fannies, feminism and why girls rule the world with girls only

The brainchild of coral-haired beauty Antonia Marsh, Girls Only is a studio residency programme, curatorial body, gallery and event space, aimed at supporting the work of female artists and creatives in London and New York.

by Tish Weinstock
Sep 15 2014, 2:20pm

Emily Scarlett Romain

Putting the grrrl in girl power - sorry no boys allowed - last week this group of bright young things transformed one of the empty units in Old Street Underground Station into a temporary exhibition space. Featuring the work of 12 female artists including Shrimps' Hannah Weiland and photographer Bella Howard, the space was a shrine to girlhood, friendship, and great art. We caught up with Antonia to talk about fannies, feminism, and why girls rule the world.

Where did the idea for a girls only collective come from?
I have always been surrounded by creative and talented women, but when I worked in the art world I was either always working for men, or the institution I worked for was predominantly controlled by males, and this disproportion was reflected in the artists that were being exhibited. I just wanted to create a space where more opportunities for female artists could be made, and where we could hang out and talk about art. 

How did you find the 12 Girls Only LDN artists and what was it about them that struck you?
Some of the artists I have known for years, others I met only recently, either through introductions from other artists, through work or just out and about. I have close personal relationships with all of them, and I hope this comes through in the show. We have a real strong community we're building between us, where we support each other artistically as well as emotionally, or just hang out and have a goss. It's great.  

Why did you choose to leave curatorial control with each artist as opposed to establishing a typical central theme? 
From talking with artists or just friends who haven't been to art school, or have much contact with the contemporary art world, I've come to learn that it's pretty inaccessible and unapproachable. It's often an exclusive and hermetic environment, and I think part of this is due to a lot of curatorial over thinking. Sometimes art needs to just be art and not try and exist as some sort of greater whole that is imposed by a curator and is impossible to understand without reading an entire book or essay about it. I guess the concept of girls only itself functions as the curatorial methodology.  

How do Girls Only NYC and Girls Only LDN differ in terms of the work shown? Is there something inherently New York or LDN about each set of artists?
Well there is some crossover... three of the girls who did residencies in NYC were in the show here. But yeah there are definitely differences, but I think that's partly because of the difference in temporality between the two projects. Like I said this show went up basically overnight, whereas in NYC most of the residencies lasted about a month so they had a lot more time to make new works. They also had a big studio to work in so there was a lot more sculpture. But visually I don't think anything sticks out, it's all great and totally individual!

Who is the quintessential Girls Only girl?
Kathleen Hanna! Such a goddess. 

Will there be room for boys in the future?
This is actually something I've been thinking about a lot recently. A major priority for girls only is maintaining inclusivity and it's definitely not a man-hate project, far from it, we love boys! It's just a case of figuring it out, but like I said, I still believe there aren't enough opportunities for female artists in either NYC or London, so I think for now I'm gonna stick with working with my chicas.  

What was the idea behind the Girls Only t-shirts?
The t-shirt project began as a merch idea just for fun, for each of the artists that took part in the residency program in NYC. But I think it's come to mean much more. Whether to give to friends for free, or visitors to the space who bring me a t shirt to paint for them - which I always do as a thank you for taking the time to visit us - they have come to represent inclusivity more generally. The most exciting iteration they existed as was when I posted a PO box address in NYC online with the instructions that if anyone would like a t shirt, all they have to do is send one to me plus postage and packaging and I would send it painted back to them for free as a little mail art exchange project. They also sent little presents. These I made into an installation for the show in the states and it was a really magical little shrine to girlhood and girl love to behold.   

There seems to be a trend in art/photography at the moment whereby tropes of girlishness - the colour pink, lipstick emojis, 90s ephemera etc - are being juxtaposed with images of hairy armpits, vaginas, tampons, and other ''taboo'' things which go against society's idealised notion of Woman - do you that this is authentically feminist or is it just something designed to provoke shock?
Get your fanny out if you want, of course, I do sometimes... but I don't want to pass judgement on whether that kind of art is authentically feminist or not, because that itself, wouldn't be feminist. I'm not the artist so I don't know. At least shock tactics get people talking about stuff though.  

Do you think that there is a danger of feminist art becoming 'trendy' thanks to things like social media and the growing demand for celebrity artists?
This is a two-sided coin. Of course trends can fall out of favour just as quickly as they become fashionable, and this could be dangerous if feminism becomes "trendy..." But equally I don't think feminism can be a trend because it has a lot of depth to it. There's always more to discover, it has its own entire history and variety of thinking which something like nu-rave or whatever doesn't have. You don't just buy your skinny jeans and that's it, there's much more to it. 

Which girls did you idolise growing up?
The Spice Girls… and my big sister. I wanna say someone a bit more badass but I can't think.  

What's good about being young and female today?

What's next for Girls Only? 
I'm popping back to NYC for a couple of months, I wanna check in on the girls, and think about bringing their work to London for another show in the winter. It would be nice to have some more crossovers, and I am looking for a space in London at the moment where we can have some artists in residence and a gallery more permanently. Ready for 2015!


Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Emily Scarlett Romain

New York
Tish Weinstock
Antonia Marsh
Girls Only
emily scarlett romain