Carmen Winant's ‘Notes on Fundamental Joy’ goes inside the womyn-only communities created across the Pacific Northwest.

What would a world without men look like? Visually, it could be quite simple to imagine, so perhaps the better question is: what would this world feel like? Maybe the inhabitants of this world would drop their shoulders in relief, no longer carrying the social, mental, and emotional burdens of patriarchy; maybe there would still yet be a yearning in the air for the presence of men. Artist Carmen Winant responds to this proposed world sans men by reverentially pointing us to the past. In her new book Notes on Fundamental Joy; seeking the elimination of oppression through the social and political transformation of the patriarchy that otherwise threatens to bury us, Winant curates a collection of photographs taken in the early 1980s that reveal a moment in history when this hypothetical world actually became a reality.

This reality was a community of women/womyn who, in their embrace of the “back to the land” movement, created feminist and lesbian separatist communes across the Pacific Northwest. On these communes, located on green pastures in woodlands, the women created what they called the Ovulars, which was a series of darkroom photography workshops, radical for the way they gave women the rare power of holding the camera, of taking their own photographs, and of having their images be taken by other women. The resulting images are the subject of Notes on Fundamental Joy, a book that is as much a historical document as it is an artists’ project.

Designed by Jena Myung and published by Printed Matter Inc., the book considers the revolutionary experience of socio-political optimism based on the absence of men. The photographs are accompanied by a self-reflective essay from Winant, running across the bottom of each page, which engages Winant’s attraction towards the photographs—for their “unabashedness and beauty”—while considering how the images have significance in the world outside of the idyllic communes, a world still-governed by patriarchy. The book also includes a personal essay by writer and artist Ariel Goldberg that aims to interpret the photographs and their wider cultural importance through a broader gender lexicon as well as in the important context of trans-exclusionism.

With a body of work that illustrates a conscientious investigation of women’s portrayal in media and society, Winant continues to delve deeper, proving that the work is never done. Notes on Fundamental Joy offers a beautiful snapshot into an underreported moment in history when women defied the limitations of patriarchal powers by reclaiming and embracing what’s rightfully theirs—their image, their power, and their joy.

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