Photo essay: Feminist art
"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."