Art & Photography / Who, What, Why

I Am Dora by Jemma Desai

A thought-provoking project looks to explore how and why women identify with each other

Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo
Kim Novak in Alfdred Hitchcock's Vertigo

Who? I am Dora is the brainchild of Jemma Desai, film festival curator and film production coordinator. It is a remarkably thoughtful and thought-provoking project that looks to explore – through film screenings and accompanying printed publications (beautifully designed by Claire Huss) – how and why women identify with each other, and how female characters in film affect women’s perceptions of themselves.

What? During her work in the industry, Desai felt frequently at odds with others’ approach to film: “I often found myself in conversations that placed what I felt was an arbitrary value judgment on the worth of a film. Sometimes my response to a film is anything but objective, and these are the times I feel most engaged with film as a piece of art.” Thus, she began the project – at first as a “sort of online journal”, showcasing a brilliantly curated selection of film stills, photographs, artworks and quotations of or about women – in order to convey her own opinion of the cultural portrayal of women.

"Sometimes my response to a film is anything but objective, and these are the times I feel most engaged with film as a piece of art"

Thereafter, Desai decided to expand upon the notion by creating a series of public events with the aim of discussing and exploring the films she felt to be of most importance in this context. The first edition focused on Freud’s Dora, the project’s namesake, and saw the screening of Sigmund Freud’s Dora: A Case of Mistaken Identity, a sharp interrogation of psychoanalysis, the iconography of the mother and filmmaking itself as complicit in "representing" the female. While the second – guest curated by actress Romola Garai – centered around Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing, a wonderful but brutal representation of women, with many provocative home truths which were discussed in enlightening depth in the conversation between Garai and Desai after the screening.

Why? This Saturday marks the anticipated third edition of I am Dora which will focus on the ongoing significance of Sylvia Plath in her exploration and expression of female emotion. First, it will consider Sandra Lahire’s Lady Lazarus (1991), a visually spun response to Plath's own readings of her poetry which creates, in Desai's words, “an intimate phantasmagoria…to reveal the emotions in her poetry to be as vital as her works are enduring.” This will be followed by a screening of writer Matthew Weiner’s 2012 Mad Men episode of the same title, interesting in its subtle mirroring of the mood of Plath’s work. A panel discussion between Desai and writer and curator Sandra Hebron will conclude the event.

I am Dora by Jemma Desai takes place this Saturday, January 12, at the ICA. Tickets are now available here.