“Sisters of Code” by Akhlaq, Franco, James, Mitchell and Searleman

  • ©Sara Akhlaq, Francesca Franco, Valencia James, Bonnie L. Mitchell, and Janice T. Searleman



    This international panel focuses on examining the historical traces of contributions produced by women in fields such as information visualization, infographics, computer arts, and digital aesthetics. The panel has three presentations by artists, technologists, and scholars.

    1.1 “Vera Molnar: ICÔNE/2020” by Francesca Franco

    This panel presentation is centred on “ICÔNE/2020,” a new commis- sion that the author initiated, produced and curated with computer art pioneer Vera Molnar in 2020-21. This is Molnar’s first ever sculp- tural work in a career that spans over 80 years. Taking the new commission as a centre point, Franco’s talk explores the process that made this commission possible, bringing together original sketches and documentation material that reveal the complexities behind the making of this project. By reimagining what art could be in an age of immense technological change, Molnar’s radical adoption of technology and her conceptual approach to computing have inspired Franco to initiate a new collaboration that takes com- puter art to new unexplored levels. This new commission has been awarded two major grants from the Henry Moore Foundation and the AHRC that will support “ICÔNE/2020,” an exhibition curated by Francesca Franco in 2021.

    1.2 “Women in Data Visualisation” by Sara Akhlaq

    This talk aims to highlight contributions of women to the field of data visualisation throughout history until present day. It draws attention to how they have strived to bridge the human under- standing and comprehension gap by harnessing the power of lines, shapes and arrangement to represent a wide range of issues. De- spite being excluded from the very narrative of the field, there are women who have yet managed to further data visualisation through their ingenuity. Visualising the same data they are excluded from, these women belonging to transdisciplinary fields have strived to equip themselves with visualisation tools to represent data in a more engaging and effective fashion. Gender imbalance has hin- dered women’s success journey throughout history, and while a lot of names have gone unacknowledged, there are some women who have soldiered through the hurdles of underrepresentation to make their name in data visualisation. From Florence Nightingale’s Rose Diagram showing hygiene-related fatalities in hospitals in 1858 to Mona Chalabi’s data drawings that highlight social issues of our time, this talk takes the audience through some prominent women in their unique contributions to the field of data visualisation.

    1.3 “The History of Women’s Contributions to SIGGRAPH Revealed: A Glimpse into the SIGGRAPH Online Archives” by Bonnie Mitchell and Jan Searleman

    The history of computing is fraught with gender inequalities related to access, education, mentorship and acknowledgement. Although women such as Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Katherine Johnson have finally gained recognition for their efforts, they were relatively obscure in their own time. In the early days of computing, women often worked on menial tasks such as data entry, computing tables of numbers and delivering coffee to the men in the back room. Young women wishing to enter the field of computer science in the 50s through 80s were often advised to learn to type and take dictation, and actively discouraged from studying programming and electronics. At the university level, computer science courses often consisted entirely of men, with the occasional persistent woman. Women in digital art also faced similar issues but were among the first to break through the barrier to define a direction for this exciting new art form. Females in the field of computer animation also found it challenging to excel in a world dominated by men and it was rare to find women in positions of power. Organizations such as ACM SIGGRAPH, established in 1974, provided opportunities for women to serve in leadership roles and gain recognition in their respective fields. In December of 2020, Jan Searleman and Bonnie Mitchell began working on an archive of ACM SIGGRAPH’s history. During the development of this online archive, patterns started to emerge which revealed a more complex picture. This session will explore the role of women throughout the organization’s history.

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