Written by Marisa Cohn, edited by Henriette Friis.


Reflections from the Feminist Futures Copenhagen Panel

Reclaiming through feminist methods: Stories from fashion, academia, urban planning and the arts

On a sunny Friday afternoon on April 21st, four practitioners Eliyah Mesayer, Sofie Burgos-Thorsen, Sadaf ‘Saf’ Hayat, and Hilda Rømer came together at Space10 for the event “Reclaiming through feminist methods: stories from fashion, academia, urban planning and the arts”, to share insights on how they embody feminist practice within their respective fields. Yet, the panel was as much a chance to hear about these panelists’ feminist practices, as it was a chance to consider how we foster spaces to build feminist futures together. The panel as a gathering event provoked us to discuss what conditions shape who arrives to such a space. To ask each panelist to describe their modes of feminist intervention to their respective fields, is also to ask how they have arrived to these fields, through what lived experiences. The panel was a part of the Feminist Futures Copenhagen hackathon which was organized by ETHOS Lab. 

The discussion thus provoked a set of critical questions:

  • Who are we, here in this room today? What conditions made it possible for us to arrive here today together?
  • What are the conditions to participate? Why are we here speaking English together?
  • What spaces do we make for feminist future making and how do these also tell us about the futures we are making?
  • What makes a space or piece of work feminist aesthetically, materially, and in practice?
  • Who shows up, when, where and how, to the public feminist spaces we declare, whether they are hackathons, protests, or institutional buildings we inhabit?
  • In order to make such feminist spaces for future making do we speed up or slow down, take space or take time, wait and rest or act now, and how are these interconnected?

Sofie spoke to the need to engage directly with material and data that come from the worlds of architectural praxis. If architecture firms are going to map and materialize realities through their methods, then part of a feminist practice requires engaging in data gathering and mapping as well. The engagement with citizens usually ends after extracting data about people, after which the researcher or designer does the interpretive work. But instead we can extend participation to interpretations about the city we live in. Who gets to tell the stories about our shared spaces where we live, eat, grow, learn, play, and try to live meaningful lives?

Eliyah spoke to how her artistic practice and works are shaped by her experience of being stateless – how her education was completed over several years and countries because of visa restrictions – and how her current work, Illiyeen, is a response to that. With Illiyeen, Eliyah has created a state for the stateless or for anyone, because art can “play hard” so why not make a nation?

Sadaf ‘Saf’ Hayat during her presentation

Saf spoke to the ways her career as a slow fashion designer came about after working as a pedagogue for many years, which gave her a myriad of impressions of life in Denmark for children of different backgrounds. Class can affect whether people believe that pursuing creative livelihoods is feasible or desirable. ”We need time”, she said, ”you need to give us time”. She spoke to the ways we update our ideals for living in a shared society all the time, from the ways we refresh what counts as avant-garde or feminist aesthetics, to the expectations we set for participation in public debate. White-centering fast fashion design can strip ideas from South Asia, for example, for years. But to give children of South Asian descent the chance to enter fashion on their own terms, as Saf has done, can take time when the conditions are not set up to carry through such passions and ambitions for just any child living in the Danish state.

Organisers and members of the audience listening to the presentations

Hilda spoke to her experiences within the white spaces of academia, and how little is done to bring voices like her co-panelists there. You need to demand space, she suggested, and described the meeting rooms she enters with those who manage universities. Hilda described these rooms as spaces where there may be some care given to promoting gender equality, but where ethnic/racial diversity is rarely addressed. Acknowledging the whiteness of academic spaces while also describing what it has been like to pursue a marginalised and politicized field of Gender Studies, she described the long, slow, arduous efforts to keep gender and feminist studies alive in Denmark.

Saf highlighted how, for years, actors within the Danish state have insisted that brown children learn andspeak Danish. ”To become a full participant in this society, learning Danish is the way” has been the narrative, and in a way that is a promise we made and now fail to fulfill. And now there we were – in a room of a majority white audience, speaking in English about creating a more equitable and accessible society because… why? Well, in short it was to include those internationals who do not speak Danish. But this conversation also highlighted the privilege of the researchers, expats, and people for whom the Danish language requirement does not apply (such as the organisers of the event). 

Dr. Hilda Rømer during her presentation

This reveals a tension about where the efforts should come from to make space for racialised people within institutionalized knowledge making in academia, design, art, architecture and beyond. Take the space, demand it, runs at odds with the reminders from Saf and Eliyah that if Black and brown people are livingand working here in Denmark, in a country of the white Global North, this means they have likely endured trauma. If they are a practitioner in arts, design, orresearch, they have likely met obstacles on the road tocomplete an education or have needed time and twists in their path to arrive at their profession or craft. It takes time to work against structures not set up to help you succeed or claim space. Moreover, it takes time to become empowered within and despite of these conditions that are set up to keep you from claiming space. What we need is rest! Eliyah declared.

Reclaiming as ongoing resistance can become exhausting, at times verging on futility, but as we run low on steam it is useful to learn from each other especially from different positionalities. Can we speak to the costs accrued unevenly to those doing feminist work? Can we admit to the compromises those of us with privileged access make to stay within these fields, as we attempt to speak back to their power, subvert their methods, hold doors open for others? (And to the further privileges afforded by these compromises when we tire of bending from trying to break them down?) When do we persist in the work of ongoing resistance and when do we make spaces simply to share in the desire that these structures would fold and give wayto other futures? How can we share in the desire for such futures when we cannot even share space on each other’s terms? We have a long way to go.

Eliyah’s advice: gain precision on the spaces you wish to change, know exactly what you want to do there and why, and then… claim it! Maybe then in that ellipsis is a way to balance the call from Hilda to demand space and the call from Saf to slow down and be patient for the time and energy it takes for some of us to gain that authority to demand space.

Give time to take space…Take time to give space.

Slow down to gain sharper teeth for when you take a bite. And a warning: Do not claim space too quickly as you risk failing to recognize the status quo you might be reinforcing, and the conditions you might be upholding that shape who can arrive to these spaces in the first place. 

What is clear is that some people need to slow down so that others can take the time they need. Spaces to think more slowly together are desperately needed.


A big thanks to SPACE10 for letting us use their amazing venue, and to our interpreters Christine Jones and Marie Skovdal-Olsen. And of course to the wonderful Sanna-Maria Martilla for excellent moderation of the panel.