“When I speak of the erotic, I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women,” writes American feminist writer, poet and activist Audre Lorde in her essay, “Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power”.
She speaks, she continues, “of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives”.
This Friday, Science Gallery mediator Clara Hancock and artist Natasha Ruwona will lead a workshop based on this essay as part of the Science Gallery’s ongoing exhibition on intimacy.
Sitting in the gallery’s bright, busy café on Monday, Hancock and fellow mediator Jenn Moore explain what to expect from the workshop.
It will begin with a response from Hancock and Ruwona to the essay, followed by a discussion.
Attendees will then get a chance to creatively explore and engage with the theme through visual media and performance. Supplies will be on hand. Their creations will be made into a zine, later.
Strength in Community
Hancock, who came up with the idea, hopes the event and the space will bring people with different experiences together and foster intimacy as they all explore what eroticism means and how reclaiming the notion can be empowering.
“I think a really big theme that’s within the essay itself is the power that women can have when they realize the ways that the erotic can be a liberating force,” she says, “and how it’s really important to foster community.”
The idea that there is strength in community that can be used to overcome different kinds of oppression is a theme that is in all of Lorde’s work, Hancock says.
“The ways in which women become powerful when they liberate [themselves] in that sense are strengthened when they do it together and when they feed in to one another,” she says.
Empowerment, not Sexuality
In her, Lorde makes the point that sexuality has been hijacked by patriarchal systems of oppression that disempower women, says Moore, the other mediator.
The workshop will focuses on the erotic not as the sexual, but as a deeply personal and spiritual force – a source of power for women, she says.
“The main thing is once you understand that … you see that eroticism is – specifically within women – something of passion and creativity and a kind of sensuality that isn’t necessarily sexual but the life force and drive of energy to create and to love,” says Hancock.
To think of it as that sort of energy “gives it so much more power, rather than distilled into a really Western, patriarchal idea of sexuality”, she says.
As Lorde explains in the essay, the word “erotic” comes from the Greek word “eros”, meaning love, not sex.
Moore describes her impression when she first read the essay: “It’s kind of things that I felt like I knew inside, but I had no words for or didn’t know how to articulate.”
“Women Are Powerful and Dangerous”
“Typically power can be quite external and a source of oppression,” says Hancock.
“But what [Lorde’s] talking about is power within, and the strength within your body when you realize that power exists and that you actually have control over it, and as a woman you can turn that from something that’s restricting you into something that’s liberating you,” she says.
Discussing theme of the workshop, Hancock and Moore connect it to the referendum last year in which Ireland voted to remove the restriction on abortion rights contained in the constitution’s 8th amendment.
Hancock attributes the success of the repeal campaign to “that absolute power that can happen when women can come together”.
“It’s very much a thing of community, that that was able to happen,” she says, citing a famous Lorde quote: “Women are powerful and dangerous”.
Reading Lorde’s essay beforehand is encouraged, and Hancock anticipates that many attendees will be reading it for the first time.
“So that’s so exciting to think about sort of igniting that within all these people that come,” she says.
“A big thing about that essay is how when you read it, as a woman it really resonates individually with each person,” she says.