Simultaneously playful and politically engaged, “The Girl Effect”—a survey of work by seven international women artists—included mostly video work but also a board game and an installation. The show took its name from the Girl Effect campaign, a global initiative spearheaded by the Nike Foundation to educate girls and young women in impoverished communities in Asia and Africa, with the aim of preparing them to be economic and community leaders. The Girl Effect project was the earmarked recipient of 10 percent of sales from this show, organized by Lea Freid.
My favorite contribution came from Texas-based Lauren Kelley, who has broadcast her stop-motion animated videos on Houston public TV. Her Big Gurl (2006), made with African-American Barbie dolls, takes stock of Shayla, who works eight hours a day in the Chicken Shack and frequently endures sexual harassment, and Mindy, an educated office worker who takes a pregnancy test in her office bathroom and ponders her options when it turns out positive. Though the piece contains too many characters to easily keep track of, it succeeds in pitch-perfect dialogue (“Smile baby, damn, you ain’t gotta look so evil,” from a guy cruising by Shayla in a convertible) and in conveying the gender-based power dynamics inherent in everyday situations.
Rona Yefman, a New York-based Israeli artist, presented Pippi Longstocking, the Strongest Girl in the World, at Abu Dis (2005), a funny one-liner of a video showing a girl with pigtails (played by Danish artist Tanja Schlander) trying to pull down the mammoth concrete wall between Israel and the West Bank. Its most charged moments involve her interactions with Palestinians: women walk by and laugh, some boys briefly try to help but give up. China’s Cao Fei, the most broadly exhibited artist in the exhibition, showed the video People’s Limbo in RMB City (2009), part of her ongoing project in Second Life, a virtual world where users can socialize through customized avatars. Here, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, Lao Tze and a moping post-crash Lehman Brothers associate consider an uncertain future in a series of animated cyber scenes.
Serbian-born, Singapore-based Ana Prvacki created a company, Ananatural Production, that is both art project and commercial venture. It was represented in the gallery by pamphlets and an example of her product: a lockbox filled with honey, meant for a future when Colony Collapse Disorder has done in all Western honeybees, causing honey’s value to skyrocket. Who knows what life might look like at this point—when honeybees are no longer around to pollinate many of our food sources—but at least someone will have profited. While such cynical logic may represent the epitome (and insanity) of greed, it’s also the engine that drives much multinational production—which is something not many girls have a say in.
Photo: Lauren Kelley: Big Gurl, 2006, stop-motion animation, approx. 61⁄4 minutes; at Lombard-Freid.