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“Strengths, successes and solidarity”: Oxford International Women’s Festival announces 2023 programme

The Oxford International Women’s Festival is set to return for another year of celebrating and uplifting women’s voices from all over the world. It will be held from 25th February to 12th March, encapsulating International Women’s Day on 8th March, and will offer a wide range of events around the city to celebrate women’s strengths, successes and solidarity. 

Since the annual celebration began in 1989, the festival has covered a range of topics from the arts to the sciences, as well as creative projects by women and campaigns for women’s rights. The theme for 2023 is “Celebrating Women’s Lives”, which will focus on contributions by women to local, national and international communities. 

Various discussions and debates will take place at this year’s festival, with one of the main events being the Dorothy Hodgkins Memorial Lecture in partnership with the Oxford Association for Women in Science & Engineering. The annual talk celebrates the achievements of Hodgkin (1910-1994), who is the UK’s only woman Nobel Laureate, having won the prize in 1964 for Chemistry. The speaker for 2023 is Professor of Physics Julia Yeomans, who will give a talk entitled “Nature’s engines: powering life” which will focus on emerging physical theories surrounding living systems. It will be held on 9th March at 5:30pm in the Flora Anderson Hall at Somerville College, where Hodgkin was a student and tutor.

An exhibition entitled “Pathfinders, Enablers & Matriarchs: Untold Histories of Ordinary Women in Postcolonial Ghana” will also be shown at St. Antony’s College on 4th and 5th March. The exhibition is part of A History of Ordinary People in Africa (HOPIA), a cultural heritage project undertaken by the Oxford University Africa Society in partnership with Fusion Arts Oxford and is curated by Oxford students. Following histories of Ghanaian women who have not only managed to find a space for themselves in challenging circumstances but have also created a supportive and nurturing environment in which future generations can flourish, the exhibition’s focus on the lived experiences of women and the multiple roles they have assumed paints a touching portrait of personal sacrifice, resilience and hope.

The North Wall is also hosting an art exhibition by Seeun Kim, a South Korean metal craftswoman and visual artist based in Oxford. Seeun will be showcasing a new social art project and a new collection of jewellery and visual art which illustrate various global issues. Alongside, Seeun conveys her thinking through photography and film and uses a combination of text, British sign language and English braille. Visitors can also see Seeun’s 100 handmade brooches project, The Oxford Collection 100, for the first time. The exhibition will run from 22nd February to 11th March.

Iraqi Women Art and War (IWAW), a project set up to capture the stories of women before, during and after the conflict in Iraq, will also run a Facebook live event throughout the festival. Attendees will have the chance to engage with the stories and culture of Iraqi/Arab women and artists through Dardasha (chat) and art, alongside a Q&A, Arabic calligraphy and cooking. Further information is available on the IWAW Facebook page.

The festival’s goal to celebrate the lives of women will also be illustrated through a collaboration with the Ultimate Picture Palace (UPP) in Cowley to curate a “mini-season of modern classics directed by women filmmakers”. The team at UPP and the festival organisers will host post-screening discussion after each film. The films include the three biopics Harriet (2019), Coco Before Chanel (2009) and Frida (2002). Harriet traces the extraordinary life of Harriet Tubman, while Coco Before Chanel is a lavish and uplifting portrayal of the famous fashion designer, and Oscar-winning Frida focuses on the Mexican artist and political figure Frida Kahlo. 

Completing the line-up is The Perfect Candidate (2019) by cutting-edge filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, which tells a passionate and determined tale of a Saudi woman who advocates for herself to be elected as the first female councillor in her town. The cinema will also be putting on a special Q&A screening of the documentary Women Behind the Wheel on 5th March, with directors Hannah Congdon and Catherine Haigh in attendance. Further information and screening times can be found on the UPP website.

Micaela Tuckwell, Director of the Ultimate Picture Palace, told Cherwell: “We’ve partnered many times with the Oxford International Women’s Festival, so it is always a pleasure to welcome them back. The festival provides us with an opportunity to show works by brilliant women filmmakers throughout the history of cinema.

“You only need to look at the total lack of women filmmakers represented in the Best Director category at this year’s Oscars to realise that the wider industry is still behind the curve, so it’s our pleasure to shine a light on fantastic women directors making such brilliant films.”

There will also be a performance by Feisty Choir, Oxford’s new women’s singing group, at 4:30pm on 4th March. The benefit gig “Coming Up Roses” will take place at the Friends’ Meeting House on St Giles and promises “untamed acapella” in celebration of International Women’s Day. It will feature celebratory songs by and about women in aid of Oxford Against Cutting, a local charity who work together to help protect women and girls from harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and honour-based abuse. 

Ele Chrichton, a member of the choir, said: “We’re really excited about our gig, “Coming Up Roses”, on 4th March. We sing strong, empowering songs, usually written by women, and so the work that Oxford Against Cutting does to support women in our community really resonates with us all. We’re looking forward to singing some beautiful songs and at the same time raising money for this valuable cause.” Tickets for the gig can be purchased on the Emily’s Choirs website.

With a wide variety of events, Oxford International Women’s Festival promises to be a vibrant celebration of women’s voices, influence and achievements across the world. Details of the full programme can be found on the 2023 Festival page on owif.org.

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