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Tackling Women’s Representation in Zurich’s Art World via an Anonymous Instagram Account

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

by Noemi Ehrat

Less than 5% of Zurich's famous public sculptures are made by women, yet 85% of the nudes are female. In the midst of nationwide women's strikes in Switzerland, anonymous activists have taken to Instagram to demand change.

“Do women in Zurich have to be naked to get into the public space?” a handwritten cardboard sign in front of the statue of two women – naked, of course – reads.

The “Mädchengruppe”, or group of girls, by Swiss artist Arthur Tigram Abeljanz, on Basteiplatz in Zurich, is one of several artworks featured on the anonymous group Hulda Zwingli’s Instagram feed. Swiping to the post’s next picture, the statue is wrapped in red barrier tape reading “as long as no art by female artists is being displayed here, I’m a feminist”. The taped statue is part of the Zurich based collective’s endeavour to draw attention to the underrepresentation of female artist’s in Zurich’s public space and museums.

Is there also art by women here?

In a nod to the US feminist group Guerrilla Girls, another post’s caption reads “less than 5% of the artists in public spaces in Zurich are women but 85% of the nudes are female”. The Instagram account publishes such photographic commentary on artworks every few days, along with screenshots of newspaper articles covering the topic of female representation in art and museum programmes, visually highlighting the absence of female artists.

However, while the Guerrilla Girls started their campaign to bring gender and racial inequalities in the art world into focus in the 1980s, Hulda Zwingli only became active on social media last year. The first few photos were posted on June 14th, 2020 – the anniversary of the second nationwide women’s strike, where over 500,000 women protested the slow advancement of gender equality in Switzerland.

The strike was held on the same date as the first one in 1991 which was only twenty years after women had been granted the right to vote. Protesters wanted to draw attention to the slow implementation of the constitutional article on gender equality that had been introduced ten years earlier. It was the biggest political mobilisation in Swiss history since the general strike in 1918.

Yet not much - or not enough - had changed since then. Switzerland still lags behind when it comes to gender equality, with the country ranking 18th worldwide in the global gender gap index, the penultimate rank in Western Europe, in that year.

More Powerful as a Collective

“Hulda came into being after the strike in 2019”, one of the collective’s members confirms. The Zurich-based group chooses to remain anonymous – “we cannot be attacked as individuals if we appear as an anonymous collective” the member – henceforth referred to as Hulda – explains.

Hulda’s members have experienced that little to nothing changes fighting on their own. “We’re respected as a collective and receive more attention” Hulda says.

Hulda’s bio reads “native of Zurich, born June 14th, multiple personality, will burn at the stake”. Her multiple personality refers to the different members who contribute to the fictive figure. “It’s not only fun to be part of a collective, this way we can also gather more information" Hulda explains. It would be too much work for one person to update the feed every single day: “It takes so much time to do all the research and fact check everything”. She describes the collective as a “loose network of around a dozen people from 25 to over 60”. Most have professions somehow connected to the art world “but not everyone is employed in the arts”.

Yet the multiple personality also refers to the fictitious composition of Hulda’s name. She’s not based on one but, rather, several historical figures who shaped Zurich, such as Hulda Zumsteg, a prominent Swiss restaurateur and art collector, and reformer Huldrych Zwingli’s wife, Anna Reinhart.