Kochi: The Guerilla Girls had sent a questionnaire to 383 art museums across Europe to collate data on female representation in the continent’s cultural repositories. This was around two years ago. The responses they received were appalling.

As many as 282 of the addressees never bothered to respond. Meanwhile, of the two among the 101 museums that did reply, it turned out that only two had women representation of at least 40 per cent when it came to the exhibits on display.

Two members of the Guerilla Girls group who performed at a show organized at the Kochi Muziris Biennale Pavilion in Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi, revealed this with sarcasm as they shared their views on the topic.

In their 90-minute session at the ongoing Biennale, the pair, dressed in black and wearing gorilla masks of the same colour, reeled out several historical instances of sexism and misuse of power that continue to plague the field of art across the world. Standing on two sides of a mini-screen that substantiated their findings and intermittently played 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 at the Pavilion.

In the East, for instance, Hong Kong art schools had women students totaling 82 per cent, yet the gender equations stood skewed when it comes to clout and presence in the field. Discrimination against women in the field of culture is 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 sexism, delving into the theme with a trademark streak of wry humour.

According to them, art museums have grown to profile histories of wealth, not art. Moneyed men who wield immense power decide 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.

Soon after their show, a kilometre away, Anand Warehouse, another Biennale venue not far from Cabral Yard, hosted a 30-minute performance by Pangrok Sulap, another participant at the festival, which ends on March 29 next year.

In the evening at Biennale Pavilion, founders of The Otolith Group, Kodwo Eshun and  Anjalika Sagar, alongwith Indonesian painter-sculptor Heri Dono addressed a ‘Let’s Talk’ session anchored by curator Anita Dube.

By Manoj

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