I’ve been thinking a lot about how the media is representing the Occupy Wall Street Movement (now worldwide), how new social networking media allows it to control its message, and how it compares with how past activist movements focused on positive social change have been represented. In particular, I thought of the Women’s Action Coalition. It was started in New York City in 1992, in response to the outrage they felt about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings. The logo that has been used to represent the WAC was the blue dot used to obscure a rape victim’s identity during trials. Many of the participating members were women artists. Chapters were subsequently formed in other U.S. cities, including Boston, San Francisco, Houston, and Los Angeles, as well as internationally in Canada and Europe. WAC employed a direct action approach similar to that of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the Women’s Health Action Coalition (WHAM), which encouraged activities such as demonstrations, sit-ins, civil disobedience, educational forums, and letter writing campaigns. This organization was considered a grass-roots organization with no hierarchical structure (sound familiar?). WAC maintained a high profile and national actions for at least two years. What might happen if Occupy Wall Street (with its great inclusion of Occupy art) maintains the momentum to continue for two years or more?
I started thinking about what has come before, the lasting effects, and how it has and has not been documented. That got me looking around for a larger discussion of the feminist movement in the U.S. and in particular, the Feminist Art Movement. If you look for it you can find a fair amount of documentation of earlier social justice actions, including those in the arts.
(I’ve corrected an error and added additional information in the paragraphs below since first publishing the blog entry.)
There have been a number of important exhibitions documenting feminist art and activism in recent years. Their catalogs are useful sources of information on the art and artists.
One such source is the catalog for Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, which was a 2007 exhibition curated by Connie Butler for MOCA that sought to document feminist art practice from 1965-1980. Its title references the acronyms of a lot of activist groups from the late 1960s and early 1970s that were undertaking cultural work relating to a range of issues, including women’s issues. The groups included Art Workers Coalition (AWC) , Women Artists in Revolution (WAR) , and Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH) (Humor in protest performance to make a point is not new. In 1968, women from W.I.T.C.H. staged a “hex” of Wall Street at a branch of Chase Manhattan Bank, wearing rags and fright makeup).
Another catalog from the same year, Global Feminisms: New Directions in Feminist Art, curated by Linda Nochlin and Maura Reilly, emphasizes that there is “not a single unitary feminism any more than there is a timeless, universal ‘woman’, but rather, that there are varied, multiple, unstable constructions of female subjects and their predicaments and situations. ”
The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970’s, History and Impact, edited by Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrad, 1996, and
Arts and Feminism(published first in 2001 but coming out soon in paperback) by Helena Reckitt and, Peggy Phelan.
Continuing my research I found a wonderful interview with Ruth Weisberg, a co-founder of the Women’s Caucus for Art and a past president of the College Art Association. This interview is a part of the fabulous Otis College of Art and Design, Pioneers of the Feminist Art Movement which includes such feminist artists from Los Angeles such as: Rachel Rossenthal; Joyce Kozloff; Bruria Finkel; Gilah Hirsch, and Helen Redman. The Redman interview includes a nice segment with artist Anne Isolde, the historian for Judy Chicago‘s feminist installation The Dinner Party.
These videos emphasised west coast feminist art which was centered around the Los Angeles Women’s Building and the Feminist Studio Workshop (one of the first feminist art schools for women started in 1973 by Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and Arlene Raven).
I continued my search for available interviews with founding feminist artists who were not based in LA, leading me to Miriam Schapiro and Mary Beth Edelson discussion of the idealism in the Feminist Art Movement. They mention the emergence of west coast feminist art collective Heresies (1977-1992) and their journal, which is remembered in the documentary Heretics. Thanks to the film producers you can download copies of the journal Heresies here. Other members of the Heresies were Joan Braderman (director of Heretics), Mary Beth Edelson, Harmony Hammond, Elizabeth Hess, Arlene Ladden, Lucy Lippard, Miriam Schapiro and May Stevens.
Those that know me personally know its not an accident that my day job is directing the UW System Women’s Studies Consortium. I am a feminist and an artist. My interests are especially engaged where those two identities meet. You may be able to tell that I have great respect for those women artists who worked before of me to make a place for women’s creative voices in our national cultural dialogs. I have fond memories of being a past president of the national Women’s Caucus for Art (from 1994-96), the oldest (40 years of feminist activism) multi-disciplinary women’s art organization in the U.S.
The Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) grew out of women’s activism to make the College Art Association (the major scholarly organization for academically based studio artists and art historians) a more user friendly place for women in the 70’s. The WSC currently has 27 local WSC chapters that are joined in a network under the umbrella of the national organization, with a number of caucuses that include the Jewish Women Artists Network (JWAN); the Eco-Arts Caucus; and the International Caucus. They also have an active Young Women’s Caucus (YWC) where emerging women artists are defining their own version of contemporary feminist art.
Ruth Weisberg was one of the artists who has been recognized in past years by the Women’s Caucus for Art with their Lifetime Achievement Awards. The 2012 awards are being jointly presented by the Women’s Caucus for Art and the College Art Association Committee on Women at the annual conference February 23-27 in Los Angeles. The 2012 recipients are historian Whitney Chadwick, artist Suzanne Lacy, art librarian and co-director of the Feminist Art Project, Ferris Olin, feminist gallery owner Bernice Steinbaum, and feminist film-maker and scholar Trinh T. Minh-ha. These awards have been given since 1979, and the recipients are a whose-who of feminist art. The WCA now makes the awards catalogs available in PDF form on their website.
Other documenting video of the US Feminist Art Movement:
Women Art Revolution is a documentary that follows the feminist art movement over four decades. This interview with director Lynn Hershman Leeson gives a little background on the film, including a couple of congressional responses to Judy Chicago’s important feminist installation, the Dinner Party, and an interview with a founding Guerrilla Girl.
KT Press, publisher of n.paradoxa international feminist art journal offers a fine international list of feminist exhibition catalogs, as well as a chronological list of feminist art Manifestos and Feminist Manifestos that have had an impact on the women’s art movement and the creation of feminist art. They also offer an international list of journals and books and articles on contemporary feminist art practice, as well as international feminist art websites.
Here are a few additional US feminist artists among the many, many more you should have heard of and been taught about. (Please forgive me for all those many important feminist artists I have not listed). Check out the Brooklyn Museum’s Feminist Art Base for many other feminist identified artists.
Jerri Allyn; Ida Applebroog; Tomie Arai; Ruth Asawa; Eleanor Antin; Laura Aguilar; Nancy Azara, Judy Baca; Judith K. Brodsky; Beverly Buchanan; Elizabeth Catlett; Leonora Carrington; Tee Corinne; Betsy Damon; Joanna Frueh; Cherie Gaulke; Esther Hernandez; Holly Hughes; Barbara Kruger; Hung Liu; Yolanda López; Margo Machida; . Muriel Magenta; Agnes Martin; Anna Mendieta; Elizabeth Murray; Alice Neel; Catherine Opie; Beverly Pepper; Howardena Pindel; Adrien Piper; Jaune Quick-To-See Smith; Faith Ringgold; Martha Rosler; Betye Saar; Cindy Sherman; Carolee Schneemann; Lorna Simpson; Sylvia Sleigh, Barbara T Smith; Nancy Spero; Mierle Laderman Ukeles; Kay WalkingStick; June Claire Wayne; Faith Wilding; Hanna Wilke; Flo Oy Wong; Yoko Ono