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Sarah Maple’s Anti Rape CloakCourtesy of Sisters of Perpetual Resistance

The female activist collective haunting the art world

Self described as ‘militant art slacktivists’, the Sisters of Perpetual Resistance are creating a space for rowdy art and activism

Slightly more sinister looking than the Guerrilla Girls, there’s a female collective haunting London streets in hooded black garms. In their hoods, the Sisters of Perpetual Resistance are inspired by vintage beauty pageants in which women had to wear paper bags to accentuate their bodies, and form a women-only artistic collective dedicated to ‘the practice of joyous dissent’.

Previously, the Sisters have been elusive – keeping their identities protected. But, at present, the Sisters are doing things a little differently. Miss Pokeno, the founder, invited five emerging artists to respond to the theme ‘the art of nuisance’. According to Sarah Maple, one of the selected artists, the brief has culminated in the creation of an anti-rape cloak, a potato cannon and a toilet installation.

But, this female artistic collective isn’t just asking you to drink Champagne, simper in a selfie and smile sweetly at their creations. They don’t want you to just admire objects adorning walls, they want you really get involved in their 'programme of nuisance'. Self described as ‘militant art slacktivists’, the sisters are creating a space for rowdy art and activism. And, apparently, intergenerational feminist arm wrestles too. So, they are opening up their studio space and asking people to get involved in The Art of Nuisance by hosting a 15 day series of workshops, events and gatherings to celebrate feminist activism. To find out a bit more, we chatted to Miss Pokeno, Cristina Lina and Sarah Maple.

How did you come up with the aesthetic and name of Sisters of Perpetual Resistance?

Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina: The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance began as a  group of women dressed as nuns to storm a bio tech conference in order to create chaos and disruption. They are the manifestation of the frustration we often feel at having to wade through bureaucratic nonsense to get heard. They were resurrected in London a few years ago and now you find them everywhere. They no longer wear nuns outfits. Just hoods which were inspired by old photographs of women in beauty competitions with paper bags on their heads so you only saw their bodies. We use the hoods to reverse the power politics of the image and scare the shit out of ourselves and everyone else.

How did you find the artists you wanted to support?

Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina: It all started on a rainy day in February when Sarah Maple tweeted did anyone know any good residencies going so we invited her down to the Sisters HQ and together we made one up. We put the callout on our social networks and chose five artists with very different practices and different feminisms and asked them all to respond to work we had done previously around the idea of an ‘Instrument of Nuisance’. ‘Nuisance’ being the patronising word that male politicians used to belittle the militant suffragettes. The common thread with all the artists is humour. So we've got it all from Sarah’s ironic stab at the everyday sexism that is still at large, to hairspray powered potato cannons, to obsessive selfie apparatus. She had been working on this with her residency with the Sisters

“The world of fine art and those galleries are hyper competitive, compromising, and some would just say shit boring. We’re keen to experiment” – Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina

By and large women are kind of left out the mainstream – in both art and activism spaces – what tactics are you doing to use to bring yourselves to the forefront?

Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina: Battling to be let into the mainstream isn't one of our battles! Obviously, it's great to communicate with as many people as possible but the whole attitude of the mainstream art world and its industries and institutions just isn't where we're at or want to go. The world of fine art and those galleries are hyper competitive, compromising, and some would just say shit boring. We're keen to experiment with other ways of doing things and communicating and making art, we enjoy prowling the back streets and discovering new places to play.  

Sarah Maple: Women are often silenced and told in some way to shut up and that we’re ‘making a fuss’ or there are more important things we should be worrying about. At the moment online abuse is a huge problem when it comes to female activists, even if a female celebrity even mentions feminism they get a tirade of rape and death threats, it’s all ways to tell women to be quiet and stay in their place. We are being silenced! We’re sick of this, we want to drown all that out and be heard and on our terms.

If you see your art as a form of activism, what is the difference between an artist and activist?

Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina: For this project we wanted to blur the lines between art and activism, alongside the exhibition  we’ve got two weeks of workshops and events so its not just dead art hanging on walls but it’s something alive that is making space for activity. different people are connecting around certain issues and so we're just kind of setting the scene for anything to happen. we're not here to dictate what necessarily you know, we're just here to stir it up…

Sarah Maple: Possibly one is more narcissistic than the other, you can guess which one!

Why did you only choose women to participate? What would you say to those people that say that by only presenting female artists you are discriminating against men?

Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina: It’s great to take the opportunity to give women centre stage when we can with a gig like this, because in the mainstream, the stage is pretty dominated by masculine tendencies - or however you want to call it – and that is formative in producing a scene that is always about the individual artist, aggressive even, and this sort of linear progression thing with your work and general success and fame. this is obviously as unfortunate for many men as it sometimes isn't for all women! So it becomes about a wider politics than just feminism, but with this all women exhibition we have wanted to think more sideways about things, have some fun, focus on collaborations, co-authorships whatever really just different stuff and see where it takes us.

Sarah Maple: We would like to apologise to all the white men around the world who are dominating the art world. We are very sorry we left you out! We joke. To be fair men are a massive part of the feminist conversation, we need men to be involved, that’s why they are welcome to the show and workshops but we will be making the art, the work is about our voice.

Miss Pokeno and Cristina Lina: To be honest, we’d say to those who see it as discrimination against men, we’d also discriminate against some women as, for example, some feminists are focused on the glass ceiling in business type of inequality… but the sisters couldn't give a shit! Who cares if there's not enough women CEOs, all CEOs are dog turds!

The Art of Nuisance will run in London from 8 – 23 October, 2015. For more information, click here