The Lasting Impact of Riot Grrrl
“Riot Grrrl means speaking your truth and supporting other people to do the same.”
“It stands for solidarity and not backing down on what you believe is needed for the world.”
“I think it’s making kickass art just for the sake of making art.”
If you want to learn about Riot Grrrl, the pluralistic punk feminist movement that emerged in the 1990s, ask those it has influenced, and you could start with the curators of Alien She: Examining the Lasting Impact of Riot Grrrl. The partnership between Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss establishes the collaborative spirit of the first exhibition on the topic, and many of the zines that form the first act are from their personal collections. So how do you put on an exhibition about a concept that means so many things to so many people? We were lucky to catch it at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and see for ourselves.
The exhibition opens with wall filled with flyers featuring the sort of analog typography and paper (that hot pink!) familiar to anyone who came of age in the golden age of xerox. Taking a closer look, we spotted some familiar locations around San Francisco and the East Bay, and a Chronicle designer even noticed a concert flyer for a friend’s band. This was no accident, as the wall is a location-specific installation sourced through riot grrrl Facebook groups wherever the exhibition lands. And these groups are everywhere, just check out this international map of chapters assembled for the show. That kind of sensitivity to context is reflected throughout the exhibition, which includes contemporary Bay Area zines to flip through, and listening stations with music and ephemera contributed by communities from Belgium to Brazil and beyond.
The exhibition also presents the work of 7 artists heavily influenced by riot grrrl, including Tammy Rae Carland, Miranda July, Faythe Levine, Allyson Mitchell, L.J. Roberts, Stephanie Syjuco, and Ginger Brooks Takashi. Book lovers we are, Allyson Mitchell’s mural-sized drawings of her bookshelves caught our eye, depicting all of the texts that contributed to her feminist education.
We’ve been known to publish on craft and textile arts, and Stephanie Syjuco’s Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy) textile-tickled us. The ongoing project provides instructions for artisans to create imitation designer goods, and it’s such a smart and funny take on a traditionally feminine activity and material obsession.
Syjuco’s Free Texts used the medium of the flyer to consciously play in the space between analog and digital, offering urls on tear-off tabs leading to downloadable texts.
Chronicle Books is also another cultural producer that has been influenced by riot grrrl. From rub-on lettering to ransom note style collage, the self-publishing aesthetic continues to pop up in our products (ahem, Typewriter Paper…), and riot grrrl culture has been celebrated in books like Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls with foreword by none other than Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, and From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Female Comics from Teens to Zines.
This is an exhibition packed with objects and angles from which to appreciate them, but from a publishing perspective, I walked away with a renewed sense of notions that previously wouldn’t have seemed particularly punk: the power of the written word to spread ideas, the urgent beauty of handmade tools of communication, and the real opportunities presented by evolving forms of communication for many voices to be heard. Bikini Kill—the band from which the exhibition takes its name—said it best in a lyric quoted by curator Ceci Moss:
“We know there’s not one way/ One light/ One stupid truth!”
- See where the exhibition is headed next
- Map of Riot Grrrl chapters worldwide
- Add your voice to the Riot Grrrl Census
Allyson Mitchell, Womens Studies Professors Have Class Privilege / I’m With Problematic, from the series Creep Lez, 2012. Altered t-shirts with iron-on transfer and vinyl lettering. Courtesy of the artist and the Katharine Mulherin Gallery, Toronto.
Stephanie Syjuco, The Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy), 2006–ongoing. Yarn, downloadable PDF instructional guide for creating knockoff logos. Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco / FREE TEXTS, 2011–2012, updated 2013. Free downloadable PDF flyers of texts found online and tear-off tab flyers. Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.
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