Unyielding power to demand change will be the ultimate goal to create a new order and balance in the arts: An interview with Mira Silvers

Mira Silvers is a Montreal-based artist and curator committed to creating opportunity for women in the arts. Influenced by street art, illustration, graffiti, graphic design, urban life, pop culture, music, and tattoos, she is also part of an emerging creative studio who come together to challenge and revolutionize the upcoming generations of creative individuals.

When was Sugar 4 Brains founded and what is your main objective?

Around 2013. It was originally created so that I could give free street art tours. After experiencing my fair share of endless rows of closing doors. I eventually expanded the mandate to provide a creative space for a new generation of artists and creators. Essentially, it was to remove the “industry standard” requirements and biases.

 What was the main inspiration behind Woman X Women?

What prompted me to organize and curate Woman x Women?…Well, I would not really describe it as inspiration, but more like a reactionary gut response. In 2014, I was invited to participate in Spectrum: Street Art Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand. Another artist and I had created a wheatpaste during the summer and by the winter somehow one of the organizers of Spectrum caught wind of our work in Montreal. Blinded by our excitement that someone saw our work, when in Montreal we had slipped under the radar, we accepted to do the festival and sent our piece to New Zealand.
 
In email correspondences with the event organizers, I got a list of the festival’s headlining artists. Reading over the list, I noticed that there was only one woman in the lineup. I thought it was strange. I was really surprised, knowing many women who are street artists or muralists, that they only managed to muster one candidate. That seemed so odd to me.
 
In further investigations, I discovered that this was not a recent anomaly in the arts, or anywhere else for that matter. Female artists are poorly represented as a whole, with women of colour taking up an even smaller portion of the art world. In my research, I found the Guerrilla Girls and I was completely taken with the work they have done. They were protesting all kinds of unjust things both in and out of the art world.
 
Historically marginalized by museums and galleries, female artists still only make up a very small percentage of exhibition lineups and solo shows. In 1989, the Guerrilla Girls created a viral campaign to highlight the lack of representation of female artists in the Modern Art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Fast forward to 31 years and there still has not been much change to rectify this divide. I wish I could explain how discouraged I felt. I shook… to my core. Every atom in my body was screaming, I knew I had to do something, even if it was small.
 

naked-2                                                                                By Guerrilla Girls, 1989 

 

                                                                                                                         last-last                                                                                       By Guerrilla Girls, 2012

 

 What was the biggest challenge in curating an exhibition like Woman X Women?

A few days after launching the event on Facebook in January, I was contacted by the venue, which was to be a single wall of the lobby in a small independent theater. The venue was pulling out of the show because they could not handle a capacity of 800 people who clicked attending on the event. I was shocked to see that over the week that number grew rapidly to about 2K people. Venueless, I had to find a large enough space to handle that many people.
I am not exactly your traditional curator. I don’t have a formal degree in curatorial practice or an art history diploma that certifies my self-taught knowledge. So, when I contacted museums and galleries, they firmly shut their doors —- it was little hard to take.
 
In addition to that, I started reaching out to professors of Art History at local Montreal universities to get a better understanding on representation of women in art, both as the subject and as an artist. Some were willing to sit down and have a quick conversation. But I needed more, so I starting researching on my own. It was then that I found the work of the Guerilla Girls.
 
The more research I kept doing, the more I found discussions and debates between women about whether they should be labeled as an artist or female artist. Then there were papers on what or who did “female artists” refer to — I was worried that my show may been inherently exclusionary because gender is not binary. It was overwhelming to sort through the information in 6 months, during which I began to doubt whether I was doing the “right” type of exhibition.
 
I talked to some artists in the exhibition to get their opinion on the matter. Many had voiced that having an exhibition featuring female artists cannot be considered exclusionary because women are already underrepresented the art world and beyond. Some of the artists did say that they would like to be known simply as an artist rather than their work being judged based on their gender; they did not want viewers to see it as “female art” or “art by women.” Instead it should be seen simply as art. Everyone had valid points that I agreed with.
 
After going through numerous tribulations, I concluded that in an absolute fair world, being regarded simply as an artist would be enough. But the research and numbers that the Guerilla Girls put out was too compelling to ignore. After weeks of struggling, I simply just let it all go and went with my gut.
 
After the show finally took place, the most challenging thing was to hear, especially from respected male artists, that the show was great, but I was not really making any forward progressions. One guy told me that I should have made a show that was more gender neutral and based only on the quality of the art, reiterating that I should have invited male artists as well.
 
It was hard to hear that because I wondered how many people thought the same. I was concerned that maybe the message of the exhibition was entirely missed. I did not know what to think. But I do think it is so weird that when a “traditional” exhibition takes place, not many people comment on the lack of female artists. Most exhibitions show less than 10 – 20% of female artists and hardly anyone makes note of this — whether it be other artists, art critics, curators, buyers, viewers, etc. But as soon as there is an all-female lineup of artists displaying their works, suddenly the exhibition is exclusionary, not-forward thinking, unbalanced, and with a whole slew of other negative words.

 

11700749_743172769138268_5277074858776950135_o                                                                              Art by Sandra Chevrier 

Do you believe that progress in redressing the under­representation of women in the artworld has been slow?

Yes, progress has been incredibly slow. Again, the work that the Guerilla Girls have been doing spans over 31 years and even with such a powerful and consistent voice in the community — still not enough has been done to really propel women in the arts. Other women, curators and artists alike, fall into line with traditional models in order to appeal to the buyer’s market. 
 
I fear the need of systemic institutional thinking sometimes narrows the possibilities for other voices to be heard because it does not fit the norm or within the traditional parameters. But, I think now is the time to break these norms.


11885665_743173152471563_5752869485797994905_o-1                                                                                       Art by Hannah Yata

 What do you think needs to be done in order to have balance in the arts?

I am not sure I have an answer. But, for myself, I hope to continue to bring shows like this to cities around the world – that’s the dream. To continue to search for artists (not just established ones or popular ones) and help propel them forward the best that I can.

Sometimes it feels like I am one individual with little clout. But when I look hard enough, I can see that there many individual voices out there, all protesting in their own way. Uniting those voices to create an unyielding power to demand change will be the ultimate goal to create a new order and balance in the arts and other industries.

The powers that be really need to start hearing the upcoming generation of voices.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with SPECTRUM in New Zealand, the only Canadian Street art group invited to participate. What was that like?

It was cool that something we had done in Montreal, which no one here saw, was noticed from a festival all the way in New Zealand. This is when the power of social media really surprises you. We could not afford the trip to New Zealand, so we sent all of our art from Montreal via post. And then someone there installed it for us.
But knowing our art landed in New Zealand was pretty wicked awesome!
 

In your opinion, what’s been the greatest positive change in urban arts due to the Internet?

I think it has been the ease at which artists, even anonymous ones, can be in direct contact to their patrons and audiences ­ and vice versa. Collaborations between artists from different ends of the world is cool. We have so many technologies available to us to connect, talk, and collaborate on. Digitization has expanded the network to the entire world, not just our own backyard. Also, being able to see works from other artists or exhibitions online is pretty cool. Whether established or not, artists can start sharing their work immediately. The gatekeepers of dispersing art has lessened, and yet not everyone has the means to travel the world to see every show, but you can see it online!

You’ve worked with such a diverse group of artists. Are there any particular artists you’d like to work with in the future?

That’s a hard question to answer, there are so many people I have in my mind. This past Spring, I discovered French artist Guillaume Marmin. There are just so many people I want to work with. So, off the top of my head, people I have not yet worked with that I would like to are….Hueman, Lauren YS, Ron English, So Youn Lee, Hikari Shimoda, Björk, Yayoi Kusama, Corey Bulpitt, Hatecopy, Chloe Wise, Miss Van, Swoon, Faith47, Maya Hayuk, 123Klan, Cleon Peterson, Kaws, Demsky, Christina Angelina — oh I could go on forever.

I have been trying to get up the courage to contact two curators that I would love to work with. The first is Caro — the owner at Sweet Streets LA & editor at Hi-Fructose. The second is Yasha Young at Urban Nation in Berlin. If I could somehow work with these women that would be a dream come true.

Will there be another Woman X Women exhibition for 2016?

I am not sure yet, but definitely hoping for 2017. Finding collaborators, sponsors, and grants has been a challenge. I hope to be ready for 2017.

What projects are you working on now?

Recently, I helped a new group of artists get their first mural done in Montreal. There are some other projects in the pipeline, but I have to stay mum on them for the moment. As soon as things solidify, I will be able to share my excitement with everyone 😉

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