A nationwide US campaign to raise awareness of the gender pay gap launched this week, with works by female and LGBTQ+ artists curated by Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova taking over billboards from Manhattan to Hollywood.
The persistent devaluing of women’s labour is addressed more or less overtly by works in the nationwide exhibition Patriarchy RIP, which was organised by SaveArtSpace, a nonprofit that takes over spaces typically used for advertising to display contemporary art, typically with a social justice theme. Some works, like Michele Pred’s Equal Pay, a bright pink $1 bill overlaid with the titular phrase that will be on view at two locations in Los Angeles, are bold and direct.
Other works like curator Tolokonnikova’s titular contribution, the funereal PATRIARCHY RIP (on view at a dozen locations, including in Lower Manhattan), and Aminta Paiz’s Healing (going on view in Phoenix, Arizona) address the broader pattern of patriarchal oppression and its enduring effects.
In Paiz’s work, a schoolbook-like grid features the handwritten phrase “patriarchy is the root of generational trauma” and a second version of the same sentence with a gap in place of “patriarchy”, as if inviting passersby to articulate the forces oppressing them. “I wanted to meditate on how I see patriarchy and its impact in the world, in the women and men around me, in my life,” she says. “Besides the bold financial, social, cultural, political inequality there is a deep subconscious programming that doesn't allow many people to see these gaps, therefore they are accepted and perpetuated.”
Other works in the exhibition include pieces by the Moroccan photographer Fatima Zohra Serri, the British artist Holly Silius and others. Certain pieces started to appear on billboards on 7 March and will remain on view through 3 April. A map of where they are installed is available on the exhibition website.
According to an analysis published last year by the Pew Research Center, women in the US earn 84% of what men do, meaning that in 2020 a woman would have had to work an extra 42 days in order to make as much as a man made. The analysis found that the gap had not meaningfully narrowed in the past 15 years. Recent analysis of salary data in the UK arts sector showed similarly dispiriting results, with little progress on narrowing the gender pay gap since 2018, when the government required companies with more than 250 employees to begin sharing salary data.
This US curatorial effort is not Tolokonnikova’s only project seeking to raise awareness of and redress the gender wealth gap on the occasion of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Earlier this week she and dozens of other artists, activists, crypto investors and collectors launched Unicorn DAO, a decentralised autonomous organisation that seeks to redistribute wealth by investing in projects by female and LGBTQ+ artists.
All of this comes at a moment of enormous political tension in Tolokonnikova’s native Russia due to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The front door of fellow Pussy Riot member Rita Flores’s apartment in Moscow was recently tagged with the pro-war “Z” symbol. Last month Tolokonnikova co-founded another crypto collective, Ukraine DAO, which ultimately sold an NFT (non-fungible token) of the Ukrainian flag for 2,250 ETH ($6.75m), with proceeds going to support relief efforts in Ukraine via the organisation Come Back Alive.