Me Too Movement: What Next?

Me Too Movement: What Next?

Premjish Achari

Guerrilla Girls

Guerrilla Girls - V&A Museum, London

The “Me Too” movement, especially in the art world, was an eye opener about the existing male dominance which had not only created an unequal power structure but also an unsafe working environment for female artists. Instead of accepting it as a moment of introspection and deliberate on the discriminatory nature of the art world the general reactions were about gaslighting the women who raised their voices about the harassment and the violence. This was symptomatic of how the art world had normalised patriarchy and the unequal-unsafe working relations for women. Post the movement and the complaints there were no systematised attempts to curtail this violence. This article attempts to explore some of the key concerns raised during the movement and articulate it through the works and theoretical insights of important feminist artists and scholars. What is alarming post-me too movement is the fact that Indian art is still complacent about the violence and instead of addressing the crisis we have collectively failed the survivors. Instead of building networks of solidarity, safe and just institutions, we have resorted to the old ways of settling the perpetrators. History had given us an incredible opportunity to redeem the art world from its own sins, nevertheless the art fraternity has decided to shy away from the radical possibility of creating a fair world.

Griselda Pollock. Courtesy: Montserrat Boix and Wikipedia

Griselda Pollock. Courtesy: Montserrat Boix and Wikipedia

In the 1980s the feminist artists group Guerrilla Girls, emerged with some shocking facts about the male dominance of the art world. They were not only able to expose the subjugated position of female body in Western art but also supplicate it with statistical data to prove that the art world pays its female artists less and also gives them least importance in exhibitions compared to their male peers. As much as these findings were shocking for the general public they were also inspirational to create alternative spaces which rectified these mistakes. The conditions of the museum and art field exposed by them enabled many female artists and the younger generation to subvert or break out of regressive institutional frameworks.

Andrea Fraser

Andrea Fraser. Courtesy MACBA Museu d'Art de Barcelona and Wikipedia Contemporani

Many of the feminist artists embarked on the mission to fight this oppression by donning multiple roles such as of the curator, art organiser, collaborator, art historian and art critic. Andrea Fraser’s performances strongly critiqued the politics and histories of the art institutions. They were infused with satire, ridicule, and humour to backlash against the oppressive institutional structures. Her collaborative performance troupe with Jessica Chalmers, Marianne Weems, Erin Cramer, and Martha Baer titled as “The V-Girls”. They performed three important satirical lecture presentations “Academia in the Alps: In Search of Swiss Mis(s)” (1988–92), “Manet’s Olympia” (1989–92), and “Daughters of the ReVolution” (1995), attacked male egotism and critical theory, by drawing inspiration from deconstructionist, psychoanalytic, post-structuralist, and feminist theories. These feminist artists groups and individuals were not only able to expose the economic and patriarchal nature of the art institutions but also laid bare its interconnectedness with the everyday life. The academic and theoretical backing for these significant projects were done by Griselda Pollock, Lucy Lippard, Arlene Raven, Gisela Ecker, etc. From the 70s onwards we were able to witness the emergence of radical feminist journals such as “The Feminist Art Journal”, “Heresies”, “n.paradoxa”, etc. Criticality was deployed as an important strategy to ruthlessly dispel the existing hierarchies. These artists and scholars together resisted any form of institutionalisation and governmentality. It is in the same spirit that Michel Foucault’s studies on power structures and knowledge, especially in relation to how assumptions are constituted becomes relevant. These institutional critiques identified themselves with a perpetual question about how not to be governed as reflected by Foucault, ‘‘how not be governed like that, by that, in the name of those principles, with such and such an objective in mind and by means of such procedures, not like that, not for that, not by them.”

Critique and criticality was upheld as an important strategy since the 60s to challenge all forms of oppression. Nevertheless, when we reflect upon our times and examine the trajectory of Indian art itself post 1990s, one could clearly see the turn towards post-critical attitude. Contemporary Indian art scene post liberalisation, boosted by the market, has only created a place of exclusion. Allied with the global capitalist logic of objectifying sex and enabling commodification the art world too moved away from an active engagement with the social realities of our times. One could definitely see a reference as there are numerous artists who deal with gender, caste and class discrimination but most of them do not do more than scratching the surface. The trivialisation and ridiculing of the Me Too movement which we have seen has been an outcome of this superficial engagement with discriminatory structures. The Me Too moment in Indian art scene was our own institutional critique but we failed to recognise it as one.

Scene and Herd

Scene and Herd is an anonymous platform on instagram which has played an important role in publicly sharing gruesome instances of sexual harassment. 

What the art fraternity needs to immediately do is to recognise that the discrimination exists and this has to be addressed immediately. As a community we need to ensure dignified working spaces and equal payment structures. History rarely offers us radical moments, and we have to sincerely seize the opportunity to undo all forms of injustice. This year we may all collectively pledge to rethink the power structures we have created in our own spaces, and come together to de-institutionalise these structures. Discriminations pertaining to gender and caste which are manifested in payment structures, pricing of works, behavioural patterns, etc. needs to be dispelled.

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