing a sort of social life into the space.


Two volunteers who run Cinenova have moved their desks into the corner of the space for the duration of the show. They explain that they have displayed the materials to indicate what is yet to be seen, screened, and distributed. The exhibition is anticipatory in this sense; it’s waiting to see how the show will shape its future as a collective, to feel-out its future scope. The volunteers presence in the space – as they struggle to make their Internet work – contributes to its feeling of use; it is a space to talk, discuss, debate. The stacked chairs against the wall further this invitation.

The show itself is an activist intervention on the part of Cinenova, to install itself into a gallery, to place itself in a new context. The titles alone form an activist narrative; one can read along the shelves, the titles blurring into slogans, chants- ‘born in flames’/’impressions of exile’/’please don’t say we are wonderful’. These are the slogans of a political era that has definitely past, and yet the show isn’t nostalgic. Rather it is asking, how are we to position ourselves in relation to these works? What are the questions that arise from this kind of collective cultural production? But further, it’s a question of reproduction; how do these works continue to be relevant? The title of the show itself alludes to this somewhat cyclical nature of political participation– cultural production as an ongoing process of output and feedback, which the show at once participates in and addresses.

The thematics of this collection is of oppositional histories, post-colonial struggles, the representation of gender and sexuality, and the inter-relations between them. Cinenova in its current formation is still a distributor, working on a request basis, but also – as the show demonstrates – an institution, a collective laying itself bare and inviting others to help address the question of how to survive this funding drought. In this sense, it’s an important invitation to collectively think through our current situation in relation to small cultural institutions, and suggest new strategies for their continuation.


all images are installation views from Reproductive Labour at The Showroom, photograph courtesy of Daniel Brooke.


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