Feminist Artists as The Pillars of the Movement
Feminist art is a heteronomous field of art practices, wide stream with many parallel or meandering paths of individual or collaborative works of art, directly or indirectly related to inscribing women in art-history canon. Even though Feminist Art is not exclusively made by women or for women, the pillars of the movement are set by the group by women artists that – each in her own context – push the limits and deal with important topics within arts. In arts, we can mark the exact moment in 1970s when Judy Chicago coined the term Feminist Art, and begun the practice of re-writing the dominant art history, to include the women along with the body of works dealing with women rights, emancipation from the patriarchy, changing the phallocentric values or switch power relations and reach gender equality in order to challenge any form of oppression and discrimination.
Featured image: Jenny Holzer – Truisms
Living Legend of Feminist Art - Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago is one of the founders of the Feminist Art Movement in 1970s and one of the key members in a development of feminist art and education. Questioning the position of the woman under the system of art, Chicago took part in pedagogical work, and in group collaboration with Miriam Shapiro started Feminist Art Program and Womanhouse to teach young girls on feminism. Creating the alternative, women history become the focus of her work and performance Dinner Party dedicated to commemoration of the important female figures in past. Even though her work is part of the feminist history, she actively work, teaches and exhibits regularly – independently and within the art groups.
Featured image: Judy Chicago – The Dinner Party, Installation Overview at Brooklyn Museum, 1974–79
Resisting the Male Gaze - Cindy Sherman
Although predominantly works in media of photography, Cindy Sherman is perceived as feminist conceptual artist. The main focus of her work is female body and its media constructed image, which makes her work fundamentally connected to the core topics of feminism, such as male gaze dominancy in society and visual culture or hetero-patriarchal character of the art canon. Also, Sherman work is emblematic in dealing with body politics, with emphasis on hybrid body image, which appears to be shocking, obscene or traumatic, challenging the societal standards in way we perceive normality, beauty or women.
Feature image: Cindy Sherman – Untitled Film Still #14, 1978
Dame of Feminism - Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois was a French-American feminist artist, best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art, even though she was associated with abstract expressionism shortly after moving to United States in 1940s. Main themes of her work are concerning power relations under the family and domestic life, childhood traumas and complex ambivalent emotions. Her most famous work Maman, nine metres high steel sculpture installed as landmark in numerous locations around the world, depicts mother figure as ancient weaver Arachne, turned into spider.
Feature image: Louise Bourgeois – Maman, 1999, via theknockturnal.com,
Subverting the Design - Barbara Kruger
American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, inscribes herself in history by work concerning consumerism, feminism and women identity politics. Her world is iconic and recognizable by the excessive use of agitprop style, uniformity in use of black and white photography, red banners and a single bold font. Impressive visual narratives of Kruger become synonym for feminist postmodern art and despite its repetitive character and consistency to the feminist anti-consumerist critique of media, she still evokes controversy. In 2010, Kruger shocked the general public with the artwork featuring naked Kim Kardashian “wearing” statement It’s all about me – I mean you – I mean me on the cover of the W magazine.
Featured image: Barbara Kruger – Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am), 1987
Permanent Struggle for Equality - Adrian Piper
Early works of Adrian Piper originate in psychedelic art of 1970s, but continues trough the conceptual art and philosophy based feminist lecture performances. Core of her theoretic, artistic and activist practice is concept of the permanent struggle against racism, misogyny, xenophobia, social injustice and hatred, on all fronts. Besides her artwork, Piper made a significant scientific contribution to contemporary philosophy, and frequently is listed as “singular case” in feminist history after she became the first woman as African-American philosophy professor to receive academic tenure in the United States in 1991.
Featured image: Adrian Piper – The Probable Trust Registry The Rules of the Game #1-3, 2013
Deconstruction of the Canon - Ana Mendieta
Ana Mendieta was influential Cuban American performance artist, sculptor, painter and video artist, which tragic and mysterious death evokes questions of domestic violence against women and power relations between genders. Focus of her deeply reflecting work is deeply rooted in relations between human and earth, as well as themes of feminism, violence, life and death, homeland and belonging. In her work Mendieta was examining the basics of Latin American patriarchy, like early childhood education for girls, tradition and feminist aspects of pagan religion, and its interpretations and reflections in contemporary life. Figure of Ana Mendieta is crucial for expanding and deconstructing the Eurocentric masculine canon, and rewriting the history of art.
Featured image: Ana Mendieta, exhibition view at de la Cruz collection
Doing Things With Words - Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer continues tradition of feminist artists from 1970s, dealing with the complex visual narratives and inscription of the women into language. Trough the linguistic exploration of the themes of everyday life and practices she addresses political notions of violence, oppression, power relations as well as constructs of sexuality and femininity. Her most famous work is series of one line utterances called Truisms, witch Holzer displays in different media – light art, posters, T-shirts, and stickers, art objects or huge public LED signboards. Shifting between art and public space, Holzer examines the role and position of feminist art within contemporary societies and its political implications.
Featured image: Jenny Holzer – Truisms
Public Intimacy and Emotion - Sophie Calle
Work of Sophie Calle researches the human condition and the states of vulnerability or intimacy, examining the processes of constructing identity and gender roles. At the end of 1970s, her first work – The Sleepers (1979–1981) in which she invited strangers – both men and women – to use her bed while artist treated them as guests – stands for one of the feminist classics in contemporary art, because it redefines concept of the authorship and the role of the artist, by merging art and life practices into one. In more than thirty years of feminist artistic practice, interprets femininity trough questions of emotions, affects, care, kinship, dichotomy between private and public etc.
Featured image: Sophie Calle – The Sleepers, 1979
Sculpting the Body - ORLAN
The name of ORLAN became synonym for the 90s feminist bio-politic art, which has the hybrid body in its focus. French artist, working under the pseudonym ORLAN, from the late sixties has worked on different topics concerning variety of the body art practices. Central part of her work is a long and complex project Ressurection of Saint Orlan, when artist has executed series of plastic surgery interventions in order to achieve ideal of the female beauty as if presented trough the work of male artists. Treating the own body as art medium, ORLAN questions the processes of identity and gender construction as well as boundaries between art and life and it makes her one of the main representatives of feminist art.
Featured image: ORLAN – Blooming, 7th Surgery-Performance Titled Omnipresence, 1993
Transgression of the Normality - Katarzyna Kozyra
Katarzyna Kozyra is feminist artist, widely known by her controversial installations Animal Pyramide, Blood relationship (1995), Olympia (1996), Bath House (1997-1999) in which she addresses taboo themes such as industry of animal killing, sexuality of the woman body affected by cancer, topics of intimacy or processes of societal gender construction and gender-related pop girls star style clichés. Under the Polish “critical art” during 1990s, she started specific feminist art practice of displaying and overcoming social stereotypes of the body in terms of binaries perfect-imperfect, healthy-ill, male-female, dead-alive and thus reveal strong patriarchal ideals as dominant within the society.
Featured image: Katarzyna Kozyra – Olympia, 1996