Defiant Muses

Delphine Seyrig and Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 1970s and 1980s

25 September, 2019 - 23 March, 2020 /
Sabatini Building, Floor 3
Micha Dell-Prane, Delphine Seyrig and Ioana Wieder holding a camera during a demonstration, 1976. B&W photography. Courtesy of Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir
Micha Dell-Prane, Delphine Seyrig and Ioana Wieder holding a camera during a demonstration, 1976. B&W photography. Courtesy of Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir

This exhibition centres on the legacy of Delphine Seyrig (Beirut, Lebanon, 1932 – Paris, France, 1990) and the video-makers who developed their experimental and politically committed film practice in 1960s and 1970s France. The emphasis placed on the figure of Seyrig is not restricted to merely stressing her relevance from a unique prism in the history of cinema, nor does it compose a biographical account. Rather, the show seeks to intertwine her artistic practice and activism with the history of feminism and militant video-making from the time. In doing so, it is able to study, taking her career arc as a starting point, the network of political and creative alliances involving directors such as Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras, Agnès Varda and Ulrike Ottinger, actresses such as Jane Fonda and the artist and cinematographer Babette Mangolte. 

Seyrig’s standpoint, similar to other kindred artists, was shaped by the need to move between different modes and categories, combining her work as an actress and muse in auteur cinema with her defiant practices as a video producer, actress, and activist. In the 1970s she created the collective Les Insoumuses (Defiant Muses) with Carole Roussopoulos and Ioana Wieder, who at the time were united by their interest in the possibilities – aesthetic and political — offered by video technology and its detachment from any artistic tradition. Seyrig’s first solo project, Sois belle et tais toi (Be Pretty and Shut Up!, 1976) dates back to this period and constitutes a self-reflexive, choral document assembled from conversations with 23 French, English, American and Canadian actresses recalling their professional experiences, the roles they are offered in the industry and their relationships with producers and technical teams. With Roussopoulos and Wieder, she also founded the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir in Paris in 1982, an initiative which emerged from the aim of joining, producing and disseminating documents and materials which fashioned feminist visual memory.

The critical reflection around the construction of a feminist gaze through audiovisual media, the exploration of gender roles, the body as a tool of struggle and resistance through games of reappropriation and alteration, and many other issues, crossed over in this creative and combative scene with protests for abortion rights, a defence of rights for sex workers, the anti-psychiatry movement and the condemnation of torture, highlighting, in parallel, the internal conflicts and fragmentation of the feminist movement in 1970s France. 

However, this movement was not only confined to France; its commitment, demands and denouncements thrust it into a transnational landscape that coincided with a time of decolonisation and anti-imperialist demonstrations.   

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 
Museo Reina Sofía, with the collaboration of LaM (Lille Métropole Musée d'art moderne, d'art contemporain et d'art brut) and the Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir
Curatorship: 
Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Giovanna Zapperi
Exhibition Tour: 

LaM Lille Metropole, Villeneuve-d'Ascq (France): 5 July – 22 September, 2019

Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid: 25 September, 2019 – 23 March, 2020

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