Sarah Wilson's 'Only Women Women Only' Exhibition Ignites Controversy At The Edinburgh Art Festival

A feminist art exhibition is stirring up controversy at this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival. The exhibition, Only Women Women Only (OWWO), displays works exclusively by women artists, and only women may attend the exhibition.

The organizers of the exhibition have prepared themselves for indignant responses from men, but to their surprise the women-only event has mainly elicited anger from women, some of whom have boycotted the exhibition.

As chief curator Sarah Wilson said in an interview with The Scotsman, it is women who have been most vocal about the show, “I’ve had a few women artists who refused to take part and thought it was a terrible idea. Most of the men have been happy to wait outside, but I’ve had quite a few women coming in and saying: ‘We’ve fought hard for equal rights and this is setting things back.'”

The exhibition comes in the wake of Marina Abramovic's women-only lecture for Meltdown 2012 in London. The artist herself was hesitant about the project, but forged ahead because, as she told Gemma Kappala-Ramsamy The Guardian, "Why not do something strange and different for once? Artists can do whatever they want!"

This latest women-only exhibition in Scotland, however, harkens back to Seventies-style consciousness raising projects like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro's "Womanhouse" (1972). The feminist art duo installed work by female artists in an abandoned California home, and then allowed only women in for the opening of the exhibition. (Men were allowed to visit the installation in the days that followed.) With Only Women Women Only (OWWO), however, men are not allowed in for the duration of the show, which features paintings, sculptures, photography, film and visual art by female artists around the world. Women are encouraged to even come sketch live female nude models on site. The event aims to spark a dialogue intended for women and ignited by women -- about their bodies, about their place in the art world, and about the freedom to express themselves. For instance, in 2010, the Centre Pompidou put all its male artists in storage and displayed only the work of female artists. The result? People ignored the show. So is Wilson's idea a move forward?

Alison Auldjo, owner and curator of Edinburgh’s Union Gallery, is one of the women who has chosen to boycott the show: “This is something I would not want to be involved with as an artist,” she said in a statement to The Scotsman. “The days of having any form of gender discrimination are over and we should all be working together as equals. I’ve not been to see the exhibition because I don’t want to look like I am supporting women-only venues.”

For Wilson, the issue comes down to the impulse to create a forum for and by women: "Men and women are fundamentally different beings. There is no reason why I should not be allowed to exercise my freedom of speech and have an exhibition which is only for women."

What do you think, readers? Is it a problem that this exhibition and Ambramovic's openly discriminate against men? Or is it inappropriate that a show like Wilson's is receiving so much backlash when female artists are still underrepresented in museums?

Only Women Women Only is at Summerhall's Church Garden on Hope Park Terrace in Edinburgh through September 27.