From multi-coloured armpit hair, prickly, black stubbly legs and images of period-blood stains on clothes, the internet has definitely succeeded in bringing about a new wave of clickbait feminism but as the roots of the movement evolves, in more recent years that has extended to women from the world over expressing themselves clearly and honestly through varied forms of art. It’s no longer just about individual struggles and oppression but a broad collective of women calling for equality and inclusiveness in a world where they have been second class citizens for far too long--and they’re doing it to different degrees of radicalism.
While some might be riding high on a wave of period and tampon-inspired art and design, a few have understood that the mere existence and nurturing of female artists in an otherwise male-dominated space is an important stance in itself and it’s in the latter that the ‘rebel curator the art world hasn’t hear of yet,’ Antonia Marsh has marked her own territory. The monopoly of men in the industry has left young female artists with fewer opportunities to showcase their talent and skills on a large scale and this binary is exactly what Marsh has been striving to blur for a few years now. By creating a global platform for female artists from a variety of fields to level the playing field for the sexes, ‘Girls Only,’ an international residency and studio program which she travels the world with, has become a pillar of support for many. And it’s now set to come to Mumbai with an exhibition being hosted by Ministry of New on April 15. With a stellar lineup of contemporary artists, formidable forces in their respective fields, the exhibition will present a large variety of diverse artworks--from eye-catching photographs taken by Shreya Dev Dube and Poulomi Basu, the striking textiles of NorBlack NorWhite and the watercolour works of Julianna Byrne; a melting pot of art forms with performances by Vidisha’Fadescha’ Saini and Jinal Sangoi.
Marsh grew up in London where she gained a bachelors degree in art history from Bristol University, before relocating to San Francisco for her masters in curatorial practice at California College of the Arts. With a long list of experience on her resume, from working in London at the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy of Art and the Serpentine Gallery to the New Museum in New York City, “I guess you can say I’m a bit of an art history geek,” says Antonia. “It’s a pretty conservative background I think considering that this is probably the last word anyone would use to describe one of my exhibitions. I guess I needed a change - sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do in order to figure out precisely what you do want to do.” We got a chance to speak to Antonia who gave us more insight into the creation of Girls Only, the representation of women in the arts and what to expect from Girls Only: India.
How did you conceptualize a girls-only art collective?
Girls Only is a lot of things, totally malleable and always changing, it has existed as an exhibition project, residency program, publishing body and artist collective, and has run projects in New York, London and Copenhagen before Mumbai.
The project started in our studio space in Brooklyn, New York - a female friend and I had been discussing tattoo culture actually, and she had been saying that she finds it a particularly male-dominated space and pretty difficult to even enter. Our conversation moved onto the art world and the similarities there. Even though I studied largely alongside women, and the same goes for my working experience in art; in museums and galleries, opportunities for young women are very sparse. Girls Only was therefore borne out of a determination to create more of these opportunities.
What are some of the problems they face otherwise to get their art out?
I think I answer this question above… Women are hugely underrepresented in the art world, and while its important to resist reaffirming a binary of any kind, there just aren’t enough opportunities being given to young female artists in comparison with their male counterparts, so people need to step up in order to level the playing field and make moves towards equal representation between the sexes in the art world, it’s as simple as that.
You’ve taken Girls Only around the world, is there any particular reason you decided to bring it to India?
With a lot of focus on female-only projects in the USA and the UK in full flow now, it felt to me like it would be more beneficial for young artists if I was to put a show together somewhere different. With these thoughts already in my mind, I was invited and encouraged by a friend who I worked with in Copenhagen and who spends a lot of time here, to bring the project to Mumbai, and the timing fell together perfectly.
How did you curate the artists for the Mumbai showcase?
My partner in this project, photographer Sarah Hoilund, helped me research before I got here, and then just by looking online, talking to other artists like Shilpa Gupta, Shreya Dev Dube and Reena Kallat. Everyone here has been so responsive and helpful, it’s awesome. In terms of choosing the work - this process is largely instinctual. We have a whole range of artists working in different media from different places and at different levels in their careers - this impressive scope of work that I was struck by when I started looking at work out here was something that I have particularly focused on. A lot of the work thinks about women’s experiences in India as well as the world more generally, but then again the content in the show isn’t limited to this. You’ll have to come and see for yourself!
Is there any place for male artists in Girls Only in the future?
There have already been two male artists who participated in Girls Only exhibitions. The first was collaborating with one of our girls, and the second simply asked me if he could be in a show - Rafal Zajko, a Polish artist working in London. I had sent out an open call, and he was brave enough to ask - not as a confrontation, and not as a joke, but completely genuinely and seriously, so I wasn’t going to say no. He literally wanted to be in the show. I loved this attitude. Honestly, I thought more people would notice that there was a male artist in the show, but interestingly nobody really questioned it. I guess that just shows how much people take things for granted or just books by their covers. What if Girls Only isn’t Girls Only? It’s an interesting question to consider, for sure.
What should viewers expect from the Mumbai exhibition on April 15?
Expect to see a fantastic array of spectacular work by a group of smart, talented, inspiring and driven young women. From performance to sculpture, video and film, photography painting and drawing, even a new card game never played before… the space will be filled and ready to challenge the viewer in every nook and cranny.
Don’t forget to catch the Girls Only: India exhibition on April 15 at Ministry of New. For more information you can visit the Facebook event page and check out the events flyer poster below courtesy Antonia Marsh.
Words: Sara Hussain