Friday 5 September 2014

journal | I'll be your mirror

by Samantha Yap
Centre for Contemporary Art, Gillman Barracks

Having worked in Gillman Barracks for close to seven months, at both CCA and Silverlens, it has become the landscape of my quotidian traffic. The silence of a bustling arts enclave, the people who inhabit this microcosm and the many women who actively try to make this place work – these are all part of my collective understanding and definition of the enclave.

One prominent characteristic across the complex is its decidedly strong female presence, an observation further reinforced through my internship at CCA. It led to my eventual rumination over the topic of female representation in the art world and more specifically, within Gillman Barracks itself.

Looking at representation in Gillman Barracks through a gendered perspective was something prompted by my one-month immersion with CCA. As an integral part of Gillman Barracks, it is interesting to note that CCA’s team possesses a very strong female representation. Curiously, this representation also extends (be it consciously or subconsciously) itself to exhibitions like Theatrical Fields and Paradise Lost.

Paradise Lost, which dwelled on themes of displacement, travel and personal narratives and histories, featured three female artists – Trinh T. Minh-ha, Fiona Tan and Zarina Bhimji.  The curatorial approach made no pointed emphasis towards the fact that the artists were all female. Neither were there attempts to pursue feminist tangents. Both of which are not usually common with group shows featuring female artists. Personally, I saw Paradise Lost as a beautiful subversion of androcentric approaches to culture and history.

It makes for interesting case study material, particularly in the reading and consideration of curatorial processes and exhibition-making through a gendered lens. Echoing the sentiments of “by women for women”, I wonder, does the gender of the curator and/or director have any effect in the representation of female artists in their exhibitions or artist rosters? Such a parallel may seem arbitrarily made and lacking in cogent arguments, but I want to consider it, even just for a little while. If the answer is yes, then is it sympathy? Or is it visibility? We choose who we want to see, and as females, we readily see other females too.

The fact that there are more females than males here in Gillman Barracks is not difficult to see. It could even appear as though female representation in the microcosm of Gillman Barracks is not something to worry about, far from being in dire straits. But, I would like to also cogitate on representation in an expanded sense, as something dynamic that stretches beyond mere presence.

When I speak of representation, I am thinking of presence and action, I am thinking, is our art world diverse and inclusive enough? Is it amplifying voices and strengthening the presence of those who have already been consistently in the fore? I realize I am trying (or aspiring) to deconstruct a paradigm in order to see what are the walls of barrier and powers at play. Perhaps, very simply, what I am doing is to understand what it means to be a woman (working with)in Gillman Barracks. And as a woman in Gillman Barracks, you are likely a gallery assistant or manager.

There is some talk about representation in the art world and its imbalances and inequity. The Gallery Tally, a project by Mico Hibron that looks at female representation in artist rosters, is one great precedent. The results are disappointing, the excuses even more so. The discourse about (under)representation on the Internet have mostly originated from the perspective of artists. But we should also consider gender representation amongst gallerists, gallery managers and curators, all of whom also hold an inevitable stake in the art world and the career of artists. How is the gender representation there reflective of the art world and how does it bleed into the prospects and careers of artists?

Even if the galleries within Gillman Barracks seem to balance themselves quite nicely on the scales of gender representation, there is still much more that can be read into and considered. There are still many more insidious factors at play. For instance, a certain pattern that pops up quite frequently – the dichotomy and/or relationship between male directors and gallerists and female gallery managers and assistants.  A dichotomy that reinstates the hierarchal structure of galleries, where decision making is its strongest and most absolute at the top of the pyramid.

There is female representation. There is presence, but how much does presence mean? There are not much resources that I could reference apart than the raw unattested data that lies before me.

The editors of London Review of Books declare, “Counting is a feminist weapon.

I look at the Guerrilla Girls and The Gallery Tally and I think, I have been counting for years. Furiously tabulating. It is an instinct I have developed to counter blindness. I will always choose to see. The furious counting is my furious looking, it is me realizing and remembering those who have been conveniently forgotten and conveniently overlooked. 

What is the point of this reflection? I bared no results, no percentages, just a thought piece. I ranted, rambled. Maybe, the point is to point. To make you see. Look to the direction of what has been easily obfuscated.

Talking about this little project of mine with people has so far been both aggravating and rewarding. I will embark on this (eventually). And I will keep counting.  

Any souls angry and concerned enough to go down the deep gendered end with me?



Women and book reviews / Viv Groskop. (n.d.). Retrieved September 1, 2014, from

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