Art and Feminism
Feminism takes on many forms and contains many sub-movements, both in the art world and beyond. In the words of activist and author bell hooks, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Curator Catherine Morris, artist Andrea Bowers, and performance artist Maria Alyokhina bring a strong feminist perspective to “Where Art Meets Activism.” In this topical playlist, we meet four other pioneering artists from three generations of feminist art. From the late Carolee Schneemann (1939-2019), who shocked the art world in 1975 by performing nude, unfurling a narrow roll of paper from her vagina, in the groundbreaking Interior Scroll, to millennial Allison Zuckerman (b. 1990), whose appropriations of art historical tropes give rise to a bricolage of feminist figuration, each of the artists featured in this playlist takes on the patriarchal norms of the art world and society at large.
This playlist is featured in Where Art Meets Activism, Issue 6 of our Research Guide.
Carolee Schneemann on Fearless Artmaking
Carolee Schneemann talks about painting, performance, censorship, and resistance in a telephone conversation we recorded just days before she received the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the opening ceremony of the 57th Venice Art Biennale. Schneemann started as a painter in the 1950s. In the 1960s, she began using her own body as material in experiments with film, music, poetry, dance, and performance. For decades, she explored cultural and political taboos. Though Schneemann died in 2019, her revolutionary work continues to move us.
Micol Hebron on Protesting Gender Inequality
Micol Hebron, a Los Angeles-based artist, is inspired by the work of Carolee Schneemann. We talk about her performance of Roll Call at the feminist exhibition Auto Body, Miami, in 2014. Building on Schneemann’s Interior Scroll, Hebron pulled a scroll from her own vagina, and read aloud from it the gender statistics of artists represented by 88 galleries in Los Angeles. In her long career of activist feminist art, Hebron often uses her body as a “conduit for information.”
Zoë Buckman on Fight Mode
Artist Zoë Buckman is in fight mode. Her own boxing gloves figure in mixed media installations, spoken word, sound art, and public art projects that defend women’s reproductive rights. British born, the New York-based multi-disciplinary artist explores themes of feminism, mortality, and equality. In Champ, she joins a pair of her own boxing gloves with a neon diagram of the uterus in poetic response to the attack on Planned Parenthood in the United States. A continuation of her ongoing series Mostly It’s Just Uncomfortable, the sculptural installation raises questions about health care, sex education, and women’s rights, while promoting female positivity.
Paint and Pixels Power the Art of Allison Zuckerman
New York-based artist Allison Zuckerman explains what drives her desire to distort conventions of female beauty and push art appropriation to a new high. In bright, bold collages, she mixes paint with pixels to create absurd and exaggerated hybrids—women claiming their presence and power in the world. We meet during her 2018 exhibition at Miami’s Rubell Family Collection. The paintings on view are the wild fruit of a 2017 summer residency, when she seized the moment to make her compositions larger than life.
Fresh Art Connects
Julia Rudo, Fresh Art Communications Director, writes about these feminist voices.
If art is the mirror of society, feminism is the reflection for artists Andrea Bowers, Micol Hebron, Carole Schneemann, Allison Zuckerman, and other influential voices we hear in the Fresh Art archive. The use of art as a tool for activism—a means to bear witness, call for change, illuminate imbalance, document stories, and confront inequities—is perhaps the most fundamental pillar of feminist art. Facing today’s global health crisis and in our current climate of public confrontation, I am reminded of just how much feminism pervades all aspects of everyday reality and women’s cultural presence in the world today—influencing the broadening embrace of equity, inclusion, and diversity, across race, gender, religion, and beyond.
Listening to the voices in these episodes, I am propelled back to January 21, 2017, to the worldwide Women’s March, and the afternoon I spent in Miami’s Bayfront Park Amphitheater. Attending with one of the most influential women in my life, my partner, I remember the energy and emotion that filled the air that day as we gathered in hopes of not just uplifting women, but specifically Black women, queer women, Muslim women, young women, and future generations of women.
But I also remember the fear in that moment. In the wake of what PBS dubbed “The Year of Mass Shootings,” months before some of the worst tragedies of gun violence, and following a tumultuous election that created such radical political unrest and uncertainty, we felt vulnerable about gathering, protesting, and speaking out. However, facing fear is the force of feminism—we achieve fearlessness by taking risks through activism.
In this topical playlist, we introduce the following concepts and histories:
Waves of Feminism
Scholars of feminism typically talk about the movement as having a series of “waves,” each characterized by certain values, beliefs, and priorities. First-wave feminism focused on the fight for female suffrage and other legal protections for women in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1960s through the 1980s, second-wave feminists such as Judy Chicago and Carolee Schneemann fought more broadly against gender stereotypes, constrictive cultural norms, and systemic sexism, emphasizing solidarity for the first time across racial and cultural divides. The dawn of the internet age coincided with the birth of third-wave feminism in the 1990s, when the movement’s “grrl” culture promoted an even more inclusive, gender-fluid vision of equality drawing on postcolonial and postmodern theories. The fourth-wave feminists of today are consciously intersectional (see below), expanding the fight from women’s struggles and experiences to gender equality more broadly. The Me Too Movement (see below) has been an important facet of this most recent wave.
Related episode: Fourth Wave Feminist Art
Some feminists, including several featured in this topical playlist, find power in the female body’s ability to have a monthly menstrual cycle, gestate life, and undergo childbirth. Calling attention to and celebrating these core attributes of womanhood were particularly important to earlier waves of feminism. New generations of feminist activists have argued that equating “womanhood” with certain biological and anatomical features (i.e. an “essentialist” view of who is female) excludes a wide range of woman-identifying and non-gender-conforming people. Essentialist feminism has been called out for dismissing the experiences of transgender and gender-fluid individuals. At the same time, female reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care remain a critical flashpoint in the United States and in many other countries. Many feminists have moved to focus on how norms of gender performance are shaped by societal expectations. New inclusive terms, including “womyn” and “womxn,” are being increasingly adopted.
An increasingly mainstream understanding of feminism took hold in the 1990s, with third-wave feminism. Intersectional feminists recognize that various markers of identity (including age, class, gender, race, sexuality, cultural background, and ability) overlap and shape our experience of the world. Pointing to the particular challenges and discrimination faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community who are also people of color, the ascendant Black Trans Lives Matter movement underscores the need for a radically intersectional feminism. This movement calls for white feminists to examine their privilege and complicity in perpetuating a white supremacist and heteronormative culture.
Me Too Movement
The Me Too movement calls out sexual harassment and abuse, and provides support and solidarity for survivors. Founded in 2006 by activist and survivor Tarana Burke, Me Too (also known as #MeToo) began as a movement oriented towards empowering women of color and sexual abuse survivors in low-income communities. The movement gained global traction in 2017 following the myriad sexual harassment allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein and other prominent and powerful men. Actress and abuse survivor Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” That invitation sparked an unprecedented response, when women working in a range of professions shared their experiences online. As Burke describes, “What started as local grassroots work has expanded to reach a global community of survivors from all walks of life and helped to de-stigmatize the act of surviving by highlighting the breadth and impact of sexual violence worldwide.” Andrea Bowers and Zoë Buckman directly engage Me Too in their work.
Related episodes: Jillian Mayer on the Nude Selfie Project
Bender, Abby. “Judy Chicago’s Collaboration With Dior Is Beautiful, but Its Feminist Ambitions Are Questionable” (opinion). Hyperallergic, January 23, 2020. [link]
Brooklyn Museum. “Educator packet for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago.” [link]
Cascone, Sarah. “Zoë Buckman Sends Post-Harvey Hollywood a Message With Her Public Sculpture of a Boxing Uterus.” Artnet News, February 27, 2018. [link]
Dafoe, Taylor. “Behind Artist Allison Zuckerman’s Rapid Rise From Gallery Assistant to the Rubell Family’s Newest Obsession.” Artnet News, December 5, 2017. [link]
Frieze News Desk. “Breastfeeding Mothers Protest at Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art.” Frieze, November 26, 2019. [link]
Jones, Christopher P. “The Changing Status of Feminist Art History.” Medium, May 19, 2019. [link]
Solly, Meilan. “Carolee Schneemann Pioneered the Way Women’s Bodies Were Seen.” Smithsonian Magazine, March 14, 2019. [link]
Stender, Oriane. “A Woman’s Work is Never Done (Or, Too Often, Is Done and Attributed to a Man)” (opinion). Hyperallergic, June 6, 2019. [link]
Feminism & Art, Art History Teaching Resources
Feminist Art Coalition Resources