On Wednesday, Nov. 2, the William Benton Museum of Art held the University of Connecticut’s second annual Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. The event was held in conjunction with the museum’s current center gallery exhibition, “Ray Guns, Dames and the Guilty Gaze: Feminism and the Golden Age of Science Fiction Pulps.”
The exhibition, which runs until Dec. 18, displays pulp fiction magazines while simultaneously questioning the constricting ideas of gender and race often portrayed on their cover illustrations. Diving into the stories contributed by underrepresented groups, “Ray Guns, Dames and the Guilty Gaze” reevaluates pulp fiction through a feminist lens and grapples with the idea of the “guilty gaze.”
“While doing the research for the exhibition, my co-curator, Professor Barbara Gurr (WGSS), and I wrestled with feelings of outrage and helplessness over the injustices of the past, as well as the ripple effects into the present,” said Alison Paul, a UConn professor of illustration/animation, in an email.
“It became clear that many of the people we feature in the exhibition have no Wikipedia page, perpetuating the invisibility of these important contributors,” she continued, explaining the basis of the Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon.
To draw attention to this, curators put Art+Feminism symbols next to creators with limited or no representation on Wikipedia; during the edit-a-thon, students had the opportunity to contribute to Wikipedia pages for these artists.
At the event, organizer Kelly Dennis explained the concept of information activism. While information about lesser-known creators may be available on databases, it is not always free and accessible. By adding to online resources like Wikipedia, the general public can have access to a greater and more diverse library of information.
“An Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon embodies and exemplifies feminist values, including but not limited to collaboration, cooperation, community and commitment in order to dismantle supremacist systems of hierarchy and exclusion in the production of public knowledge,” said Dennis, a UConn professor of visual studies within the department of digital media and design.
“Previous edit-a-thons at UConn have been undertaken among art history courses and in conjunction with class writing assignments, as well as with the library and with Greenhouse Studios,” Dennis added. “A math department professor once brought his graduate students to one of our edit-a-thons to edit and add women mathematicians — also notoriously underrepresented — to Wikipedia.”
“while doing the research for the exhibition, my co-curator, professor barbara gurr (wgss), and i wrestled with feelings of outrage and helplessness over the injustices of the past, as well as the ripple effects into the present.”Alison Paul
According to Dennis, the majority of page editors are men and less than 20% of Wikipedia entries highlight women. Pulling from themes of the Benton’s previous Guerilla Girls showcase, Dennis emphasized the long history of exclusion within the world of art; art historian Linda Nochlin’s essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” expands upon this thought.
“We’re featuring 10 creatives. One of them is Helen Weinbaum, a woman who helped inspire this event. She published science fiction, mystery, and horror shorts for over 40 years, but has been overshadowed by her brother’s relatively short career. Stanley Weinbaum has a Wikipedia entry that doesn’t even mention Helen as his sister, let alone as a collaborator. She deserves her own Wikipedia entry,” Paul stressed.
Students at the event created Wikipedia accounts using a nom de guerre to add credibility to their edits and were taught about the importance of neutrality and potential conflicts of interest. For example, information must be pulled from independent third-party resources as opposed to directly from an artist’s webpage.
Even when important people have been given a Wikipedia page, they are still at risk of being taken down; Nobel Prize winner and physicist Donna Strickland had her page taken down three times and denied an online presence despite her major accomplishment.
“Instead of just getting mad about it, let’s try to change that,” said Paul about the lack of representation on Wikipedia.
Thus, contributing to the pages of overlooked and underrepresented figures is key. Even adding internal links to entries for basic words helps embed people into the Wikipedia web. After learning how to navigate the site, students edited the pages of 10 different artists, authors and editors of science fiction pulps.
On Nov. 3, the Benton will be hosting “First Thursday: Weird Tales Edition,” an event complete with pet therapy, music, crafts and more. You can visit their website to learn more about the museum’s exhibitions and upcoming events.