The Future is Feminine

The original plan for writing this post was to land in New York, take a taxi to my hotel, then pen an inspired, edgy overview of CTRL+ALT: A Culture Lab on Imagined Futures. As I am participating, I wanted to promote the show and the work of the 40 other amazingly talented artists, performers and scholars. I felt it was important to communicate that our work was about asking provocative questions of society as well as asking museums to reinvent their relationships with community. 

However, once I landed at JFK, and took my phone off airplane mode, the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election delivered a stark reality that momentarily killed my desire to be creative. I quickly typed a status update on Facebook noting my disorientation and made my way to baggage claim. Once in Manhattan, I had to walk for a few hours before I could think about the meaning of the show in light of the political sea change. For me, however, it wasn't about understanding how a candidate like Trump could get elected. From my perspective, Trump represents a symptom of a larger issue. The ability to create true transformation, not only for America but the world, requires understanding a matrix of underlying issues that are clearly not being addressed.

When I had regained some of my creative fire, I encountered a helpful comment to my earlier FB post that read, “imagined futures are actually more relevant now than imaginable.” As this idea directly related to the importance of the CTRL+ALT exhibition, it stuck with me. I began asking myself what the purpose of our show was within this new context. My thoughts were echoed by the CTRL+ALT artists as many from our group wanted to discuss how our show could open a door to healing and offer practical next steps. To me, it seemed like it was our kuleana, our responsibility, as creative communicators and social activators, to address the emotion and pain generated by the election in a mindful yet provocative way. 

My mind skipped back to the plane ride to New York. One of my fellow passengers was Nainoa Thompson, master Pwo Navigator, who (along with two next-generation navigators) was flying to Virginia to accept an award for his work to further global sustainability.  Through his circumnavigation of the globe on Hōkūleʻa, a Hawaiian double hulled sailing canoe, he and the Polynesian Voyaging Society had become emissaries of peace.

On several occasions, I had heard Nainoa talk about the importance of being able to “see the island in your mind.” When you are sailing across the vast expanse of the Pacific without any instruments, as my ancestors did, you had to be able to visualize your destination long before you actually sighted land. To maintain a course that was off by even 1 degree would mean that hours or days later you would be off by tens of degrees and simply sail past the island without awareness of doing so.

This made me think that the ability to intellectually state that we want a future, where a man like Trump couldn't be elected president, wasn't enough. We need to see our destination in vivid detail and we need to strategize on how to get there. We also need to provision our canoe, which is ourselves and our communities, appropriately. Do we know what our nutritional needs are on a physical as well as spiritual level? If the election's outcome is a crisis of values, as much as it is a crisis viable candidates (i.e. a lack thereof), then how do we change the fabric of our social and cultural values? How do we raise a populous that despite diversity in culture, background, and beliefs, is still able to build its legacy on a shared vision that prioritizes faith and love versus fear and hate? I am in support of changing the current socio-political structure (of many nations for that matter) but there is a huge difference between voting for a candidate you don't really like or agree with because you want to shakedown the status quo, and underwriting four years of leadership based on ignorance, racism, and misogyny. 

I was still mulling over how I could help leverage the artistic statements made at CTRL+ALT to affect change and healing when a brief conversation helped me focus in on a key element of the election I had not thought about previously––the gender gap. As made clear in a 9 November story for NPR,  Danielle Kurtzleben reported that the exit polls showed Clinton leading by 12 percentage points among women and Trump leading by 12 percentage points among men; this being a 24-point gap and possibly the largest in more than 60 years. The gender gap in this context is (at least to me) a statement of how men still condone the degradation of women. Other factors such as race (including “whitewashing”) are important but the media has become so very skilled at addressing this uncomfortable issue that I think it has begun to overshadow all other factors, leaving us shortsighted. The more I thought about the role of misogyny in this election, the clearer it became that I needed to ground the overarching vision of my CTRL+ALT performance in the feminine. Not only female (as in one's gender) but the feminine (as a natural energy, force or vibration). I wanted to outline a future where the procreative force in all people, and in nature, is embraced and honored as our collective source. 

As I organized a creative space in my hotel room and prepped to write this post, I did some of my own investigation online. I reviewed various international reports, from agencies like the United Nations Development Fund for Women, and it is undeniable. There is a direct correlation between the treatment of women and the overall quality of life and level of general violence in any given nation.  So what is our collective future if men (mostly white but of all races), in arguably the most powerful nation on Earth, are willing to vote for an unqualified, abusive, racist, misogynist male over the highly qualified (albeit with a “colorful” political and familial history) female? 

I realized I had to bring all these thoughts, desires and emotions back into my personal sphere of action. What could I do? Where should I start? How could I refine my presentation for CTRL+ALT  so that during the two days of the show I could present a future where communities not only value equity, peace, nature and empathy but they also value the women who embody and perpetuate those values generation after generation?  

As with most of my personal challenges, I went back to my parents and my ancestors. I literally came into this world, as well all do, through my mother but once born I was raised by strong women, as well as, men who were not afraid of the strength of their women. Arguably, the men I was around were fairly in touch with their own feminine force. The way I see myself today didnʻt have anything to do with being told, “You can be anything you want to be,” or “Girls can do anything boys can do.” As a family we respected and protected one another and we always saw women as powerful figures that, in conjunction with men, made the world go-round.

I also recalled how my grandmother would sit at the table several times a week and work on our family’s genealogy. As I waited to be picked up by my parents after school, she would share insights into our family’s past and to into Hawaiian tradition and practice. I learned that women were aliʻi (chiefs) just like men. I learned that the rank of an aliʻi was based on the rank of their mother. I also learned of the complimentary nature of male and female, Kū and Hina, and how they had to exist in equal measure. Needless to say, I didn't realize then the importance of how the role of women in Hawaiian society would shape my world view and artistic aesthetic but it is clear to me now. Honoring the feminine force has shaped how I perceive and interact with the world.  

From left to right: ʻĀina, Kanaka and Akua. Individually the images represent the three principles of the HUA Institute, which is a component of the "imagined futures" concept developed for CTRL+ALT. ©2016 Hānau Creative & Naiʻa Lewis. All rights reserved.

As my performance developed for CTRL+ALT is set in the future––2150 approximately––my narrative is literally imagined. A fiction. I have built my vision around an NGO, called AKA Legacy Communities, that helps nations assist displaced peoples in building new communities in the era of climate change adaptation. As the values of my mock institute center around the relationship between land and people, it is clear to me now that although my artwork depicts nature as female, this is not enough. As so many present day cultures are destroying our planet, and the Earth is so often given a feminine gender (i.e. mother nature), it is also clear to me why both nature and women are so easily exploited. What is deeply hurtful to me is that many people, women included unfortunately, have forgotten that the feminine force is one of the most important resources to humanity. Modern feminism, as most people think about it, has been important to uplifting women globally but so much of this movement has been shaped to counteract the dominant planetary patriarchy, versus a natural expression of the inner goddess that all women posses.

The task of bringing the feminine back into focus is not one that will be completed overnight or in four years; it certainly won't be transformed through a 2-day art exhibition either. However, artists have always helped societies reflect upon, and often move beyond, their weaknesses and shortcomings through provocative commentary. As such, I know I must be wholly present throughout CTRL+ALT and work with my fellow creatives to expand and transform people’s visions of the future. I am going to put all my intent towards helping people feel true potential and unlimited possibility within their naʻau–their gut. For me personally, I am committed to explicitly stating that the future must be grounded in the feminine.

•••

  • For more information on Culture Labs, including CTRL+ALT please connect with the The Smithsonian Asia Pacific American Center.

  • View images from and content from the CTRL+ALT by searching #ctrlalt and you can follow Hanau Creative on FB, as well as TW and IG @naia_lewis

Naiʻa Lewis