George Clive and his Family with an Indian Maid, by Joshua Reynolds, 1765. Staatliche Museen, Berlin. WikiCommons, courtesy Girl Museum.
When arts writer Ashley Remer visited museums over the past three decades, what she noticed the most was girls-- more specifically, the lack thereof.
"[I have been to] literally hundreds and hundreds of museums around the world over the course of my life," says Remer, 35, who grew up in Gainesville, Fla. and has lived everywhere from New York to New Zealand. "I have never seen a show that exclusively looked at the point of view of the girl, or with the girl as its subject. Of course, there have been a few-- most notably at the McCord Museum in Montreal, the 2006 exhibition called ‘Picturing Her: Images of Girlhood,' which concentrated on Canadian art-- but having studied art history [at Florida State University and the University of Auckland in New Zealand], I always found it troublesome how women and girls usually come off as just decoration rather than subject matter."
With that in mind, in March, Remer launched her nonprofit, virtual Girl Museum, dedicated to research, exhibitions, and education centered on the simple yet complex subject of "being a girl." The museum recently unveiled its first online exhibition, "Defining Our Terms," including a broad overview of girlhood in art. Striking images are paired with insightful explanations that will make viewers see each work-- and the role of females in art-- in a whole new light.
Remer says each artwork is overflowing with visual clues to how girls and women have been included and perceived in different cultures throughout the ages. For example, "Reynolds’ portrait George Clive and his Family with an Indian Maid (above) is an amazingly informative image," she says. "There is just so much history overtly stated in the costume and setting and implicit on the physicality and gesture. To have a painted family portrait that includes your servant, engaged in an activity like holding the girl still, which was totally unnecessary, is such a quintessential imperial picture. The ayah’s averted eyes make the scene even more devastating. It should always be remembered when looking at portraits that these people existed. It seems obvious to say, but our visual lives are so inundated with façade and manufactured Hollywood fictions that it is important to keep in mind."
"Defining Our Terms" serves as both the Girl Museum's inaugural exhibition and its future press kit, explaining its mission.
"Our mission is to explore and document the unique experience of growing up female through historic and contemporary images, stories and material culture," says Remer, who runs the museum with the help of volunteers. "We want to raise global awareness about the realities and issues, both nature and nurture, facing girls yesterday, today, and tomorrow. To achieve this, we want to do original research, produce exhibitions, build an archive, and partner with organizations that are already out there doing good work so we can support them and provide venues for girls themselves to have a voice."
The Girl Museum also opened its online boutique on November 27, and you can support the site and help the museum grow by scoring original art or Girl Museum T-shirts. You can also visit the Girl Museum store on Amazon to purchase some suggested reading.