The efforts being made around portraying Women in Architecture by our various institutes is indeed commendable. It is great that the issues being faced by women, in their various professional roles, are being highlighted. It is also interesting to note that “silencing” happens in many ways even in this drive to highlight the challenges we face!
My text for the KZNIA journal was amended, without my knowledge or permission. See the document here: http://kznia-journal.org.za/sites/default/files/KZNIA_Journal_2_2016.pdf
I therefore take the liberty of publishing the full document here. These are challenges we face on a daily basis and it is important that we openly share and debate, rather than the continued “erasure” of our experiences because they might make some people uncomfortable. The full text with the omitted section in bold italics:
As General Reporter of UIA 2014 (1), I aimed to facilitate for multiple voices to emerge. It was an opportunity to synthesise all of my conference expertise and to showcase concepts I believed in. Yet, I learnt to moderate my own voice. Or perhaps it was a “step back and offer others a platform” attitude that only a women could bring? I also learnt the discretion of knowing when compromise was NOT an option! (2)
I offered equal participation opportunities. The paper selection process was strictly through double blind peer review ensuring anonymity and fairness. Some who previously avoided UIA congresses, believing it was a celebration of star architects, became integral to the event. We took the UIA from “old boys’ club” mode into something inclusive, rigorous and academically sound.
It could not be only a “fun” event – though fun activities were welcomed at its peripheries. It could not be allowed to portray a negative image of Africa, reinforcing perceptions that we have little to offer serious architectural debate or humanity. I witness current debates about blacks portrayed as monkeys with interest; the Congress was under constant threat of representing Africans as dancing, singing animated figures. We have an image of an ape (representing Africa?) asking a high rise building (representing the west?) “shall we dance?” as a proposed newsletter cover. What fuel this would add to current “simianization” anger! It was a battle to defend the integrity of the event.
We were criticised for having only one women keynote (3). However, the role that women had in conceptualising, developing and implementing the vision is immense. The Durban Congress was “carried” by women, intellectually and practically (4). This “mostly-woman” team offered something unique (5). It was by no means a “dry” event! Its dynamic nature reflected the great diversity in the team.
1. International Union of Architects Congress.
2. More on the process here: http://uia2014durban.org/resources/media/14082014_closingSCspeechandcongressdeclaration_final.pdf
3. The Zaha Hadid “story” is told in a blog: http://uj-unit2.co.za/thecontroversy-aroundzaha/
4. Acknowledging UIA 2014 Durban president, Hassan Asmal.
5. Acknowledging Karen Eicker, who documented the process with great diligence, and Nina Saunders, who passionately led city interventions, activating public space, offering a great backdrop.