Photo essay: Feminist art

by Azadeh Azad
"WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution" is a travelling exhibition organised by the Los Angeles Museum of Art and curated by Connie Butler. It has been open at the Vancouver Art Gallery since October 4 and will continue until January 11, 2009. The show is the first comprehensive, international survey of over 300 works that emerged from the dynamic relationship between art and feminism between 1965 and 1980, a time in which a majority of feminist activism and art-making occurred across the globe. Watch video.

In the West, these years were an era of enormous social and political upheaval. Women were colliding with authority and challenging accepted assumptions on every front. They were active in anti-Vietnam War protests, the civil rights movement and women’s rights struggles. They questioned societal norms, laws and taboos; they analysed, protested and provoked – both out in the world and in their art.

Feminist art embodied the phrase "the personal is political." It ranged from the introspective and personal to the intensely confrontational, breaking all previously accepted bounds of art. Working in a diverse range of media, the exhibited artists explored many unexamined areas, challenging assumptions about the materials and projects that could be considered art. They used their bodies as canvases. They cut, reinvented, collaged and pieced together. They pushed beyond accepted ideas about artists’ media, disciplines and values. They used traditional crafts strategically, as celebratory objects, subversive tools and political weapons. They rescued everyday objects, personal histories and mundane data from the confines of domestic life, and elevated them to the realms of high art. They questioned, worded, wrote, read and rebelled, addressing and challenging every and any power relationship that could limit their lives and art.

One of the most profound impacts of feminism on art is the erosion of the boundaries between art and life, which remains with us today. Yoko Ono’s 1964-65 multi-layered performance, entitled "Cut Piece," which you can see in the following video, is one example of many in which women protested the Vietnam War and publicly tested the boundaries of their oppression. Ono invited audience members to cut off her clothes with scissors. Her role in the event invokes a classical vulnerability, while there's everything from worried tenderness to raw misogynist aggression in the reactions of the cutters. And of course there's also something empowering in her refusal to react, whatever's done to her. She took the passive resistance of the civil rights movement and made it the medium of art.

The curator of the show made up the name "Wack!" to recall the acronyms of many activist groups and political communities in the 1960s and 70s that focused on women's issues - WAC (Women’s Art Coalition) and so on. The present photo essay includes a small sample of the exhibited artworks. The photos 8, 11 and 37 are taken from "The Wack! Catalogue."


moving work, no doubt.

by NimaTheGreat on

moving work, no doubt.



by farrokhzad on

39 is just powerful. It is aesthetically beautiful and erotic. Depiction of this woman aggressively, confidently, unabashedly laying claim to the man's genitalia is absolutely powerful. She makes a convincing run at owning him much like a man tries to own a woman by laying claim to her vagina.  I think they are laying down next to each other but I'd like to think they are standing.  That'd be even more powerful.  It's an eye catching image. Everything art should be.

The whole exhibit is wondeful. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.  



by samsam1111 on

A reader emailed me to see if I am Sam . No , I,m not & have no opinion on the subject of this article  either positive or negative . Sorry for the intrusion .



by Anonymous77 (not verified) on

Your post just shows that you don't know anything about the background of the photos and the artists in question.
Best for you to look them up.

Azadeh is totally right.


I agree with choghok...

by my idea (not verified) on

This is a bunch of nonsense. All feminists are lesbians. People who could not get through the first year algebra, but still had to finish school studying something, mad up some nonsense courses and called it “Women Studies” so at the end of the 4 years of university they could show their rich parent a degree and say we are educated now. I agree with the second comment by choghok. What is posted here is called “porn for shy people”… he he heah
Hoping you all find rich doctor husbands who can financially support your sitting on your _a_sses drawing pictures that a 4 year old can draws and calling it feminist art.
Oh, and Yoko Ono who was so f_u_ed up in the head from all the drugs she smoked with her husband back in the old days that she was walking necked for days and nights…..now is an artist…as I said she married rich so now she can sit and draw nonsense, can call it art and a bunch of Women Studies grads are supporting her drugged up head 


Azadeh jaan wake up and smell the....

by Sam I am (not verified) on

Azadeh khanoom

I am not sure you get it , Those photos are mostly (not all of them ),great Artistic expression , and has nothing to do with women freedom ,or any feminist movement, the subject was women and related stuff that women consum, some of those photos are just objects and shapes.. would you please look at it from different pint of view (you might get different expression),any of those picture I looke at, made me think and some of them let my imagination take over ,if it does so ,then the artist could get his or her message across and that's what it is all about to express someone point of view in artistic exprssions..., please be a little more optimisim.

Azadeh Azad

For "Anonymous Information"

by Azadeh Azad on

Your "congratulatory notes" were very funny!!! Please send me your view of painting #39 that was not posted here. azadeh_azad@hotmail.com


So so so

by Anonymous Information (not verified) on


I just want to let you know that my view of painting #39 was not posted. So, here is some congratulatory notes for you to make up for what I did not say in my comment that was not posted; you are doing a great job, you are fantastic, so inspirational, always informative and provocative in a good way, keep up the good work, bravo, you are daring, you are a great psychologist, so fantastic, so intelligent, so beautiful...

Marjan Zahed Kindersley


by Marjan Zahed Kindersley on

I used to love that video of Ono's.


I had a peep at the website , but couldn't find out if the exhibition is travelling to London. Maybe it's already been? (I'm usually totally out of sinc/k)

Those people paved the way for people like myself not to have to bother about gender issues .....

The only thing I fault them for is that I could have just been a woman of pleasure and leisure, now I have to work! ;)

Thanks again!

Azadeh Azad

Feminist Art

by Azadeh Azad on

Dear Agha Mohsen,

In your two posts, you have stated the following:

1) This is not art.

2) These photos are garbage.

 3) I understand that Ms. Azad likes to see women have more freedoms and play a more important role in the society. However, I don’t see how this garbage would add even a tiny bit to women’s worth.

4) Excuse me, but you should be ashamed of yourselves.

5) I hope Ms Azad would spend her time on more useful and more respectable issues/causes in the future.

6) Art and artistry are very important in every culture. However, when your goal is to use Art for the advancement of a cause, I need to say that these pictures and the article Ms. Azad has submitted will have a negative effect on many people.

As I need to be clear about your objections to this Photo Essay before offering you a response, I'd like to ask you the following questions: 

1) What is your definition of Art? Why "this" is not Art?

2) Why these photos are garbage? Is that your personal taste or is this a moralistic objection? What is wrong with these paintings and photos?

3) As "sickofchauvinists" asked, why do you think women are in need of addition or reduction of a set of values that has been defined by you and other men?

4) Why do you think these pictures and my article (or blog as you put it) will have a negative effect on many people? What negative effect did they have on *you*? What is negative about these pictures?

5) In your view, what are "useful and respectable" issues or causes? Why Feminist Art is not useful or respectable?

I'll be blogging this same post. I invite you, "sickofchauvinists", Ari Siletz and other readers to please visit my new blog and engage in a more detailed discussion.

Thank you,



آقاي آري سليتز عزيز

آقا محسن جوانمرد (not verified)

هنر و هنرمندي چيز بسيار مهمي در هر فرهنگي ميباشد٠ ولي اگر مقصود از استفاده هنر براي پيشبرد يك موضوعي ميباشد، بايدكه با كمال احترام عرض كنم، اين عكس ها و بلاگي كه خانم آزاد عرضه كرده اند، براي خيلي ها اثر منفي خواهد داشت٠ همين - موفق باشيد


Ari and Mr. mohsen Your

by sickofchauvanists (not verified) on

Ari and Mr. mohsen

Your statements connote that women are inherently worthless and they are in need of addition or reduction of a patriarchally designed "value matrix"...It is unfathomable for some Islamist indoctrinated men to view women just as another human being without a Penis. How very sad, indeed!

Ari Siletz

For Agha Mohsen Javanmard

by Ari Siletz on

The Western woman vs. Muslim woman issue is matter of national security for Iran because the cultural friction facilitates war, sedition, and civil unrest. Your question to JJ about how these artistic expressions add to the value of women is important. Why are you posing it rhetorically?



جناب آقاي جاويد

آقا محسن جوانمرد (not verified)

اي دوست من، عزيز من، آخه اينم شد هنر٠ من متوجه شدم كه اين خانم آزاد ميل به اين دارند كه خانم ها آزادي بيشتر، و بتوانند در اجتماع رُل مهم تري را بازي كنند٠ من متاسفانه نمي فهمم كه چطور اين آت و آشقال حتي يك ذره به ارزش زنها اذافه ميكند٠ عذر ميخوام، ولي خجالت هم خوب چيزيه٠ اميدوارم كه در آينده، خانم آزاد وقت خود را در امور مفيد تر و آبرو مند تر صرف كنند٠ با كمال احترام، آقا محسن جوانمرد


Thanks Azadeh, that was a

by desi on

Thanks Azadeh,

that was a great photo essay.  Your use of the opening piece made me curious to check out the rest.  That's exactly what yellow journalism is intended to do. Without it I dare to say I may have overlooked this and I'm glad I didn't.  

Jahanshah Javid

I watched

by Jahanshah Javid on

I learned and enjoyed every much. Thank you!

I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek

It's 2008. Naked Bodies still cause this much ruckus?

by I Have a Crush on Alex Trebek on

The more things change..... wait have they really changed though?

Azarin Sadegh

Excellent post!

by Azarin Sadegh on

Thanks a lot Azadeh Jan for this post!

These pictures not only carry our modern history, but they also contain an explosive sense of freedom! No wonder many "hezbollahis" don't get it..:-)

Thanks again! azarin

Arash Monzavi-Kia

Thanks Azadeh dear - nice post

by Arash Monzavi-Kia on

In this case, why not call it pink journalism? :-)

Anyway, it works; I have relinquished all my IRI/israel brawls on the other blogs. Time to get in touch with the feminine side! 

Arash M-K


I didn't wait for the slow

by TheMrs on

I didn't wait for the slow upload of any of the images because they didn't excit curiosity in me. I went through most of them quickly. But the cover is very interesting. The guy is masculine but he's not over powering her.

It shows the woman is involved. She's not passive. It looks like she is enjoying herself. It's definately not pornographic. Look at the way her feet are, she looks relaxed. And her hand with the chain makes her look like any average woman. Her hair is running through her lover's hand.

The only startling thing is the colors. The yellow back ground, what's that about? In some cultures yellow is the color of mourning. The woman seems to be real, she has a regular skin color. But the man doesn't look real. Maybe it's my screen but he's green, green with envy?

Maybe it's so natural, it's just a fantasy. Maybe that's what's so feminist about it. An ideal that doesn't really exist! He's so sculpted and unatural looking. But at the same time, we can't see their faces, so it could be any of us. Ok, maybe not the repressed ones who equate a naked body with shame and think it belongs in Playboy under the bed.



Mr Siletz

by Souri on

I see your point now . You look at it from the artist eye. You and the artist, maybe right in this presentation.

Thanks for taking time to explain.


Ari Siletz

For Souri

by Ari Siletz on

I think we're both tuning in on this work, never mind our different takes on it. The "one movement" suggestion is definitely there. The extended thumb and the bracelet rhyme with the thought, confirming it.  


Our debate as to interpretation may be helped by looking at other works by the same artist, in this case Joan Semmel. Here is another of her paintings in a similar setting.  The idea seems to be to look at the scene completely from the woman's perspective. Since this necessarily means her face will not be visible, note how in this image also the hands do the talking. Here is another in the same spirit, where there's no man; the woman is just looking down at her own body. Semmel carries this to obsessive extremes in later works where she uses cameras and mirrors to make sure that even an outside view of the female body is from her personal perspective.   


The massive male dominating "Erotic Yellow" is meant in one of several feminist contexts--sex object, vulnerable beast, perfect lover etc.  None of which is present in "patriarchal" art. 


Sick and sadistic minds

by Mehbod (not verified) on

All I see is some pornographic images created by sadistic minds.


Thanks Azadeh,

by Jaleho on

But I'd pay even less to psychologist than to exhibition of this types. A hair cut typically gives me a better psychological benefit than idea of consulting a psychologist :-)

Thought the Medusa story, the mythology, has more beauty to it than just the recent feminist interpretation of it, which I find rather cheap.


Thank you though.

Azadeh Azad


by Azadeh Azad on

Not everybody who hates snakes has a totalitarian mind-set (har guerdi guerdou nist.) And that’s the extent of my free counselling. Email me for my counselling fees.




I knew you'd

by Jaleho on

enjoy that piece Azadeh :-) :-)

Now, wasn't the snake in case of Medusa actually a punishment, turning men into stone?

Also, now that I got a free psychologist, what if one loves cats, but hates snakes?  SCIENTIFICALLY, what would that signify? To complicate the situation further, what if one can tolerate the real snake OK, but can't tolerate the pictures of it, plastic artificial ones that is shaken in front of you, or in particular movies where you see them move, would that "moving" part prove more of a totalitarian mind? 


Mr Siletz

by Souri on

Good for you if you see the picture from this angle.

For an ordinary observer (like myself) the picture shows much of "male dominance"...the woman's body  is almost erased under the heavy mass of the man. The only part of her body which is free to move, is her hand and the only movement which is free for her hand, is only to give pleasure instead of taking. The way "she" is surrounded by the man's arms and feet, she can't move any part of her body freely, unless the hand. The way the man is taking the woman's whole body, between his arms and leg, has literally condemned that woman to do only "one movement"....forgive me for being too explicit (not my usual way, I know!!)

The woman's body in this picture is almost "inexistent"....only the hand where it "should be" from a male's point of view.



Ari Siletz

Defending the front page image

by Ari Siletz on

The artist has painted the nude couple from a non-standard angle. She is commenting that standard nude poses still observe unspoken (patriarchal)taboos that effectively clothe the subject. Note how the artist highlights her criticism by having a female hand cover the male parts discovered from this new body angle. This novel--and humorous-- interpretation of the "fig leaf" breaks with the classic "Adam and Eve" archtetype in that it distinguishes chastity from dignity. A relevant feminist theme.

Azadeh Azad

Erotic Yellow, etc

by Azadeh Azad on

Feminist art replaced the "male gaze" at sexuality with "female gaze." I believe the painting entitled Erotic Yellow (on the front page) is an assertion of female’s active sexuality as opposed to her sexual passivity in Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions.

Did someone mention the snake? :-)

Snake has many strong sexual and transformative connotations. It symbolises the Goddess and by extension female power and sexuality (among many other things.) People with totalitarian mind-set usually hate snakes (as they transform and are not static like themselves) and cats (as they cannot be ordered around.) These people also usually dislike psychology – they don't like to look at themselves in the mirror.


PS. to my last post

by Jaleho on

now that Azadeh has mentioned her former photo essay,

Despite being a backward Hezbollahi, and despite a deep dislike of anything that has to do with psychology, I happened to like your former photo essay, Taming my Animus. (I refused to look at the picture which had a snake in it, so I even had to go one by one to make sure I'd avoid that one)