Art, Anthropology, and Artistry: New Treatments in Stories of Labor Activism, Migration, Community, and Kinship

Saturday, Nov. 17, 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM
San Jose Convention Center, MR 211 D
Cosponsored with the Society for the Anthropology of Work

Cover art, Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman. Textile workers strike, Little Falls, NY, 1912. The Gilbert Mill behind the marchers still stands on the banks of the Mohawk River. The building is currently largely unoccupied, but used for storage. The protest placards' text are slogans found in contemporaneous photos of strikes.

This panel will center discussion of innovative and creative modes of storytelling on the graphic- illustrated book, Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman, a previously unpublished memoir by early 20th century labor activist Matilda Rabinowitz that has been transformed into a vivid unfolding of the life and times of a socialist and unsung leader of the early twentieth century labor movement in the United States. The experiences recorded by Rabinowitz (born 1887) have enormous contemporary relevance—racialization, displacement, dispossession, and poverty; grim migration journeys; labor vulnerability and exploitation; gender struggles; political awakenings and activism; and more. The story recounted in Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman raises issues of imminent concern to anthropologists, including but not limited to the anthropology of work, migration, class, social movements, gender, and kin relations. The story behind the production of Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman is itself intriguing; artist Robbin Légère Henderson is Rabinowitz’s granddaughter and she worked with editor Fran Benson of Cornell University Press to bring her grandmother’s words to light in a way that speaks across generations. The panel features Henderson in dialogue with Benson and with anthropologists Caitrin Lynch, Maria D. Vesperi, Alisse Waterston, and Marc Edelman, ethnographers who in their own works engage these topics and/or are innovators in writing and publishing anthropology.

The Gilbert Knitting Co. building.

The art and artistry involved reflect commitments by anthropologists today to experiment with multimodal techniques that include graphic nonfiction, ethnographic novels, intimate ethnography, new media platforms, and a wide range of collaborations. The four anthropologists will take up aspects of the Rabinowitz-Henderson project, highlighting connections between Immigrant Girl, Radical Woman and their own work in terms of topics, methods, writing, and ethical concerns about representation. The artist, the publisher, and the anthropologists will explore the value of art, anthropology and artistry in efforts to produce and disseminate knowledge, information, insight and understanding.

Presenters: Marc Edelman CUNY, Hunter College & Graduate Center; Caitrin Lynch, Olin College; Maria Vesperi, New College of Florida; Alisse Waterston, City University of New York, John Jay College; Frances Benson, Cornell University Press; Robbin Henderson, Independent artist, researcher and writer