artbeat (2006-17)

Sweet Southern Pixels wield femininity with pride

Chicks with Cameras

by Molly Kincaid

The emotionally charged words “feminist” and “feminine,” though separated only by a couple measly letters, are vastly different when it comes to connotation. Feminists, in the traditional sense of the bra-burning ball-busters of the ’60s and ’70s, must be considered anti-feminine. But, if the burgeoning Knoxville women’s media collective Sweet Southern Pixels is any indication, there’s a new breed of feminist these days that aims to preserve “feminine” qualities while still embracing that headstrong feminist spirit.

Of the seven recent UT graduates in the media arts department who make up Sweet Southern Pixels, five have somehow managed to squeeze time out of hectic schedules to be in the same room at the same time for a quick chat at Sunspot. Amira Inas, the group’s founder, pipes up first: “I just wanted to connect with more ladies who were in the field, and to light a fire under each other to continue our own work.”

While many a college major in a creative field wanders off into the business world after getting a diploma, all of the Pixels remain tied to their art in some way; Inas works full-time at HP Video doing production work, for example. Still, it’s a far cry from doing “your own work,” as Inas’ long-awaited documentary, “Naw Man She Ain’t Chinese” remains unedited.

Not to mention the countless projects percolating in her head that might require a film crew, extras, and other warm bodies that were easily accessible in art school. Inas commonly finds herself posting bulletins on myspace, recruiting people for her shoots at the Longbranch Saloon or some such locale. “There’s so many talented people in town, but in terms of bringing people together for this group, I was thinking of people whose skills would compliment one another’s,” says Inas. “We are all really dedicated to getting work done, but all of our work is really different,” points out Kim Denton, who is working on her MFA in media.

The diversity of these women accounts for the mishmash nature of their debut show, or “Cotillion,” this Saturday. While the Electric Ballroom might not be your typical art venue, the night promises to be more of an “event”—“dress up or dress wild” is the motto, and there are even murmurs of a red carpet around the table. The multi-media show will feature short films on various screens, still photos, performance art, a sampling of Knoxville’s nascent White Lightnin’ Burlesque troupe, and various interactive contests like “purse swing,” which is based on a short film by Meg Vinson in which she stands in front of the camera swinging a purse wildly in one hand, face deadpan, stopping only to express exhaustion and switch hands, continuing in the futile exercise for a hilarious five minutes or so.

“A ‘cotillion’ is by definition a coming-out ball for women, so we thought that title was perfect,” says Trisha Gene Brady, who is completing her MFA and works at Hodges Library in a new production facility dubbed The Studio. “And what better place to have a cotillion ball than in a ballroom?”

The cotillion thing is only one of many ways the Pixels are reclaiming feminine iconography that might be thought of as repressive or backward. Their mascot of sorts is a ’40s-style pin-up girl, provocatively holding a camera as a Bond girl would a firearm, which Inas’ four-year-old daughter Sri has taken to calling “butterfly cowgirls.” “We wanted it to convey women with cameras as tools of empowerment—like guns,” says Brady. Then Vicky Lynn Bridgeforth jumps in, “It’s the idea of celebrating womanhood.” The group giggles a bit as the shy Bridgeforth is notoriously chided, sometimes even censored, at film festivals for the provocative sexual content in her films. “She’s holding back right now,” says Inas.

“I definitely think our symbols are empowering,” says Lacresha McKinney, who currently works in childcare and nurtures her budding promotions business, called Crelax. “It’s taking control of how we represent ourselves as opposed to how we could be misrepresented.”

Post-school, all of the Pixels say they’ve experienced some hardship being in the male-dominated field of film and media. “What I hate is when people treat you as if what you’re doing is a hobby,” says Inas. “Or when people are like, ‘Aww, how cute, you’ve got a camera!’ Not only do I know how to use it, but I have things I want to do that I feel are important.”

While these women are certainly on a mission, they’re quick to point out it’s not an anti-male one. “People have this misconception about what ‘feminist’ is,” says Denton. “I’m a feminist, but I’m not a man-hater.” Inas adds, “Oh, we love the fellas.” Just to show the boys their winning spirit, the Pixels plan to hold an all-male show in August for their cohorts who’ve perhaps been unmotivated since school.

Above all else, the Pixels want to stress that this Saturday’s event is anything but a stodgy art show. To accent the anything-goes attitude of the night, Inas notes, “This is a good time to pull out your crazy slippers or purple wig…This event is for everybody, because we think of art as what you might wear or what you do. People who come out are going to be a part of it.”

Who: Sweet Southern Pixels Cotillion