XXVIII.1 January - February 2021
Page: 87
Digital Citation

Women’s webs, music, and artivisms: Empowerment processes at Girls Rock Camp Porto Alegre 2019

Isabel Nogueira

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In the field of gender studies, we often observe processes of silencing and erasure. One area where this can be found is women's sound production: It has always existed but has often been rendered invisible. Observing how strategies are constructed to change this situation led me to seek the voices of the moment, looking at networks where I myself am present as a participant and collaborator to understand the processes of strengthening and making visible the production of women. Listening is therefore an important element. I adopt the perspective of deep listening [1], an active experience where a person perceives their own place in the world and where the stories of each person give their experiences meaning. In my writing, I consider it important to quote women theorists, to relate theories with practices, to understand myself as a participant in the processes, and to adopt feminist practices of listening and diversity in all stages of research.

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During my music studies, I observed the absence of women and Black people in academic spaces—including me. I perceive myself as racialized and not white. From the perspective of music and gender, I noticed the need to relate my own artistic activity to my academic studies, and my interest turned to experimental music, voice, and movement from an "artivist" perspective. Lucy Green [2] points out that the field of music is gendered; women who sing or play instruments are closer to an established and recognized canon of femininity, while women who compose or improvise are far from this canon. This also relates to women who work with technology (computers, pedals, or electronic instruments). It seems that the use and creation of technologies for music are still areas in which women are not meant to work, as if there was an undeclared but present glass ceiling. Even today, there are fewer women than men in university studies, in composition, and in popular music in Brazil. There is a dearth of musical works made by women, particularly women of color and Brazilian women, and a focus on European composers in music courses (as part of the canon, in citations, or on syllabi).


As such, I am interested in artivist perspectives and new practices that can offer alternatives to this situation. Artivism, according to Paulo Raposo, is an appeal to create "links…between art and politics and stimulate the potential destinies of art as an act of resistance and subversion, and…thus consolidate itself as a cause and social claim and simultaneously as an artistic rupture" [3]. I agree with Naiara Coelho and Maria Alice Costa's approach to feminist artivism, which views art as a form of "questioning, visibility and social transformation" [4], which they argue are valuable and essential tools in the struggle for the consolidation of women's rights.

Bell hooks offers the need to not only listen and make space for women, but also to actively design environments where women can deconstruct the patriarchal values that they were taught and continue automatically. She argues that while sexist thinking has possibly led some to judge and withhold compassion from, and even to punish others, listening to feminist thinking has helped people to "unlearn female self-hatred…and free ourselves from the control of patriarchal thought over our consciousness" [5]. I admire hooks's appeal for us to constantly reflect, continuously self-question, and aspire to seek out the study of feminist theories to identify, confront, and deconstruct the patriarchal values in which we are steeped. But we cannot do this alone. Solidarity—a shared commitment to fight these injustices—is vital.

In this sense, women's networks can contribute to the promotion of sisterhood, but they can also serve as sites of white supremacy, lacking in diversity and fostering the success of only some women. Or they may perpetuate power structures that certain women exercise over others, conforming to what Margareth Rago called "cordial women" [6].

These theorists helped to shape my own research and inform the critical stance I take toward a research study that I share here: the Girls Rock Camp Project in Porto Alegre. For this, my focus is on the potential for strengthening and empowering an extremely specific support network, deep listening, and tool sharing. My interest is thus in practice-based research. I study the documents produced by the participants to address the networks among women, observing how these networks act to provide models, share experiences, make the creative work of women visible, and bring the possibility of safely exercising mechanisms for deconstructing patriarchal positions of power and building new forms of relationship. Tim Ingold speaks of these model networks that I am so interested in examining. To him, these networks of solidarity are as important as the web a spider spins; in this sense, the webs or networks are an extension of our own being, movements, and actions [7]. The relationship between all instructors who shared their skills with the young girls in the camp offered them alternative models of being a woman in music. Underlined by an ethos of artivism, these environments were actively designed to deconstruct patriarchal values in the Brazilian electronic music scene, offering deep listening and sisterhood.

These networks or webs can encourage interpersonal relationships where they can test, develop, and practice behaviors in order to strengthen or empower actions for each other. It is important, however, that these webs do not automatically fulfill this function. They are built by what each participant offers and desires, and the forms of interaction take place according to the wishes and limitations of each person. At the same time, tensions, conflicts, negotiations, personal triggers, and difficulties arise during these processes—no web is like another.

Empowerment means you understand that your ideas are valuable and have a place in the world.

The third edition of the Girls Rock Camp Porto Alegre Project [8] (southern Brazil), held in January 2019, was one example of such a uniquely co-spun web. This is a day camp for girls that uses music as a facilitator (the girls learn to play an instrument and form a band) and works to strengthen their self-esteem and deconstruct patriarchal patterns. The project is organized by a team of women who volunteer to identify supporters and locations for organizing the camp, develop a selection process for campers and volunteers, and organize instrument loans and benefit events for the camp.

This year, 60 campers and 50 volunteers took part—larger numbers than in previous years. For five days, the girls learn an instrument, start a band, compose a song, choose a band logo, and make a T-shirt and a fanzine. At the end, they perform their composition at a show. I participated in the event as a volunteer from the beginning, as a keyboard and musical composition instructor and as a band producer. Each year, I notice the people who return and the formation of new bands. However, I also see that there is a large majority of white people in all areas of the event, reproducing the structural racism present in the country. Using bell hooks [5] and and Coelho and Costa's [4] approach to feminist artivism, I know we must do more to better engage Black women. For starters, the camp offers scholarships to young Black girls to help change this situation.

The Girls Rock Camp movement is broad and complex, so I'll focus on the images produced by the team about the workshops and rehearsals that took place in 2019. I understand that learning among women and the building of unique and intergenerational webs can contribute to the strengthening and empowerment of individuals and collectives through observing themselves, their colleagues, and instructors making music and playing instruments.

Empowerment means you understand that your ideas are valuable and have a place in the world, even if you are not totally confident in all the processes. Women are usually trained to be insecure in their own abilities; webs between women are crucial in developing confidence. To see other women producers and musicians, when in Brazil, there are far more women singers, can inspire others and establish much-needed role models. But empowerment goes further than feeling inspired by someone—it can move you to concrete actions that ignite your desires. This can be observed in the new groups and collaborations among women composers that sprang up after camp.

Some of the barriers to this movement are the ongoing devaluing of women and their work in the music industry, and the idea that a woman must be a prodigy to be a composer or a producer.

The experience of having female music teachers, shows performed by women each day, and seeing women organizing audio controls and analyzing the performed music creates webs between women. And in these webs, we share skills and develop our understanding that we can exist in a plethora of ways as women in music.

Examples of all of this are clear in the images on the project's webpage ( and Instagram profile ( The chance of seeing other girls or women doing the things that some would like to do opens up possibility—"If she can, I can too." While there is a sense of mirroring, there is also a reinforcement of individualities, so representation of diverse gender presentations and ethnicities is important.

During the camp, the girls are encouraged to bring their individuality, creativity, and perceptions of the world to the composition, where they can recognize and discover themselves without leaning on any canon or predetermined models. It was my intention to make sure that each of the girls I worked with could see herself represented in her music, and that decisions could be made together—although it was not always an easy task. This experience was reflected in my own processes, generating an intense creative activity and numerous questions about my performance as a university professor. Each day after the camp, I arrived home full of ideas to compose. At the same time, the camp reinforced my need to talk about women composers and artists in my own classes at the university. Indeed, after the first year as instructor in the camp, I created an undergraduate course about gender and music in my university—the first one in Brazil.

ins03.gif Photos from Girls Rock Camp Porto Alegre.

Fundamentally, the opportunity to learn, teach, and live experiences with other women was, in my view, the essential part of this, as bell hooks argues that women who identify with other women are more free to express themselves in ways that deprioritize male approval [5].

To weave webs is to open up to transformation, to dialogue, to giving and receiving, to respecting each person's time. Women in Brazil have not been taught to be self-confident. Harsh criticism is socially constructed and reinforced individually, so continuous observation and deconstruction is important. In feminist groups, the web needs to be grounded in processes, not just results—prioritizing listening, respect for differences, dialogue, nonviolent communication, and inclusive and non-limiting attitudes.

The web, according to Ingold, is not predetermined. It is being woven by all the participants, where each person has a different possibility to be affected or transformed and one must respect their trajectories, in all that that means. Thus, the web presupposes embodied knowledge, which is based on each person's life story. While it is unclear whether all the participants and instructors would identify as feminist, the webs we create are feminist to their core—the camp exists to support girls in becoming their whole selves. Participating in this co-spinning of the web has also improved my own sense of being a feminist and an artivist; it has impacted my daily practice and has connected theory with practice. In turn, this learning now feeds into my continued research, collaborative artivist practice, and teaching (see, for example, or

In women's networks, there is great potential for empowerment, learning, and sharing experiences toward transformation and reflection. There is a strong link with the body as a place for the formation of subjectivities, as situated knowledge, where gender is one of the first political markers and the construction of memories and meanings. The camp is about listening: listening to the girls, listening to yourself.

back to top  References

1. Oliveros, P. Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice. iUniverse, Inc., New York, 2005.

2. Green, L. Música, género y educación. Ediciones Morata, Madrid, 2001.

3. Raposo, P. 'Artivismo': articulando dissidências, criando insurgências. Cadernos de Antropologia e Arte 4, 2 (2015), 3–12.

4. Costa, M.A. e Coelho, N. A(r)tivismo feminista – intersecções entre arte, política e feminismo. CONFLUÊNCIAS| Revista Interdisciplinar de Sociologia e Direito 20, 2 (2018), 25–49.

5. hooks, b. O feminismo é para todo mundo: políticas arrebatadoras. Rosa dos Tempos, Rio de Janeiro, 2018.

6. Rago, M. Epistemologia feminista, gênero e história. Masculino, Feminino, Plural. J. Pedro, e M. Grossi, orgs. Ed. Mulheres, Florianópolis, 1998.

7. Ingold, T. Trazendo as coisas de volta à vida: Emaranhados criativos num mundo de materiais. Horizontes Antropológicos 37 (2012), 25–44.

8. The activity also includes a show for family members and the community. Girls Rock Camp emerged in Portland in the U.S. in 2001, developing positive models of conduct and a spirit of collaboration and leadership. To date, dozens of editions have been held in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. The first edition of Girls Rock Camp Brasil took place in Sorocaba / SP in 2013. Porto Alegre was the second Brazilian city to have the project, in January 2017 (

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Isabel Nogueira is a performer, researcher, and sound artist based in Brazil. She is a professor at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul and also coordinates the Sonicas Research Group in Gender, Body, and Music. Her research focuses on artivist initiatives in art and sound experimentation based on the use of technology, focusing on women's empowerment.

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