|Sarah Adams and Ryan Mangold look at the memorabilia on display at the "Beyond the Black: Masks and Facepaint through Genres, History, and Culture" heavy metal exhibit at BGSU. (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
No mosh pit was set up in the Bowen Thompson Studio Union for Laina Dawes’s keynote talk at the heavy metal conference Saturay.
Instead the writer and photographer spoke at a podium next to a couple tables with microphones. And her talk, “Race, Gender and Authenticity in Extreme Music,” was about extending the notion of what people think about heavy metal.
Dawes was at Bowling Green State University as part of for the conference “Heavy Metal Rules the World,” which drew dozens of scholars to campus.
Dawes grew up in a small town in Ontario as the adopted black daughter of a white family. As a black Canadian, she was expected to like music associated with the African diaspora, reggae and calypso and the like.
But to cope with the turmoil of her life she turned to a different spectrum of sounds, sounds of hard rock and heavy metal. She retreated to her room to sing along, play air guitar and execute high kicking dance steps.
“I used the music to express my anger, my frustration,” she said. “”As a kid I had no one to talk to.so I listened to Judas Priest. It saved my life.”
That youthful outlet became a central part of her life as a photographer and writer. The result is her book “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.”
To write the book she reached out to dozen of women like her, who in defiance of the stereotype of heavy metal being an enclave of white males, a number of whom harboring racist attitudes.
She was involved in the extreme underground scene, not the more mainstream forms of heavy metal.
“I was looking for women who really dedicated themselves to the metal scene,” Dawes said. “I wanted to know there were women who would go to the seedy bars; there were women who would be around in some ways unsavory people. That they were really spending their money to support the bands.”
Her subjects turned out not to be women uncomfortable with their racial identity. They were:
“Very militant in their views in terms of race and identity. They saw metal as an extension of their expression of who they were their black cultural pride.”
This was a way to challenge society that saw women, especially black women has sexual marginal people, whose opinions need not be listened to.
The conference continues through Sunday afternoon. More information is available at: http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/popc/page128702.html.