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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, was launched as part of The National at the Museum of Contemporary Art, March 2017. It is a collaboration between Zanny Begg and the Paris based Australian director Elise McLeod. The project 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 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.

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Christine de Pizan was a remarkable women, not only for her uniquely anti-misogynist books and poems but also for being the sole known defender of Joan d’Arc at the time of her trial. The burning of Joan D’Arc, for wearing men’s clothing, is but one of the more famous cases of “witch trails” that saw the execution of thousands of women across Europe for alleged deviations in sexuality, politics or attitudes.

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Installation shots, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, photos by Jacquie Manning

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 project is compiled from semi-random fragments of a film was made in collaboration with young activists and feminists. Each time the film is screened the fragments compile in different ways creating over 300,000 possible narratives inviting multiple readings of feminism.

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

To listen to an interview about the project on Radio National please click here.

To read a review in Art Review click here.

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


The City of Ladies, Zanny Begg and Elise McLeod, durational video, 2017
Production Company Vs
Software development Andrew Nicholson
DOP 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