“She is me, I am her” howls Kathleen Hanna in the opening lines of Alien She, from Bikini Kill’s popular 1993 album, Pussy Whipped. She taunts herself with names like “Feminist, Dyke, Whore,” before confessing, “she wants me to go to the mall, she wants me to put the pretty, pretty lipstick on… I want to kill her, but I’m afraid it might kill me.” The song is emblematic of a third-wave feminist movement that was emerging in the early 1990s and influenced the creation of a forceful punk-rock community known as Riot Grrrl. Bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Sleater-Kinney became the soundtrack for the feminist group with lyrics and outspoken politics that called attention to outdated and gender-specific stereotypes of femininity that were (and are) perpetuated through media, language, and pop culture.
The Riot Grrrls advocated female empowerment through the reappropriation of previously oppressive tropes associated with femininity, such as juvenilia, craft, D.I.Y aesthetics, and even dresses and makeup. While second-wave feminists believed partaking in such things would enforce pre-defined gender roles established by the patriarchy, the Riot Grrrls perverted these actions with irony, critical revisions, and deft authority.
The members connected through a powerful chain letter system where girls throughout the country built a community based on mailing one another letters, collages, Zines, and films. These photocopied, D.I.Y. artifacts that have become iconic to the movement and can now be found in respected archives and special collections. The correspondences became a supportive safe space where young females could exchange ideas and projects with other creative females and celebrated their artistic talents. The exchange of letters and Zines throughout the country and abroad undoubtedly contributed to the impressive influence of this grass-roots movement and its lasting impact on feminist artists and creators.
The newest exhibition, Alien She, at the Museum of Contemporary Craft and the Pacific Northwest College of the Arts pays homage to the past 20 years of the movement and reflects on the continuous effect Riot Grrrls have on feminist art and culture in the region, as well as globally.
Curators and Riot Grrrls Astria Suparak and Ceci Moss open the show at MoCC with a towering barbed wire fence made of pink yarn by artist LJ Robert, which contains a group of taxidermy lady sasquatches that represent untamed femininity created by fellow artist Allyson Mitchell. The room is covered in stuffed animals and pink, but lacks the normative gender associations typical of such markers. The sasquatches are aggressive and powerful, and the pink barbed fence is just as intimidating as if it were rusted metal. It is a beautiful introduction to a show that displays the awesome power of female creativity and community and is alive with art works, historical artifacts, links to free texts, music, and videos. The space gives you a sense of community upon entering and is a rare exhibition that not only feeds you knowledge, but begs for your participation.