Viewfinder: Women’s Film and Video from the Smithsonian

Join us on the first Thursday of each month in 2021 to celebrate the breadth of women-made films and videos from across Smithsonian collections. These special screenings of rarely seen short-form treasures will be followed by live conversations between the artists or filmmakers and Smithsonian curators. Each screening will include time for audience questions. A recording of the event will be available for the remainder of each month.

Since the invention of the moving image, women have created films and videos that changed how we see and experience the world. Throughout 2021, meet artists and filmmakers from our collections in the monthly program Viewfinder: Women’s Film and Video from the Smithsonian. The first half of the series examines the theme of interiority—a particularly timely topic as the global pandemic continues to confine many of us to our homes. Some programs highlight pieces that directly address domestic interiors, engaging issues of childcare and labor; others are sensitive studies of inner psychic lives and emotional experiences. Still others approach video itself as a medium of interiority: a closed circuit between the artist, her camera, and the live image on the monitor.

While the first half of the series focused on interiority in its physical and psychological forms, the second half looks outward. These six programs bring together an intergenerational and international group of artists and filmmakers. These women have trained their lenses on the external forces that shape the way we move through and experience the world. Their subjects include the lived reality of structural racism and sexism, urban space and women’s work, environmental and technological change, and much more. We look forward to exploring these films and videos throughout 2021 with artists and Viewfinder audiences.

Viewfinder: Women’s Film and Video from the Smithsonian is co-curated by Saisha Grayson, curator of time-based media at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; Charlotte Ickes, curator of time-based media art and special projects at the National Portrait Gallery; and Marina Isgro, associate curator of media at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Real-time captioning will be provided for the conversations.

Watch Past Viewfinder Events

Please note, these recordings do not include the film and video works originally screened at these events.

January 7, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Ingrid Wiegand, Julie Finch: On Loft Life and Space-Making in the 1970s

With our Archives of American Art

The first program of the series featured "Julie" (6:15 min., 1974) by filmmakers Robert and Ingrid Wiegand and "Walking" (15:38 min., 1975) by Ingrid Wiegand from the collections of the Archives of American Art.  These works explore daily life in the filmmaker’s SoHo neighborhood in New York. Curator Josh T. Franco joined Wiegand and dancer Julie Finch, the subject of “Julie,” to discuss art and everyday life in 1970s downtown New York City.

February 4, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Joan Jonas: The Inner Worlds of Video

With our National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum

Join us for an engaging virtual screening and conversation with groundbreaking artist Joan Jonas. View Left Side Right Side (8:50 min, 1972) and  Vertical Roll (19:38 min, 1972), two of Jonas’s most iconic videos from the collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Then enjoy a lively post-screening conversation with Jonas and curators Saisha Grayson (SAAM) and Charlotte Ickes (NPG). Learn more about how artists construct, inhabit, and internalize space using the video camera and Jonas’s five-decade-plus career creating some of contemporary art’s most important video, performance, and installation artworks.  

March 4, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Zina Saro-Wiwa: On Mourning and Memory 

With our National Museum of African Art

Mourning is often a private experience. But when the occasions for grief stem from larger social forces, individual pain intersects with history. Such is the case in Zina Saro-Wiwa’s Sarogua Mourning (11:37 min., 2011), in which the Nigerian-born artist attempts to cry for her father, the political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, for the first time since his murder. This video is an incoming acquisition to the National Museum of African Art. The screening will be followed by a conversation between the artist and curator Karen Milbourne. 

April 1, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. (ET)

Margaret Salmon: On Motherhood and the Everyday 

With our Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Ninna Nanna (2006), by filmmaker Margaret Salmon, explores the relationships between three young Italian mothers and their infants. In striking images captured on 16 mm film, Salmon observes the subtle dynamics and emotional nuances of the women’s interactions with their young children. The filmmaker will join Rosalind Galt, Professor of Film Studies at King's College London, and Marina Isgro, associate curator of media and performance art and Robert and Arlene Kogod Secretarial Scholar, in a post-screening conversation about this work in our Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s collection.

May 6, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Zora Lathan and Iman Uqdah Hameen: On Black Interiority

With our National Museum of African American History and Culture

Drawing on the extensive holdings of our National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts, this program will be dedicated to the interiority of Black life. The screening will pair the experimental works of Zora Lathan, who uses her family as her muse, and the short film Unspoken Conversation (1987) by Iman Uqdah Hameen, which explores a Black woman’s journey as a wife and mother. The filmmakers will join National Museum of African American History and Culture’s curator Rhea Combs and media conservator Ina Archer for a post-screening conversation.

June 3, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Chitra Ganesh: On Dreaming and Refusal

With our Smithsonian American Art Museum

Join the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a virtual film screening featuring the work of artistic duo Girl. Made up of the Brooklyn-based artists Chitra Ganesh and Simone Leigh, Girl created the collaborative video My Dreams, My Works Must Wait Till After Hell (7:14 mins., 2011). Set to a haunting score of Japanese flutes and drums, viewers observe the unclothed back of a Black woman. Turned away, the woman’s body represents both vulnerability and a declaration of strength and refusal to be available to desiring or oppressive eyes. After this mesmerizing screening, Ganesh is joined by Saisha Grayson time-based media curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to discuss how this work asserts and protects the right to the complex, concealed inner lives for women of color and constitutes a queer, feminist response to centuries of the female nude depicted in Western art history.

July 1, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. (ET)

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg: On Media and Extinction

With our Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is an artist and designer based in London whose work explores the relationship between nature and technology. Her multidisciplinary practice has been recognized by the World Technology Award and the London Design Medal for Emerging Talent. Commissioned by Cooper Hewitt and Cube Design Museum, Ginsberg’s The Substitute (2019) presents a striking digital iteration of the northern white rhino, a species perilously close to extinction. Audiences will be able to view documentation of the installation, followed by a conversation with Ginsberg, Cooper Hewitt curator Andrea Lipps, and conservationist Dr. Kent Redford about the work’s use of digital media, including artificial intelligence, to address biodiversity loss and bioengineering ethics.

August 5, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Leslie Thornton: On Surviving

With our Smithsonian American Art Museum

Join the Smithsonian American Art Museum for an engaging virtual lecture with award-winning filmmaker Leslie Thornton. Learn how Thornton, with her decades-long episodic film epic Peggy and Fred in Hell (1983–2015), secured a place of reverence in cinema history. Enjoy a special screening of the series’ most well-known video, Peggy and Fred in Kansas (11 mins, 1987). In this short piece, viewers are introduced to the protagonists as young children, responding to a post-apocalyptic Earth that has forced them into hiding. They live among the debris of their former society and rely on tune-in radio signals for glimpses into another world. Following the screening, Thornton and Saisha Grayson, time based media curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, reflect on how this avant-garde film classic resonates with renewed urgency for audiences in 2021, after a year of contemplating a threatening environment “out there” via media consumption while at home. They will be joined by Natalie Bell, curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, who is organizing the Thornton retrospective that opens there this October. 

September 2, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Laurel Nakadate: On Tragedy and the Everyday

With our Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Laurel Nakadate is an American artist who works in video and photography to address questions of gender, sexuality, power, and vulnerability. Greater New York (5:10 min., 2005), which Nakadate filmed on and shortly after September 11, 2001, features the artist engaged in a variety of activities throughout New York City: dancing with a Walkman, speaking to a dead bird, conversing with an older man, and—in a recurring, haunting image—staring into a column of smoke left by the collapsed Twin Towers. Dressed in a Girl Scout uniform and raising a hand in salute, she alludes to Dorothea Lange’s photograph of Japanese American schoolchildren in the moments before they were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. Nakadate’s work is in the collections of major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Guggenheim Museum. Hirshhorn Associate Curator Marina Isgro and Lily Siegel, executive director of Hamiltonian Artists and curator of an upcoming exhibition of Nakadate’s work at Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art, will join Nakadate in a conversation about this and other works.  

October 7, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Howardena Pindell: On the Performance of Autobiography

With our National Portrait Gallery

Over the course of nearly six decades, groundbreaking multidisciplinary artist Howardena Pindell has radically expanded the medium of painting and transformed the language of abstraction. The first of only three videos in the artist’s body of work, Pindell’s Free, White and 21 (12:15 min, 1980) marks a turn toward more overt autobiographical content in her practice. Join the artist and National Portrait Gallery curator Charlotte Ickes in conversation with Naomi Beckwith, Deputy Director and Jennifer and David Stockman Chief Curator at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Valerie Cassel Oliver, Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Beckwith and Cassel Oliver co-organized the 2018 exhibition Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen, the first major survey of Pindell’s work.

December 2, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. (ET)

Ana Mendieta: On the Body and Landscape

With our Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, and Smithsonian American Art Museum 

Ana Mendieta is widely regarded as among the most original and talented artists of the postwar era. She produced a stunning body of work that drew together the most important innovations of her moment, including land art, film, performance, intersectional feminism, and presciently foregrounding issues of identity, translocations, and ecology. In this special program, for the first time, all Smithsonian holdings of her films will be shown together. Time-based media art curators at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Portrait Gallery, and Smithsonian American Art Museum will then discuss her engagement with natural and social environments with Raquel Cecilia, Mendieta’s niece, Estate director and director of a documentary on the artist’s life, Rebel by Nature: The Life & Art of Ana Mendieta. 

Viewfinder: Women’s Film and Video from the Smithsonian is a monthly virtual screening and conversation series sponsored by the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story. The first sequence of selected works reflect on interiority—a timely topic during this global pandemic.