The underrepresented female masses are making a movement, and exhibitions like GRRRL POWER – whose aim was to make space for women’s art in Liverpool – are where they’re finding a platform. It is important to point out how popular the call-to-action ‘Women: where do you find yourself in the arts’ is in making this event a huge success, as the exhibition reports, through various works, how overlooked female creatives are compared to their male counterparts.
Michelle Houlston, an organiser of the event and a contributing Flash Fiction writer, says: “I didn’t see myself creatively for a long time, but I am starting to, in a serious way. I belong here and I need to believe that.”
Exhibited artist Ria Fell delineates the gender imbalance by including statistics in her drawing and print pieces; for example, the sale price of the most expensive artworks sold at auction in 2015 by a living male in comparison to a living female artist (Gerhard Richter’s work sold for £30,389,000 while his female counterpart Cady Nolan’s piece sold for £6,172,110). Ria Fell’s collection also makes the defining statement of the exhibition: “The question of women’s equality – in art as in any other realm – devolves […] on the very nature of our institutional structures themselves and the view of reality which they impose on the human beings who are part of them.”
This analysis of culture well defines the spirit of the exhibition, as well as the spaces and workshops that have been created for specific groups of women for the duration of the show. Queen Of The Track is a collective of women who produce a zine, and are beginning to develop larger art experiments. At Constellations their workshop focuses on identifying how a patriarchal society holds women accountable for female behaviour that refuses to be haunted by the ‘patriarchal ghost’. Similar to the ‘Cinderella complex’, the patriarchal ghost is a subconscious imprint that women perform; it is the behavioural blueprint that favours male satisfaction and power over impulse or personal preference.
One of the speakers, Fliss Mitchell, discusses using behaviour shifts as a way of being an everyday activist for women. This includes not saying ‘sorry’ for taking control or being assertive – something that is often misread as ‘threatening’. Fliss also discusses not taking responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of adult males (particularly in work scenarios). The role of the emotional caretaker is culturally engrained but not appropriate in pressured environments such as work.
These themes are well related to the impact of the art on display. Margie Houlston’s digitals sketches for Leg Room are exhibited in the men’s toilets at Constellations. They depict men sitting in a ‘ladylike’ fashion (legs crossed, posture inward), and women sitting in between them in more ‘masculine’ poses (arms crossed and legs spread wide). The placement of the sketches, next to some urinals, is intended to cause social situations at Constellations where urinating men ask visitors to the exhibition: ‘What are you doing in here? Am I in the wrong place?’ The idea being that a role reversal takes place: ‘male space’ becomes occupied and intruded upon by women. Social standards, ritual and the power balance are thrown into flux in the same way that women’s potential, comfort and way-of-being is threatened in spaces that are culturally owned by the physicality, and physical desire of the opposite sex.
Ren Aldridge’s work maps out sites of street harassment in Liverpool. Visitors are invited to write about and map incidents in which their safety had been threatened, or in which they felt intimidated by catcalling or unwanted and inappropriate attention. This sparks conversation, debate and camaraderie amongst the female visitors.
The Grrrl Power of the cohort of artists is fuelled by a group of women who have become allies. It is an act of activism to love other women. It is possible to create a cultural shift with this type of unity in which women do not divide themselves because they recognise each other as competition (and a potential threat) with fear-based questions such as: ‘Is she pretty?’ Refusing to bring down another woman and her life choices is an act of activism. To experience this exhibition was to be at the beginning of a new wave, and the continuation of a sea change. We would strongly encourage all women to find their Grrrl Gang and create some space; they are out there.