Women's Media Archive

Women’s Media Archive is a feminist media archaeology project that is creating collective platforms for gathering, digitizing, and creating multiple forms of social engagement with global instances of women's audio-visual media production of the mid- 20th century to the present, with an emphasis on women of color, LGBTQ women, and the Global South.

It is a collective project that is in its initial stages of organization, co-founded by Dalida María Benfield, Ph.D. and Salome Chasnoff, Ph.D.

The project is working across multiple platforms, both online and offline, creating a participatory digital archive and database; a web portal that indexes both the archive and content hosted at other sites; gallery and museum based installations, screenings of archived texts, and events, which will include mobile transfer stations, hackathons, workshops, and community forums; and ongoing print publications documenting the process and engaging leading transnational feminist artists and writers to reflect on the process of media archeology and the texts in the archive. These media texts, including audio, video, film, and diverse forms of interactive digital media, are undervalued by media and art historians and institutional archives. Yet, they are crucial forms of knowledge production and artifacts of recent history and cultural production. Addressing both a gender politics and a geo-politics of knowledge that has influenced the hierarchies of information architectures online, the project directly contests the ongoing sub-alternization of women's knowing and doing in the realm of the aesthetic and political horizons of audio-visual production, including analog and digital video, sound, film, and interactive media.

The project intersects transnational feminist cultural organizing, activist media, and research. As feminist artists, scholars, and media makers, we are influenced by traditions of cultural and media organizing that create new spaces - conceptual, physical, and virtual - for production, exhibition, and distribution. These influences include aspects of the Third Cinema movement, such as the early work of Jorge Sanjínes and the Ukumau Group; the feminist art movement and the organization of autonomous cultural and wellness centers and publication projects such as Womanhouse in LA, The Woman's Building in San Francisco, the Chicago Women's Health Center, Bildwechsel in Berlin, fempress in Argentina, etc. We are also influenced by diverse contemporary art practices of participatory knowledge sharing and critical, interventionist archive production, such as the Activist Archivists, the Interference Archives, 16beaver, and the Xfer Collective.

We bring many years of work in feminist media to this project, beginning with Women in the Director's Chair, which was the longest running independent women's film festival in the U.S., with which we both worked for many years. The Women in the Director's Chair archive, now housed at Stanford University, was begun through our collaborative initiative. Our past work also includes the founding of multiple grassroots cultural organizations, including the Women's International Information Project, Video Machete, Youth Struggling for Survival, and Beyond Media.

This project is in the camp of activist media making and research, communicating world views and imaginaries that are silenced by hegemonic media regimes. Women’s film, video, and audio is marginalized in online media. For example, while online video sharing platforms exist, they are overwhelmingly dominated by men and do not further the empowerment of women that is often at the heart of women’s media. A search for the category “women” on YouTube instantly reveals this. Also, the infrastructures that have been built in the past to support women’s media – festivals, independent distributors, library collections – do not yet adequately address online distribution. Much of what is or has been produced is not in distribution, including content produced throughout the 20th century that remains in analog formats. If content is online, it is difficult to find and lacks thematic framing that would create an accessible threshold for viewers.

In response to this, Women’s Media Archive (WMA) is a collective of activist scholars and mediamakers who are constructing platforms for the aggregation, preservation, digitization, distribution, and vital engagement with feminist independent film, video, and audio globally, past and present. The project has the qualities of both an archive and a fluid, peer to peer sharing architecture, including both historical and contemporary content. all of which will
be available for immediate streaming and download via the Internet Archive. We are also building an autonomous archive interface. The emphasis of the project, in person and online, will be lightness, transparency, flexibility, and authentic engagement. Our autonomous interface will consist of a curated series which will spotlight themes, social issues, forms, and global locations. Dialogue will be encouraged through comments sections on individual programs and thematic discussion forums.

The online site will launch in late 2016, based on an initial collection of curated content, including historical and contemporary film, video and audio works. This content is now being actively aggregated through a process of curation and an open call that is being distributed through feminist peer to peer and independent media networks. The platform will be built on free culture and FOSS. Support of all kinds is currently being sought for the initial research and development. Join us!