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‘Women-only’ exhibit challenges gender discrimination charges

‘Ladies Lounge’ has taken a creative approach to deterring unwanted male visitors. 

Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) raised eyebrows when it launched an exhibition open only to women.

Titled ‘Ladies Lounge’, the exhibit features works by American artist Kirsh Kaechele, and is designed as a commentary on misogynistic borders in the art world and beyond.

However, the show was abruptly closed in April last year, when Sydney resident Jason Lau attempted to enter the museum, was turned away, and subsequently filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Mona.

The Tasmanian civil administrative tribunal found the museum to be in violation of the state’s anti-discriminatory law and ordered that Ladies Lounge be opened to visitors of all genders.

But Kirsha Kaechele doesn’t seem to be backing down. This week, she said she will challenge the ruling by making the Ladies Lounge ‘compliant’ with regulations.

The exhibit houses some of the most important artworks in the museum’s collection, including pieces by Picasso and Sidney Nolan. Inside, guests are greeted by opulent furnishings and male butlers, who serve champagne while guests view the pieces on display.

Kaechele told Australian media outlets that in order to bypass the legislation laid out in the lawsuit, the Ladies Lounge would be functioning as a women’s toilet for the foreseeable future.

‘There is a fabulous toilet coming to the Ladies Lounge, and so in that sense the Ladies Lounge will operate as a ladies’ room.

It’s a toilet that is celebrated the world round. It is the greatest toilet, and men won’t be allowed to see it,’ Kaechele said.

Men will only be allowed into the space on Sundays, where – according to Kaechele – they will learn ironing and laundry folding.

‘Women can bring all their clean laundry and men can go through a series of graceful movements (designed by Rinpoche and refined by tai chi masters) to fold them,’ she said on Tuesday.

According to Mona and those involved in the Ladies Lounge, men have and always will be a part of the exhibit because their exclusion is central to the installation’s artistic effect.

The decision to exclude men is part of the museum’s effort to explore the lived experience of women forbidden from entering certain spaces throughout history.

‘Given what [women] have been through for the last several millennia… we deserve both equal rights and reparations, in the form of unequal rights, or chivalry-for at least 300 years,’ Kaechele said.

Of course, these statements are contentious. That’s Kaechele’s M.O. And the Ladies Lounge has garnered a mixed response online for its creative approach to the ruling.

Some have been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Kaechele’s intent, with Instagram comments suggesting the exhibit is only fighting ‘sexism with sexism.’

Others, however, are leaning into Mona’s tongue-in-cheek approach, using the criticism to poke fun at begrudged men.

‘Just put a box of tampons by the front door. Men will run away on their own,’ said one user.

This is so symbolic,’ said another, ‘because women know that the ladies’ restroom can be a refuge to let out our feelings and build each other up in a “protected” space far from the male gaze. At a crowded bar or in the midst of an emotional breakdown, the ladies’ room can be a safe haven.

Indeed, The Ladies Lounge’s transformation into a ‘women’s toilet’ serves as a provocative example of the complexities surrounding women-only spaces and the pursuit of gender equality.

Interestingly, it also underscores the limitations of relying solely on legal mechanisms to address issues of discrimination and exclusion.

As Kaechele calls it, the Ladies Lounge is an ‘essential space for perspective and reset from this strange and disjointed world of male domination.’

It’s clear Mona has no intent of relinquishing that space to a man.