Antonia Marsh’s Girls Only heads to Mumbai as it continues to create a network that connects creative women worldwide
Artist and curator Antonia Marsh has spent the last two years curating projects under Girls Only moniker that has come to be known across the globe as providing a platform and a space for women (and men – everyone’s welcome). After introducing Girls Only to cities like London, New York and Copenhagen, Marsh’s next project takes her to India to continue building a network that connects creative women worldwide. While Marsh believes that one area where Indian women have been able to express themselves radically is through art, she's also aware that the platforms for doing so haven’t always been in place.
Presenting 15 artists working in India whose creations range from photography and painting through to written word and performance, her latest project will launch in Mumbai this Friday 15 April at Ministry of New, a brand new collaborative work-space for young creatives. Ahead of the opening, we caught up with the London-born curator to talk about the challenges of working in a new cultural setting and why she felt compelled to take Girls Only to India.
How did the idea come about to go to India?
Antonia Marsh: One of the photographers who was involved in Girls Only: Copenhagen, Sarah Hoilund, spends a lot of time here and she had the idea. She convinced me that there was nothing like Girls Only out here and people would really benefit from it. It takes knowing one person in a place to begin generating a network. Sarah knew a photographer, who knew a printer, who knows a framer... and so on. It’s been a bit of a wild goose chase but we are slowly getting there!
What was the draw to India for you on a personal level?
Antonia Marsh: I’ve never been to India before so the idea of coming to a new place and exploring and understanding how artists are working out here definitely played a part. I love an adventure and I had just gone through a difficult period in my personal life so rather than stewing at home I decided that taking myself out of my comfort zone would be much more cathartic and healing than anything else. It’s been a lot of work throwing myself in at the deep end here, but it’s been more than worth it.
“It’s awesome to work somewhere that a project like this can have an effect, or even just spark some thoughts and plant some mental seeds” – Antonia Marsh
Is it important to have a project like this in a society like India, which is often seen as dominated by men?
Antonia Marsh: I don’t want to pass judgement on Girls Only being important out here because that’s up to the artists and the audience – that’s not my responsibility, nor is it necessarily productive. However, Girls Only is a project that affords me, as well as those involved, the opportunity of learning from the place we are in. A lot more of the work is centred around ideas and issues that confront women in society, from harrowing invasive physical tests, to harassment in public space, accepted division between the sexes on public transport, the lives of a battalion of female soldiers on the borders with Pakistan... it’s awesome to work somewhere that a project like this can have an effect, or even just spark some thoughts and plant some mental seeds. When in London it was starting to feel just like a curatorial gesture and like it was lacking much substance.
How different is it curating a show in India compared to your previous ones in New York, London or Copenhagen?
Antonia Marsh: Very different in some ways but the conversations I’ve had with young women in the arts have been surprisingly similar. Everyone involved has been fantastically receptive and supportive. No egos here. I guess curating a show where I have zero infrastructure can be a struggle – whether practical, so framers, art handlers, everything down to ice and buckets for the opening – or personal, so friends and family. But I’ve made both – you have to. Things work differently here and you have to just adapt and not fuss about it otherwise you won’t get the most out of the experience.
Tell us what you’ve been doing while you’ve been there so far?
Antonia Marsh: Meeting artists, doing studio visits, trying to soak in as much of the culture as I have time for... I took a cheeky little trip to Goa to spend a few days by the beach. Since then I’ve been rushing around getting the show together.
What’s the response been like in India?
Antonia Marsh: Much, much stronger. The interest on social media alone has been phenomenal: there are close to 1,000 people attending on Facebook, which is total madness for an exhibition. The press response has been astounding too. On a personal level, everyone we have invited to participate has said yes, which is really encouraging, and everyone we have told about the show seems to think it’s a great initiative and are buzzing to come.
“Everyone told me before I came that India would put things in perspective for me, and there’s no doubt that’s been the case” – Antonia Marsh
Were the art/images all curated from artists you found in India too?
Antonia Marsh: Out of the 15 artists in the show, yes all are from India bar two from London who travelled out here to do roaming residencies with us. They are affiliated with Cob Gallery in London who will host all the work from the show this summer, once I manage to get it back over there!
What have you learnt from working in India, has it changed your perceptions on your work or inspired you in some way?
Antonia Marsh: Absolutely - everyone told me before I came that India would put things in perspective for me, and there’s no doubt that’s been the case.
What’s next for Girls Only Worldwide?
Antonia Marsh: Back to London! I can’t wait to show all this great work off and then we shall see...