Feminist Artists Then and Now
By Jessica Bovee
All of us have painted a picture or done our best to make a space look better than when we found it. We might hesitate to call what we create art; however, we can’t let such ideas have control over our actions.
Women have been creating art for a myriad of reasons, but art from the past century has been made with a more specific purpose. Women have been working to change the status quo and fighting for gender parity and the diminishment of stereotypes in various ways, art being one of them.
Yoko Ono did a performance piece in 1965 called Cut Piece where she allowed people to come to her and cut off pieces of her clothing until she was left naked. This was not understood or revered well by everyone, but some found the piece to be moving. She presented herself as a vulnerable object like she had been taught to be, and she lived this expectation through this artwork to say something without speaking a word.
It was around this time that Ono did this piece that we notice the feminist revolution start to truly take shape. Much of this was because of the previous decades of women being presented as sexual items. In the 1970’s, Judy Chicago created an installation known as The Dinner Party. The banquet consists of 39 place settings that commemorate important women throughout history. Hundreds of other women are inscribed into the ceremonial work which uniquely honored these individuals.
These artists were trying to break away from tradition and make viewers think about what they consider to be “the truth.” Feminists don’t work to exclude men or make them out to be the enemy, but rather highlight the female body as a powerful subject whether it be for what she is now, or what she could be.
Hannah Wilke created a piece in the 70’s known as the Starification Object Series that showed photographs of herself speckled with old, chewed gum. She posed in sexual positions much like the advertisements of the time, and sculpted the gum into vulvas like she had with clay at the beginning of her art career.
“I chose gum because it’s the perfect metaphor for the American woman, chew her up, get what you want out of her, throw her out and pop in a new piece,” Wilke said.
Feminist artists are continuing to create work that makes us question what we have come to know, and Jessica Ledwich takes a more morbid angle with her contemporary pieces. Her series, Monstrous Feminine, portrays the womanly construct this culture has outlined for beauty.
There are countless women, such as Linder Sterling or Cindy Sherman, who work alongside the feminist movement to this day. Feminist art has been impossible to ignore because of the shock value of pieces throughout the years, and the powerful statements these works have been able to make.
One contemporary group of anonymous feminist activists known as the Guerrilla Girls have been working for change through art. One poster showcased the unequal aspects of gender with these words:
“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”
Much of their work centers around the unequal distribution of art and how much of it is controlled by the top income earners. They want their work to help better include all voices and to create a more representative world of art that includes more of the culture that makes art less about money.
Art can be so many things. It’s harmony, it’s the truth, it’s the lie, it’s a part of culture that can make us think or rethink. No one can deny its importance, and feminists continue to revolutionize society with their work as they challenge the status quo.
Take a look at the works of these feminists and possibly even try your hand at creating something yourself. Who’s your favorite female artist? Comment below.