When your mother told you, “Never judge a book by its cover,” she may have been sorely mistaken. Despite its initially simple appearance—white with sparse, bright pink writing—the 15th annual edition of the Queen’s Feminist Review (QFR) shines with the QFR symbol when viewed in a different light, much like the women it successfully attempts to represent, empower and celebrate.
From the visually heartbreaking and stirring artistic pieces, to the multitude of poems and short stories, this year’s outwardly demure and seemingly unassuming design may just shock you. Editors Laura Nguyen and Laura Todd do a fantastic job of combining a variety of writers, painters and poets from different age groups, locales and mediums of expression.
The pieces touch on a smorgasbord of decidedly controversial issues in sexual politics today: the woman as a sex object, a housewife, an athlete, a consumer, a goddess, a victim, a heroine, a creator, a lover, an entrepreneur and a musician, to name a few.
In Leslie Maddock’s “Another Way of Looking at Her,” Maddock takes a feminist reading of the myth of Eros and Psyche, suggesting, “What if Psyche lit the candle / because she was tired / of being fucked / in secret?” The narrator of Anna Maxymiw’s “I Am Not Classy” rejects being derided for her sexuality: “i never heard you complain before / apparently there is no elegance in my nudity / … proud of my body and what it can do / makes me trashy.” The collection closes with “Working Girl” by Laurie Lewis, which rejects the idea of a “techno world” when so many unskilled, low-paying jobs are still filled by women: “As though / there aren’t people left who still pump gas or / just take money in a booth for / endless open 24 hours Or / waitresses who carry trays / … as women have done / for all the days of the world.”
The Review doesn’t shy away from political content either, whether in the satirical fashion of Morgan Vanek’s prose piece, “The Movement,” in which a man resents being locked inside after dark in a country governed by women; or Thereasa Nowlan Suart’s “Edgy.” Suart “feel[s] … / too radical / for the conservatives” but “too conservative / for the truly radical.”
The artistic element of the Review is as powerful as it is colourful. The women in the paintings share themes of silence and oppression.
A particularly interesting series, Jennifer Kenneally’s “Weapons of War” portrays fashion as a form of torture used to mould society’s ideal of the perfect woman. Kenneally paints the stiletto, the burka and the corset, as well as cosmetic procedures including botox and facelifts, as means of oppression. The images are commandingly centred and scaled in their frames and, ironically enough, are aesthetically pleasing in their use of colour and form, if not content.
The Review includes another outstanding piece by Kenneally: “Goddess” features a six-armed figure similar to the Hindu goddess Vishnu, using her extra appendages to balance education, her relationships, her children, her domesticity and her figure. This theme is echoed in Leslie Jackson’s “Balance in Life,” featuring a composed blonde woman holding a ballet pose on top of a bright red ball.
The literary portion of the Review is well-integrated between artistic pieces, but doesn’t lose its lustre among the drawings. Although the work encompasses rage, nostalgia, lust, the triumph of the feminine spirit and much more, the collection is united by its emotive and expressive qualities, effortlessly overcoming what editors Nguyen and Todd describe as “the difficulty of penetrating the abyss that exists between artist and audience.”
Devon Murphy’s accessible and catchy “All My Minor Imperfections” is an empowering piece about self-acceptance: “why hate my body? / It walks, it breathes, / It heaves and sighs / And swerves its curves / And bats its eyes.”
“Today I Spoke With My Daughter” expresses the spiritual undertones of the bond of motherhood, as Leslie Maddock writes “When I arch my back, / … I can feel her spine, / I can believe / there’s a seperate person, / inside of me.” Through the diversity of its voices, this year’s Queen’s Feminist Review effectively interprets the essentially feminine experience of searching to put all aspects of self into one coherent persona. When flipping through the pages, you will encounter your mother, your best friend, that distraught-looking woman on the nightly news you thought you couldn’t relate to, your waitress, your mentor, your girlfriend and hopefully, a part of yourself.
—With files from Meghan Harrison
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