Activism in action: Burning Womxn are the Parisian feminist collective making safer spaces for marginalised genders at festivals
We’re working with Dr. Martens to gain an ALL ACCESS pass to some of Europe’s best festivals. Finding the people, places and plans that are pushing the landscape forward and levelling the playing field for music lovers. Here all summer.
Despite being started amid the uncertainty of 2020, Burning Womxn is a collective with a fiercely tenacious and vibrant egalitarian spirit. An intersectional, volunteer-run festival, the annual arts weekender aims to create greater access for women and underrepresented genders – “everyone but cis men” – in the creative industries by providing opportunities for like-minded individuals to meet, connect and collaborate. This focus on community can be traced back to its creators’ first encounters on the street as activists. “We met through this anarchist movement, groups were sticking feminist messages across Paris,” explains co-founder Marion Degorce, who is also an art director and designer by day.
When Degorce met teacher and art historian Julie Dentzer and musician Marie de Lerena in January 2020, the trio knew they wanted to push their activism in a new direction. “We all come from the art world, so we wanted to create representation and visibility through something more than posters on a wall,” Degorce continues. The full extent of the collective’s multidimensional vision will be on display this weekend, as Paris’s la Bellevilloise hosts the second iteration of their festival. For music fans interested in a taste of what this will look like, the expansive and eclectic programming includes live sets from the likes of rappers Davinhor and Tracy De Sá and witch-pop artist Baby Volcano, as well as DJ tutorials for beginners hoping to try their hand behind the decks.
With no one medium taking primacy over the other, there’s a wide breadth of unbridled creativity on display, including an art exhibition showcasing fleshy paintings by Adèle Salaün Meuriot, surrealist worlds from Audrey Couppé de Kermadec and stark, sunlight-saturated documentary photography by Louise Quignon. Visitors can also dip in and out of a craft fair and marketplace featuring everything from zines to queer horticulture as well as pop-up tattoo shops, makeup and nail art stalls, and a visit from the travelling, Monique Wittig-referencing feminist library Les Guérillères.
With the majority of mainstream festival bookings still skewing overwhelmingly cis-male, it’s refreshing to see Burning Womxn’s line-up intentionally making room for artists who identify as women or any other marginalised gender. The Burning Womxn team are fully aware of just how vital spaces like theirs are in the wider festival scene – it sets a much–needed example. “We are seeing more and more initiatives that have similar intents [as Burning Womxn], but we need as many as we can,” Metzger says. “The vast majority of spaces are still not necessarily safe for the LGBTQIA+ community or marginalised genders.”
In fact, Burning Womxn’s mission to become a feminist force within a traditionally cis male-dominated milieu is evident at every level – even a linguistic one. The group’s name is an obvious riff on the American desert odyssey Burning Man – tacitly referencing the feminist langage inclusif, the process of adapting masculine-coded words to both make women’s contributions more visible and correct linguistic gendered bias. But it also references a much longer-running feminist legacy: the historically maligned and currently celebrated figure of the witch. “During the Middle Ages witches were burned, so it’s partly a nod to this,” de Lerena elaborates. Then, of course, there’s the frenetic, white-hot energy of artistic collaboration; “The burning is also a reference to creativity, when people all create together it’s like a pyre,” she adds.
Initially, despite the grand ambitions baked into the collective’s name, the trio’s activities were mainly confined to Instagram. In 2020, when activism moved largely online, they used their platform to speak to women and non-binary people working in the creative industries in France, shedding light on their practices with fortnightly themed takeovers speaking focussed on the worlds of photography, tattoo art and illustration. Despite these URL beginnings, as lockdown restrictions loosened they were able to expand their activism into IRL events – eventually culminating in last year’s Burning Womxn festival, which took place in Paris’s la Maroquinerie in May.
“The main feedback we got was that it felt like a giant hug,” says Dentzer, speaking of the event’s 2022 iteration. “Both festival goers and our volunteers said it was a very safe space where they felt at home. “There was a lot of LGBTQIA+ community and feminist community present, but also all different kinds of people, from babies to seniors.” Creating this kind of open, inclusive space wasn’t incidental. Rather, it’s a facet of the team’s feminist praxis and core principles.
The committee strives to integrate an intersectional ethos at each level, whether it’s the welfare of artists or of festival-goers. From diverse programming and ensuring that artists are fairly reimbursed, to gender neutral toilets and a calm room to help support neurodiverse individuals in attendance, Burning Womxn aims to be structurally accessible and fair. The festival also implements extensive safeguarding around sexual violence which begins at the committee level and filters down from there. “Marie has completed very specific training on sexual violence and reporting within event spaces and we all have aspects of training on this from our activist background. We educate our volunteers, a non-profit will have a table to test drinks for spiking and there is security,” Dentzer explains. “We really strive to make the festival as safe as possible for everyone, and ensure that everyone feels included.”
“My favourite thing about the festival is seeing that we can create something without patriarchy,” concludes de Lerena. Ultimately, a fully safe space doesn’t exist – you can’t account for everyone – but Burning Womxn want to do everything in their power to allow marginalised full creative expression, freedom and peace of mind, even if it is just for one weekend a year.
Burning Womxn takes place 10-11 June at La Bellevilloise, Paris and Dr. Martens will be connecting with artists and fans to celebrate and explore the future of festivals. DMs are also hosting a special stage at Burning Womxn with sets from Maddy Street, Grande, Tracy De Sa and Thelmaa