Kessler Conversations: In Memory of Monique Wittig

A Conversation between Chitra Ganesh, Simone Leigh, and moderated by Dean Daderko November 28th, 2011, Skylight Room, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monique Wittig, the brilliant novelist and feminist theoretician, was the fourth annual Kessler Lecturer in 1995. She died in 2003 at the age of 67. The third Kessler Conservation of 2011, CLAGS’s twentieth anniversary, was devoted to her memory. Identifying herself as a ‘radical lesbian,’ Wittig argued for a complete rupture with masculine society. She proclaimed that the word ‘woman’ was invented by a sexist society bound by the heterosexual social contract. In both her fi ction and non-fi ction writing, Wittig sought to create a new feminist mythology. She was the author of original and unconventional works such as L’Opoponax (1964), The Lesbian Body (1973) and The Straight Mind and Other Essays (1992).

With Monique Wittig’s work as inspiration, creative source and focal point, artists Chitra Ganesh and Simone Leigh addressed issues surrounding the emancipatory potential and contemporary resonances of Wittig’s work within their own artistic practice. Moderated by curator Dean Daderko of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, Ganesh and Leigh explored the kinship of real and imaginary bodies and the enduring power and tedium of the heteronormative in contemporary society.

Chitra Ganesh is a widely exhibited artist both locally and internationally. She is the recipient of many grants and awards, including the Joan Mitchell Award for Painters and Sculptors. In recent years, Ganesh’s work has sought to excavate buried narratives typically excluded from offi cial canons of history, literature, and art.

Simone Leigh is a New York-based artist/bricoleur who uses found-objects, her own carefully crafted ceramic objects, and media-based works to explore underground discourses and buried histories in order to suggest new imaginaries. Leigh has exhibited widely and has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum, Harlem.

Dean Daderko is the Curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. His work is dedicated to establishing opportunities for dialogue between art, artists and audiences. He has also curated exhibitions for Art in General, Artists’ Space, Visual AIDS and the Kitchen in New York as well as the Contemporary Center in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The event was greatly attended by CLAGS members and the general public alike. Daderko read excerpts from The Lesbian Body while a multimedia presentation consisting of various photos of Wittig ran behind him. Following this, both Ganesh and Leigh presented on the various ways in which Wittig’s work has aff ected their own artistic practices. Stunning presentations of their work were displayed on two large screens in the Skylight room while each artist evoked Wittig’s spirit through their discussion of her infl uence on contemporary art. Daderko then led them in an enlightening conversation surrounding their techniques and artistic journeys. The conversation fi nished with a Q&A period where some lively debates were held between the axes of theory and practice. The event was another successful Kessler Conversation, concluding the Fall series which honors past Kessler awardees. This program will continue in February in a conversation with Urvashi Vaid and Susan Stryker, both past Kessler awardees.