Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Guerilla Girls, Irish Art, and the Age of Aquarius...

I was at a very thought-provoking, and indeed incendiary talk by the "Guerilla Girls" ( out at Theatre M in UCD last night. As well as the two "Guerillas", wearing, yes, Guerilla heads (must be hard to breathe in there, let alone talk!) other panelists included Irish Art expert Catherine Marshall and the inimitable journalist Susan McKay. (We were honoured to have Susan involved in "South Africa Week" at the Helix, which I co-curated a few moons ago - who's counting?). The Guerillas had compiled some pretty shocking statistics about the paltry representation of women in our national Art collections, in the management of these institutions (I'll get them and quote them later), and the one stat I can recall (it obviously made a big impression on me), is that while women make up 70% of Humanities students, they only comprise 10% of faculty. Go figure! Eloquent statistics, indeed. What's more (how well I know this), women artists are barely even recorded in our archives - here are a few I know of personally: Erina Brady, June Fryer, Ninette de Valois, Doreen Cuthbert... Catherine Morris, who is reclaiming the lost history of Alice Milligan (watch this space in National Library of Ireland next year), was also there, pointing out how challenging it is to document these lost women artists. Archiving and reclaiming their stories and work is like an exercise in extreme lateral thinking, as they don't exist in any official archive.
So does this mean that in official history, they are "personae non grata"? In my experience, finding these invisible histories can start with a letter to The Irish Times, 90 phone-calls, and then take you into living rooms around Dublin and fading old family photograph collections. What does that say about how this state values and archives women's art? I bet there are no photographs of WB Yeats lost in family photo albums. Oh no. That's "le patrimoine". But what about "la Matrimoine"???
Susan McKay, as part of National Women's Council has initiated a "Spot the Woman" campaign to highlight any inequities that may exist here in all areas of work (not just the Arts). Thought feminism was an outmoded, outdated concept? Apparently not! Guerilla Girls are at University of Ulster, and the opening of their new Guerrilla Girls project about art in Ireland, opens at Millenium Court Arts Centre, Portadown, Northern Ireland this Friday. Go guerillas!

Check this link for the statistical, unemotional, objective facts I mentioned:

Well all I can say is "roll on the age of Aquarius" as described by Marie, in a wonderful and yes, enlightened blog comment, below (thanks Marie!).

Marie's Great Comment to the previous blog:

"It's the dawning of the age of Aquarius - like that old song from "Hair"- we are increasingly measuring the success of our society by women's standards. In other words, how happy and creative and communicative we are as a society is a more meaningful measurement than that old macho bugbear, Gross Domestic Product! Our government is failing to value the things that really mean something to us - health, education, the arts - and instead is focused on all those competitive macho indicators like who has the most money, cars, property, and face-time with other competitors to strut like cockerels at Davos and the rest. Perhaps the arts will be more inventive and effective in communicating these kinds of protests to a larger audience than those weaker people lying in the neglected hospitals of this country! Keep it up, Deirdre! End of rant. :-P"

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