"Women's Work: Considering Feminist Art Through Three Recent Shows," by Natalie Hegert, Artcritical.com
What is the value of a woman’s work?
I find myself contemplating this question after spending a total of four unpaid hours learning to edit Wikipedia in the service of helping resolve its gender imbalance.
Only 13% of Wikipedia editors are women, according to a 2011 census, a statistic that prompted the Art+Feminism group to spearhead and sponsor worldwide “edit-a-thons” to encourage the creation and expansion of Wikipedia content related to women and feminism in the arts. I took part in a local chapter at Whittier College where I and a handful of students and faculty members learned best practices, notability guidelines, and how to create, edit, and cite on the world’s most-used reference website.
In four hours I managed to add one little paragraph of text to Hannah Höch’s Wikipedia page. Accounting for the learning curve and the chatter in the room, this isn’t really as inefficient as it sounds, but it did prompt me to question the value of my time and work — as a woman, and as a writer.
A month ago, in Pomona, two black-clad, gorilla-masked activists greeted an auditorium with armfuls of bananas, tossing them out to the crowd before mounting the stage and presenting a lecture/performance/artist talk on the Guerrilla Girls’ objectives and activities. One of them, using the pseudonym Käthe Kollwitz, a founding member, has devoted a career to anonymously fighting for equal representation of art by women and people of color. The anonymity here serves to “keep the focus on the issues” rather than on the personalities of those who bring the issues to the table. But, I wonder, who is it behind the mask, who has toiled for 30 years with no credit, no personal recognition for such incremental concessions to the overall state of the arts? What is the value of this work, this lifetime of work? Certainly there are speaker’s fees, which are how the Guerrilla Girls fund their activism, but meager remuneration isn’t what gives value to this work, it is simply what enables it. The value of her work, rather, could be seen in the faces of the hundreds of young women in the audience — young artists and curators, ready to embark on their careers in an environment that is steadily getting better, more inclusive, but not perfect yet. The value is in the transmission of the message, in the hopes that more people will help carry the torch, keep the tallies, and expose disparity.