December 15, 2018
It was two years ago that Guerilla Girls sent a questionnaire to 383 art museums across Europe to collate data on female representation in the continent’s cultural repositories. The results were appalling.
For one, 282 of the addressees never bothered to respond, said two speakers at the Biennale Pavilion in Fort Kochi. Also, of the 101 museums that did reply, it turned out that only two had a women representation of at least 40 per cent when it came to the exhibits on display.
In their 90-minute session at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the pair, dressed in black and wearing a gorilla mask of the same colour, reeled out several historical instances of sexism and misuse of power that continued to plague the field of art across the world. Standing on two sides of a mini-screen that would substantiate their findings and intermittently play videos, the two women from the 1985-founded group based in New York drew cheers as they read out more points before a packed audience.
In the East, for instance, Hong Kong art schools had women students totaling 82 per cent, 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 is more progressive than Hollywood”, as a passing video slide showed.
One such video slide also popped up a topic written in Malayalam, much to the curiosity of the onlookers. Titled ‘Penkalakrithinte Anukoolyangal’ (The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist), it buttressed yet another point on sexis, delving into the theme with a trademark streak of wry humour.
According to the two speakers, art museums had grown to profile histories of wealth, not art. Moneyed men who wielded immense power decided the artists to be profiled at prestigious events and galleries, they noted. “That is why we have to still wear masks.”
Earlier, the duo made a dramatic entry by holding a few small bananas and distributing them randomly to some in the crowd.
Biennale curator Anita Dube, greeting the performers, said it was a good start for the brand-new Pavilion to begin as a space for ‘insurrection.
Guerilla Girls, as participating artists at the 108-day Biennale, have their works being exhibited at Aspinwall House and Cochin Club.