Do it (her)self

curator: Zuzanna Dzwonkowska
opening: Friday, November 16, 6 p.m.
Novemver 16, 2018 till December 2, 2018
gallery open: Thursday–Sunday, 5 p.m.–8 p.m.

In 1990, when Sheila Levrant de Bretteville held the position of head of the graphic design department at Yale University, Paul Rand, one of the swiss style fathers associated with the University from the 1950s, resigned as a lecturer. He was afraid that the curriculum, which had been adhering to modernist traditions for years, with a new directorate would be falling. A moment later, his article Confusion and Chaos: The Seduction of Contemporary Graphic Design was published in “Journal of Graphic Design”, one of the major magazines devoted to applied graphics, in which he fumbled designers involved in deconstruction and activism, recognizing their views as heresy. It so happens that the key figures contributing to these trends were women – Katherine McCoy and Sheila Levrant de Bretteville.

This coincidence – as it is hard to suspect that Rand, resigning from his position, had anything to blame for women – also has a positive aspect. Women began to co-create the history of design, occupy the highest positions in the workplace and effectively disarm the dominant order. It does not matter if it was done by questioning modernism sanctioned by various institutions, presenting different positions in relation to the design mission, or using graphics in the fight for a better reality. However the presence of women in the history of graphic design is still not obvious, and studies devoted to design often overlook their achievements.

At the Do it (her)self exhibition, we look at graphic design in a specific perspective. We present works related to feminist activism or arising in the orbit of its influence. The exhibition is also a story about feminist media, such as magazines and zines, which gave women the opportunity to communicate with the world on their own terms. The title of the exhibition is a paraphrase of the English-language term DIY (Do it yourself), which in the most general sense refers to the idea of objects production without professional support. On another level, it can be also understood as an incentive to take matters into your own hands and above all – an objection. To law, social norms or various forms of discrimination.

Even the activities of the suffragettes were accompanied by posters, banners and leaflets that were created in such gatherings as Artists’ Suffrage League and Suffrage Atelier. The real flourishing of organizations, for which broadly defined graphics was an important means of expression, falls in the West on the second wave of feminism. In this context, we present achievements such as See Red Women’s Workshop in London and a selection of feminist magazines, including “MS Magazine”, “Emma” and “Heresies”. Bringing the graphic design of the 1970s to the forefront, we pay particular attention to the figure of Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, who at California Institute of the Arts created first female design program in the United States, alongside Judy Chicago and Arlene Raven founded The Women’s Building in Los Angeles and is still actively working for equality women in the design industry. We also show The New Woman’s Survival Catalog (1973) edited by Kirsten Grimstad and Susan Renie, who summarized various initiatives created by women and activists: from organizations related to the protection of women’s rights, through those related to art, schools, hospitals and places of childcare.

We show the 1990s through the lens of the Riot Grrrl movement as well as the activities of radical feminist collectives – Fierce Pussy and Sister Serpents. Expressive, almost punk aesthetics enriched with the ironic use of the language of advertising, has become an inspiration for artists such as Barbara Kruger and Guerilla Girls. An interesting phenomenon in the context of the 1990s is the birth of cyberfeminism, exploring issues of the body and identity of women in connection with the rapidly growing digital technology. At this point, we recall the Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st century by Australian group VNS Matrix. We also do not forget about the typography experiments, pointing to the Pussy Gallore typeface, created by the Women’s Design + Research Unit collective for the “Fuse” magazine, to provoke discussion about the presence of women in the design industry and visualize the way the language can be used for and against women.

Contemporary graphic design related to women’s activism does not lose its critical edge. It is accompanied by a large variety, also understood in the geographical sense. Here we are turning a little further – towards Marocco and Saudi Arabia, to see how the graphic design comments on the situation of women in Arab-Muslim countries. We also show posters and magazines dedicated to women representing ethnic minorities in a globalized world – “OOMK Magazine”, “Burnt Roti” and a work from the series Living as an Asian Girl by Australian designer Joy Li.

The duration of our exhibition coincides with the hundredth anniversary of granting voting rights to Polish women, which we show in the context of the works of Monika Drożyńska from her series Przyjaciółki. A century later we are still encountering painfully regressive attempts to limit women’s rights. Before our very eyes, informal initiatives are often formed, the largest of which is the native Black Protest, whose graphic design is created for the purpose of reproduction and dissemination, further enhanced by the Internet. We also observe a shift towards paper media. Zines from Girls to the Front, resiliently active on the music scene, Dziewczyństwo or Krótkie historie refers not so much to nostalgia for the medium popular in the 90s, as to the fatigue of the virtual world, which turned out to be equipped with only seemingly democratic communication tools.

The Do It (her)rself exhibition sums up in the still-current words of 20-year-old Erika Reinstein, reffering to the Riot Grrrl manifesto: “BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. … BECAUSE every time we pick up a pen, or an instrument, or get anything done, we are creating the revolution. We are the revolution”. And let’s stick to that.

Exhibition is part of Sztuka do rzeczy – design w Krakowie event. Co-financed by the City of Krakow.