The City of Ladies

You will find war enough on Earth
Without going to Hell to find it

Christine de Pizan, Letter of Othea, 1399-1400

The City of Ladies is a durational video installation, with over 300,000 different variations, which loop, repeat and combine to create a complex portrait of contemporary feminism. It was launched as part of The National, New Australian Art at the Museum of Contemporary Art, March 2017 and is a collaboration between Zanny Begg and the Paris-based Australian director Elise McLeod. The project was curated into the Odessa Biennale, the 2nd Industrial Art Biennial, On the Shoulders of Fallen Giants, the Guerilla of Enlightenment exhibition at <rotor> and has been exhibited extensively across Australia and internationally.

The City of Ladies is a 20-minute non-linear film installation inspired by the fifteenth-century proto-feminist novel of the same name by France’s first professional female writer Christine de Pizan. The book of The City of Ladies was written in 1402 and creates a utopian city built, populated and governed by women. De Pizan aimed to subvert masculine versions of history by describing, what she called, feminania, a pro-female view of the world.

The film loosely draws on the structure and content of de Pizan’s work but uses this material across time to engage with issues for young women in Paris today, a city divided over responses to terrorism and home to the inspiring Nuit Debout movement. The City of Ladies has over 300,000 different variations, each time the film is screened the fragments compile in different ways inviting multiple readings of feminism.

In dramatising the manifold experiences of this group of young activists, Begg and McLeod (like de Pizan before them) subvert the idea of a single, teleological narrative, instead representing multiple intersecting feminist histories and experiences, whose relationship to other facets of identity politics is also portrayed. “Feminisms, not feminism,” as Begg explains, “the only way feminism can exist is by having space for difference.” The video’s labyrinthine structure reinforces this logic. 

Nina Miall, ArtReview, 2018

The City of Ladies includes several interviews with feminists including Hélène Cixous, Silvia Federici, Sam Bourcier, Fatima Ezzahra Benomar and Sharone Omankoy.

To read a review in Art Review click here.

The City of Ladies, Zanny Begg and Elise McLeod, durational video, 2017
Production Company Vs
Software development Andrew Nicholson
Cinematography Laurent Chalet
Audio Design James Brown
Actors Marie Rosselet Ruiz, Tasmin Jamlaoui, Sonia Amori, Juliette Speck, Coline Beal, Garance Kim, Katia Miran and the voice of David Seigneur
With the participation of Hélène Cixous, Silvia Federici, Sam Bourcier, Fatima Ezzahra Benomar,Sharone Omankoy  and Françoise Picq.
Original music by Mere Women, La Catastrophe and La Parisienne Libérée
Audio Recording Pascal Oberweiler
Continuity Margot Seban
Grading Yanni Kroenberg
Translation English to French Venla Coadic, French to English Estelle Hoen

Zanny Begg is a recipient of the Australian Council Project Development Grant and the Terrence and Lynette Fern Residency at the Cite, Paris.