Viewfinder: Women’s Film and Video from the Smithsonian

Join us on the first Thursday of each month 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.


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 

A recording for this event will be posted in the coming weeks.

Black and white still of a woman looking contemplative

Ninna Nanna, production still, 2007, Margaret Salmon. 

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

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An African American child holds up a paper plane

Still from Aerial (1975) directed by Zora Lathan

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

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Person with medium-dark skin lies on their side and a pile of small rocks covers their head

Girl (Simone Leigh, Chitra Ganesh), My Dreams, My Works Must Wait Till After Hell, 2011 © Girl; Courtesy of the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York

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

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Small rhino in a small white room

Still from The Substitute installation (2019), designed by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg.

With our Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Dr. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg is an artist, designer, and scientist 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

Leslie Thornton: On Surviving

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A male and a female figure blur as they move away from each other

Still from Leslie Thornton, Peggy and Fred in Kansas, 1987 © 1987 Leslie Thornton. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix, NY

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. 


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

Howardena Pindell: On the Performance of Autobiography

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Woman wrapping her face and afro up in toilet paper

Still from Howardena Pindell, Free, White and 21, 1980. Single-channel video (color, sound), 12:15 min. Collection National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Garth Greenan. Courtesy of the artistand Garth Greenan Gallery, New York. © Howardena Pindell.

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. During the video, Pindell faces the camera and methodically walks viewers through different points in her life when she was subjected to racism and misogyny, confessional moments intercut with the artist in whiteface playing the titular role of a patronizing white woman. Join the artist in a conversation moderated by NPG curator Charlotte Ickes about Free, White and 21 and Pindell’s larger practice as an artist, activist, curator, and co-founder of the A.I.R. Gallery, an important feminist, artist-run collective where the work was first exhibited. 


Future screenings to be announced.


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.  


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 interioritya timely topic during this global pandemic.

Because of Her Story Smithsonian