Gloria Wekker, speech Ain't I a Woman

Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” revisited

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN GLORIA WEKKER, NANCY JOUWE, AND SOJOURNER TRUTH

On the occasion of the exhibition MOED: What is Left Unseen in the Centraal Museum, Gloria Wekker performed Sojourner Truth’s notorious speech Ain’t I A Woman?, originally delivered at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851. With Ain’t I A Woman?, Sojourner Truth voiced a critique to the middle-class white feminists who failed to take into account the power relations that divided women in anti-slavery struggles and campaigns for women’s suffrage. Her words foreshadow movements of black feminism and intersectional thinking in the 20th century. In the exhibition MOED: What is Left Unseen there is a portrait of Sojourner Truth on show, which was made especially for this exhibition by visual artist Iris Kensmil.

See Gloria Wekker’s powerful and mesmerizing engagement with the speech below:

 

 

Sojourner Truth (Rifton, c. 1797 – Battle Creek, 1883) was an enslaved woman owned by a Dutch slave owner. She was born in New Netherland – New York State area today – as Isabella Baumfree and spoke Dutch until the age of nine. Once a free woman, Truth – the name she chose for herself – became an outspoken abolitionist, active in the struggle for women’s rights. Her story is the epitome of black female resistance and agency, and today she is considered one of the foremothers of intersectional thinking. Her work challenged an ahistorical and essentialist notion of “woman”. Truth’s figure symbolises a red thread in MOED’s exhibition What is Left Unseen. Her North-American storyline is connected to the Dutch abolitionist movement and her work influenced black feminist anti-racist scholarship, activists and movements such as the work of professor Gloria Wekker and Philomena Essed, whose portraits made by Patricia Kaersenhout are part of the exhibition What is Left Unseen.

Complementary to Gloria Wekker’s engagement with Ain’t I A Woman?, Nancy Jouwe translated the speech into Dutch for the exhibition MOED: What is Left Unseen. Visit the Dutch version of this website to access it.

Prof. dr. Gloria Wekker has worked in the Gender & Ethnicity department at Utrecht University from 2001 to 2013. In her research, she focuses on gender studies and sexuality in the Afro-Caribbean region and diaspora. Her most recent and much debated book, White Innocence (2017), explores a central paradox in Dutch culture: the Dutch racial exceptionalism and its denial of racial discrimination and colonial violence. Wekker challenges this by accessing a cultural archive that has been built during 400 years of Dutch colonial rule. Her analyses of intersectional approaches to feminism have been highly influential.

Nancy Jouwe is part of MOED’s research and curatorial team, and works as an independent guest researcher at Utrecht University, besides from being a public speaker and lecturer. Her work focuses on intersectionality, colonial history, arts, and intercultural dialogue. Amongst other initiatives, she stood at the basis of the research project Mapping Slavery and co-founded the Amsterdam exhibition space Framer Framed.

Would you like to know more about Sojourner Truth and the history of her speech? Check out the Sojourner Truth Project.