Antonia Marsh travels around the world curating all-women pop-up art shows. Ahead of the first Girls Only event in Mumbai, we catch up with her.
We meet artist-curator Antonia Marsh (27) at the launch of Ministry of New (in Fort). The co-working space’s new branch is set to host the first Girls Only: India, a one-of-a-kind pop-up for female artists.
Marsh arrives looking elegant in a chic black jumpsuit paired with a green and gold jacket. Her expressive face and her fingers, which are adorned with rings and tattoos (“I seem to collect them”), catch the attention of our photographer.
The London-based curator has been living in Bandra for a month, but has been planning Girls Only: India since September over email and Skype. The one-night pop-up show will feature works by 15 contemporary Indian artists, including the likes of multidisciplinary artist Prajakta Potnis and film-maker Payal Kapadia. It spans genres like photography, performance, sculpture, film and painting. Fittingly, the venue has also been co-founded by two women.
Back in time
Marsh started Girls Only in 2014 as a reaction to the under-representation of female artists in art institutions around the world. It was founded to support women artists and give them a space to collaborate. “I was surrounded by women while studying in school, in my art history course in the University of Bristol, and my Masters in Curating at the California College of Arts, San Francisco. But when I started working in the actual art world, I noticed an imbalance. There were fewer women than men. And it didn’t make sense. I gravitated towards curating female artists, and that’s how Girls Only happened,” she says.
Girls Only started in a studio space in New York. “We rented a studio with two rooms in an old factory building in Bushwick, an art neighbourhood in Brooklyn. We invited young artists to work in the studio in an experimental residency format. After a year, we had our final exhibition of all the work produced by 12 girls,” says Marsh.
The pop-up format of the exhibition originated as a mix of interesting art practices that helped bypass the expensive process of renting galleries: “The project evolved as per what artists needed in each place. In New York, artists often don’t have enough money to rent studios. So they put up exhibitions in bars, theatres or houses, and take it down quickly. I thought of bringing this concept to the UK where space is expensive. And so, in London, we ended up doing shows in underground stations and in people’s basements. And in Copenhagen, we organised a dinner-cum-exhibition with 21 artists.”
Pop (up) goes the exhibition
The pop-up format also lets her experiment and exhibit works that conventional galleries might consider risqué. Case in point: the current exhibition includes Vidisha Fadescha’s performance art which involves prosthetic nipples and is a take on the “Naxalite Test” where officials squeeze women’s breasts to see if they don’t have breast milk (in the belief that unmarried women are Naxals). “It’s a learning experience, an experiment, and I am not afraid of failure. Life isn’t always about doing things perfectly and succeeding,” reasons Marsh.
While she considers herself a feminist, Marsh admits that Girls Only is an attempt to level the playing field. “It is about making things equal between men and women. Let’s give them time, space and a reason to work and get it out there,” she says.
After observing groups of women artists working out of a space, Marsh has made certain observations: “There is something magical in having girls working in the same space. There is no competition and there is a lot of support and cross-pollination. It’s a relaxed, productive environment.”
Girls Only has, however, in the past opened the platform to two male artists. Marsh puts it down to “inclusivity”: “No one should be denied an opportunity to exhibit — men or women — as that would reinforce the problem. That’s not something I am trying to do.”
While collectives like the Guerilla Girls also promote women artists, Girls Only is unique in that it travels around the world. Marsh is hoping that Girls Only snowballs into other movements that empower women to pursue art.
After this pop-up, the Mumbai show will travel to the UK, to show at the Cob Gallery in London. And thanks to the choice of venue — an art gallery — the exhibition will not be a pop-up but be on display for a few weeks.
Watch out for
>Becky Allen (27) from London is showing Draupadi. She travelled through Rajasthan making a drawing inspired by Draupadi’s never-ending sari.
>Shreya Dev Dube (28) from Mumbai will show a selection of black and white photographic work from the past decade, alongside a three-channel video installation of footage from Burma.
>Girl Skate India will show video and photography documenting their recent all-girl skate tour of four cities in India.
>Nishita Jha (30) from Delhi has invented a new card game, which responds to the conversation about being female. She will be teaching this game to audience members.
>Aqui Thami (26) from Mumbai has created posters in different languages addressing issues surrounding sexual harassment.
Girls Only: India takes place on April 15, 6pm to 10pm
At: Ministry of New, Kitab Mahal, Fort
Call: 6635 6505