The feminist art movement began around the 1960s when people were focused on promoting anti-war demonstrations and fighting for civil rights. The feminists who created different artistic creations during this period sought to amend the falsely male-dominated history in political art. They were also focused on changing the perception of the contemporary world about women’s role in society. The goal of feminist art was to transform cultural stereotype and attitudes towards women. This essay will provide a discussion on the history of art in feminist political activism, its importance and effects in society, and ways through, which the art could reach people and influence their political perception. Although the 1960s was a period characterized by male domination in the political arena, feminists who rose fought for women representation in politics and the need for altering the conventional constructs in politics.
History of Art in Feminist Political Activism
The production of feminism art began in the late 1960s around the same time when the “second-wave of feminism” within the country and in England was at its peak. Although the “first wave of feminism” had occurred in the 1920s, women had not begun expressing their political and social ideologies through art. Despite that, the occurrence of the first feminist movement and the start of the second movement created a comfortable platform for women to express their feminist art. In the 1970s, women in California focused on creating a new space for artistic women to develop their art and exhibit them rather than fight for the space that men in the art industry had created for themselves (Deepwell, 1955). These effects assisted artistic women to promote their work. The feminist political activism utilized a rich variety of artistic expression including performance, posting political messages on street walls and busses, use of billboards, videos, and painting (Aagerstoun & Auther, 2007). Art played a critical role in assisting female activists in their fights against male dominance.
Importance and Effects of Art in Feminist Political Activism
The feminist political activism focused on changing the stereotypes about the position of women in society. It also promoted the participation of women in political issues. In 1985, a group of women who referred to themselves as the Guerrilla Girls began using art to protest and fight against racial and sexist issues in America. They wore gorilla masks and utilized the pseudo name to protect their identity and avoid legal repercussions that would be associated with disdaining and speaking against the government along with other powerful institutions (Small, 1999). Aside from that, they also supported the feminist movement by plastering posters in New York and advertising their messages through local newspapers.
The posters they created used humor to address political issues that affected women. The Guerilla Girls paid for mass-media advertising and adapted some of the techniques used in that industry to plaster buses and streets with short witty messages related to the feminist movement. They also addressed issues related to the art establishment that discriminated against women artists (Small, 1999). Their work assisted other feminists in spreading their messages, addressed concerns of equality, and gave more women the courage to fight against sexism. Their actions attracted the attention of many people and increased the support for the feminist political movement. The Guerilla Girls artistic performances got more women out of their house and in professional settings.
Other artists such as Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer also utilized mass media to spread their feminist messages to the public. They created graphic advertisements aimed to rebel society’s traditions. Their influence in the feminist political movement was mainly through their deconstruction of perceptions about male superiority. Other feminist used performance art and body art to pass their messages to the viewer. This ensured that artists were face-to-face with them and could not avoid the message communicated (Yoshimoto, 2005). The different forms of art used also focused on abolishing the assumption that only men could authenticate the actions of women.
The first feminist movement pushed the government to grant women voting rights, which was a major accomplishment as it meant that the voices of feminist protests were heard. A huge percentage of the achievements gained by the feminist political activism during the second wave of the feminist movement can be attributed to the female artists because they inspired people to think of new ways that gender equality could be attained in different industries such as art and demystified some of the assumptions about gender. Feminist art also addressed the implications of race, age, and sexuality on art creation (Cole, 2007). The role of art during the feminist political activism has led to the reconsideration of using art as a political weapon against sexist beliefs in society.
The main effects of the feminist artists involved exposing the ills of the existing structures that negatively impacted women in society. The work of the female art activists helped women to take a stand on what they believed. The artworks also opened the possibilities of a better world free of racial discrimination, sexism, economic inequality, and violence. These ideas influenced the rise of female leaders (Aagerstoun & Auther, 2007). They also promoted the ability of the public to distinguish feminist political activism from the other forms of civil rights movement that existed over the years.
Some of the artworks created by women such as Mary Beth Edelson in 1972, who used a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the last supper to address issues on the inclusion of women in religion. She transformed the painting by covering the faces of Jesus and his disciples with those of eighty women who were artists. Her work, which she referred to as, “Some Living American Women/Artists/Last Supper” became the most distributed feminism art in the country. She wanted to use the creation to illustrate the need to make room for a male dominated industry while also addressing the problem of male-dominance in religion (Griefen, 2019). Her work challenged the male-only painting. It became essential in reinforcing the feminist political activists’ dedication to addressing the missing representation of women in numerous historical documents. Her work also helped women respect each other’s differences regarding race, background, or social status and acknowledgement of the shared goals.
Aside from paintings, other forms of art such as videography were also used to address feminism concerns. Waltraud Lehner who was identified by her stage name Valie Export became immersed in film creation. Aside from filmmaking, she also focused on photography, sculpture, computer animation, and performance. She used her artistic expressions to critic the depiction of women and objectification of the female body. She also encouraged women to join the film creation industry to support her course. She believed that having more women in the industry could redefine a woman’s image and create a different view of women’s roles in society (Sicinski, 2000). Her work encouraged feminists to take the stand against objectification and negative portrayal of women in films.
The work of Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro also contributed to the feminist movement by depicting women’s environment differently. Their creation, “Womanhouse” entailed the installation of specific environments within the interior rooms to project a different perception of women. The two women worked with other female students in installing a linen closet in the kitchen and covered the walls and the eggs while the bathroom was covered in fake blood as a representation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The artistic installations were meant to project a message on a woman’s view of her home and the need for people to view the domestic space without confining it to domestic roles associated to women or specific gender assignment. Although most of their audience were women, few men went to see the house. They expressed their inability to relate to the challenges women faced regarding their association with domestic roles (Strauss, 2018). The success of the installation helped people learn about the power of collaboration in the feminist movement.
How Art can Reach People and its Influence
Art can reach people and influence them through different approaches. In the 1980s, the Guerilla Girls made their art available to people by placing posters in public places to ensure that they would be seen. Their application of the same strategies like using bright colors and short messages that were by advertising companies attracted the attention of people walking along the streets and helped them to garner more followers and supporters. Their art also influenced many people because they addressed concerns that were common among women. Aside from issues of sexism, they also protested against racism, in support of the Black civil rights movement that was popular during the period (Small, 1999). These strategies helped them to attract women from different backgrounds regardless of their racial differences.
Mary Beth Edelson’s original work is currently stored in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art along with other iconic artworks. During the second feminist movement, her painting was made into a poster and distributed among feminists across the country. The distribution of her work during the late 1970s helped women acknowledge the feminist activism force. In modern days, visitors of the museum get the chance to admire her creativity and revisit the objectives of the 1970s feminist movement. Visitors going to the museum also get the opportunity to appreciate the works and roles played by the other women artists portrayed in Mary Beth’s work (Griefen, 2019). The placement of such artworks in museums promotes accessibility by the public and the continuity of feminist movements and the advocacy for women rights.
The Womanhouse installation organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro was the first public exhibition of feminism installation art. The work, which was created between January 1972 and February of the same year, attracted many viewed who were interested in seeing Chicago and Schapiro’s depiction of a woman’s world. Although their work was created nearly fifty years ago, it still holds a significant spot in feminism history (Strauss, 2018). House tour videos and pictures are still used to study the depiction of feminism in the 1970s and influence more people in the modern world to support the gender equality movement.
A new installation referred to as “Women house” was installed last year as a representation of another generation of contemporary women artists interested in addressing the same gender issues and stereotypes affecting women in society. The new installation was supposed to be created in a gallery setting using photographs, sculptures, and videos. The installation was displayed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts located in Washington for three months. Womanhouse was one of the most significant installations that supported the feminist movement (Strauss, 2018). Its recreation through the “Women House” projected was meant to spread the message of feminism to the modern woman and influence people’s interests in addressing existing problems affecting women.
Exposing modern women the 20th and 21st-century feminism art could rejuvenate or support the forth-feminist movement that is characterized by internet usage. Since the internet is fastest communication tool globally, discussing issues related to gender biases, male-domination in certain careers, need to equal pay, access to more employment opportunities in fields such as science, business, and engineering that have long been associated with men, and fight against gender-based violence. The growing uptake on technology and use of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have made it possible for people to share feminism art and messages (Jackson, 2018). The availability of these websites and online platforms have also promoted the involvement of young women in the feminist movement, which is a major defining factor of the forth-feminist movement.
Past activists often consisted of older women above the age of thirty years, who were often unmarried, divorced or man-haters. Social media influenced more women to report cases of domestic violence and rape and offered them platforms to interact with others who went through similar issues. Such women have also been offered free online counselling session by professional psychologists to help them cope with the trauma. Aside from that, online platforms have raised movements such as the #MeToo movement that was created to fight against sexual harassment (Jackson, 2018). As such, digital media has been a significant tool in connecting women to the feminist movement.
Since the emergence of the feminist movement, activists advocating for women rights have addressed a wide range of issues affecting women in society. They have pursued issues regarding cultural and social forms of oppression, gender and sexuality, racism, and the representation of women in different fields. Concerns on a woman’s place in society and gender-role stereotypes are still common in the modern world, which sensitizes the need to direct more resources towards the feminist movement. Art assisted feminists in fighting for women representation in politics. Artworks such as Mary Beth Edelson representation of the Last Supper and the Womanhouse project by Chicago and Schapiro contributed to the perception of women as more than domestic workers, wives, or mothers. Different forms of art have been used over the years to support feminist political activism and change the perception of women in society. The use of social media in the modern world is likely to have the most impact on the movement based on people’s ability to access the internet and participate in online discussions about feminism.
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