Setting the tone for gender equality in art world

Feminist activist artists group, Guerilla Girls, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale on Friday.

Feminist activist artists group, Guerilla Girls, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale on Friday.  

A group of feminist activist artists take on bias against women and corruption with masks on

Two years ago, the feminist activist artists group Guerilla Girls sent a questionnaire to 383 art museums across Europe to collate data on the representation of women in these cultural spaces.

The results were appalling, said two members of the group at the Kochi Muziris Biennale on Friday. Activists of the group are dressed in black, with ‘gorilla masks’ over their heads to remain unidentified.

First, 282 of these museums never bothered to respond. And, of the 101 museums that did reply, it turned out that only two had a women representation of at least 40% when it came to the exhibits on display. In their 90-minute lecture performance at the ongoing biennale, the pair reeled out instances of sexism and misuse of power that plague the art world. Standing on either side of a mini-screen on which they made their presentation, peppering it with videos, the group, founded in 1985, drew cheers from the packed house at the biennale pavilion at Cabral Yard.

In the East, they said, Hong Kong art schools had women students totalling 82%, yet the gender equations stood skewed when it came to clout and presence in the field. Discrimination against women in the field of culture was so rampant that “even the US Congress was more progressive than Hollywood,” as a passing video slide showed.

There was also a slide in Malayalam, which mocked the everyday sexism faced by women artists.

Moneyed men who wielded immense power decided the artists to be profiled at prestigious events and galleries, they said. “That is why we still have to wear masks.”

Biennale curator Anita Dube said it was a good start for the brand-new pavilion to begin as a space for ‘insurrection’. The works of Guerilla Girls are on display at Aspinwall House and Cochin Club.

Earlier, they told The Hindu that they made game-changing posters to expose gender discrimination and corruption in cultural institutions. They also mocked the traditional ways of representation in the bargain.

“Not in a haranguing way, but in a way that captures people’s imagination,” said a Guerilla Girl founding member who goes by the name Frida Kahlo.


Most Guerilla Girls members, and they have about 55 of them moving in and out of the group, have taken on names of yesteryear women artists. “We cannot be a large group, as it would affect the way we function.” The group, they said, had women from South Asia, but not from India.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 10:00:55 AM |

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