Feminism women’s personal experiences whereby they face oppression due

Feminism refers
to an organised movement that supports women’s rights and the equality of the
sexes. Despite the many variations of feminism ranging from; liberal, radical
and social, each movement aims to express women’s personal experiences whereby
they face oppression due to patriarchy in their daily lives. This has initially
limited their roles in society, hindering their efforts to succeed in life, a
problem that is still relevant to the modern day. Feminist artists emerged
predominantly in the 1970s, whom similarly intend to create art that reflects
the issues in women’s lives and experiences through feminist perspective for
the viewer. The feminist art movement significantly challenges the social
hierarchy giving women an equal position to their male oppositions, changing
societies norms and further achieving their goals of liberating sexism 1. Therefore,
the feminist art movement has both informed and shaped aesthetic attitudes and
studio practices drastically through taking an avant-garde approach. It has
transformed “traditional art forms such as paintings to more unorthodox methods
such as conceptual art, performance art, body art” and various other uses of
media. “Feminist art serving as an innovative driving force towards expanding
the definition of art” has allowed society to become aware of female discrimination,
therefore many artforms now avert oppression whilst also attaining a feminist
perspective for viewers 1. Despite many other political ideologies that have
shaped attitudes to art, the feminist art movement in achieving a greater


Chicago was “one of the pioneers
of Feminist art in the 1970s”. Her work focused on “questioning the authority
the of male-dominated society which has posed one of the most significant challenges
to modernism”. This at the time was deemed rather controversial and raised
political activity which in ways has shaped aesthetic attitudes and studio practice
of art.

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Figure 1: ‘The Dinner Party’ by Judy
Chicago, 1974-1979.

She created ‘The Dinner Party’ (1974-1979, fig. 1) which is one
of the most influential piece of the feminist art movement as it displays “a
large banquet table with place settings for thirty-nine notable women from
history and mythology”, with each of the women being set a unique “butterfly
and vulva-inspired design that represents Mother Nature and the vagina” 2.
Chicago challenges the patriarchal hierarchy by attempting to rewrite history
that is currently male dominated by rediscovering “lost role models”, she
wishes to express her intentions of creating a world where society can
acknowledge that men are not the only ones who have succeeded in their lives.
The banquet table metaphorically represents many aspects of womanhood, giving those
“notable women” the prowess that was once forgotten about them. Along with the
thirty-nine women, “the names of 999 other women were painted on the tiles
below the triangular table” displaying Chicago’s desire to unite all women and
encouraging them in their movement to present their power against male
oppression 3.  Chicago, ‘The Dinner
Party’ (1979) stated that

“Because men have a history, it is difficult
for them to imagine what it is like to grow up without one, or the sense of
personal expansion that comes from discovering that we women have a worthy
heritage. Along with pride often comes rage – rage that one has been deprived
of such a significant knowledge.” 


Whereby she explores her individual experience being
disadvantaged in society, growing up without any significant female role
models. Her ambitions have not only reshaped history, she has also given new
perspectives for artforms, inspiring many other women to begin creating pieces
that encourage feminism. Chicago touches upon how “rage, that one has been
deprived of such a significant knowledge” which entails how men have succumbed
to rage, knowing themselves that women are just as capable of succeeding in
life as they are. Thus, to keep their pride, they had silenced all these
notable women through history and mythology, so that they must be the superior
amongst the sexes. Furthermore, the women are offered “unabashed femininity on
the plate rather than a meal cooked by women” to signify their desire to change
societal norms of how women were usually the cooks in the households.
Demonstrating how women take ownership and are proud of their womanly
properties to show that they are not discouraged for who they are. The use of
“gold ceramic chalices” and “porcelain plates” connote luxurious aspects about
womanhood which links back to Chicago rediscovering the rich heritage that was
once forgotten 3. Associating women with luxury perhaps could exhibit how
they too desire a sense of superiority that is not given to them. However, it
is more to challenge their need for equal treatment to their male counterparts
in order to liberate them and abolish sexism, through their belief that both
sexes should not be objectified to be better than the other. On the contrary,
feminist art included not just traditional forms of art, as soon more artists
flourished and developed more interpretive ways to reflect women’s experiences
in life.


Feminist art soon began to take upon new interpretations of
artforms that were rather unorthodox of traditional art. Ewa Partum, studied at
the State Higher School of Fine Arts in ?ód? from 1963 to 1965 as well as The Academy of Fine Arts in
Warsaw whereby she graduated in 1970 for her work in poetry as art 4. As a
poetic artist, Partum “engaged in linguistic activities in an attempt to
discover a new artistic language”, however from being “fed up with the discrimination she felt as a woman
performance artist, she began to incorporate her naked body into her work”.

Figure 2: ‘Change’ by Ewa Partum,


In her work, ‘Change’ (1974, fig. 2) along with the help of a
makeup artist to “artificially age a portion of her face, in front of an
audience and on camera” to “address the standards of beauty established and
perpetuated by men”. The final image was then on posters throughout Poland with
a caption stating, “My problem is the problem of a woman” 5. The contrast
between the current and aged halves of the faces are used to portray herself
challenging societal expectations of a woman and men’s belief that women become
more “undesirable as they grow older”. This shows to viewers that she can
display comfort and beauty in both the current and aged appearences of herself.
Her actions enforce a feminist approach for the viewer to acknowledge that she
disregards how men feel that women should act and behave. By doing so, she
liberates herself from male oppression, encouraging women that they too should
not be objectified to behave in a particular way in society and that men do not
control women. These types of artforms shaped attitudes and studio practices of
art as women became more comfortable expressing how they felt and wanted to
convey themselves rather than to conform to societal norms. Many of Partum’s
performances associated with the themes of women’s bodies, reassuring women
that they should not be ashamed of their appearance and to influence them to be
proud of themselves as they are not the problem. On the other hand, “critics
were quick to label this as a manoeuvre of egocentrism rather than
thoughtfulness” displaying how women were still opposed to express themselves
with freely as men did not hesitate to exploit a negative aspect of her
artform. Despite all the judgement, Partum’s passion for artform prevailed as
she expressed her true intentions of dismantling the treatment of a woman’s
body as a sexual object 5. Feminist artists such as Partum have started to
change society’s perceptions into realising the issues regarding stereotyping
of each gender. Addressing these concerns gave birth to various media outlets
like the “Ms Magazine” in 1972 which created a platform for feminist voices,
ideas and beliefs to present to the public. This would soon draw attention to
the feminist movement, further advancing their goals of reaching gender
equality which all initially began by the “power of independent women” 6. Due
to this achievement, feminist artists began to experiment even further as now
they had the freedom to express themselves in any way desired, whereby
unconventional interpretations could be created even from ordinary objects.


Laurie Simmons “is one of the first contemporary American
photographers to create elaborate staged narrative photographs”. Having
finished art school in 1972, she stumbled upon a toy store going out of
business where she noticed toys she played with as a child, deciding then to
buy all of them along with wallpaper from an old general store” 8. Her
photographs consist of “staged scenes for her camera with dolls, mannequins and
occasionally people, to create images with intensely psychological subtexts”. She
has worked on “numerous solo exhibitions ever since her first at Artists Space
in 1979” by which most her work is now in museum installations within the US
and abroad 7. 

Figure 3: ‘Interiors’ by Laurie
Simmons, (1979).

Simmons’ artwork explores the use of ordinary
objects used in our lives to create something that can be interpreted through a
feminist perspective for the viewer to engage them with unconventional topics. The
process began by setting “up empty interior spaces with miniature rooms and
furnishings” to be then “lit with direct sunlight or harsh contrast theatre
lights” to create a realistic depiction of a place which gave her the idea for
the “camera’s ability to tell lies rather than portray the truth”.

Figure 4: ‘Pushing Lipstick’ by Laurie
Simmons, (1979).

Many have
praised her photographs in the ‘Interiors’ (1979, fig. 3) set for the rich and
joyfulness of its colour, “the space is more cramped” in the kitchen as the
woman is “stonefaced before a table laden with gigantic cans and pies”. Simmons’
demonstrates a stereotype of a housewife in the kitchen cooking for her family.
In addition, the inclusion of harsh lighting upon the scene perhaps entails in
similarity to the harsh unfair treatment of women as they are belittled and
discouraged to pursue their dreams and careers and only expected by society to
be subservient


mothers and
housewives that must take care of their family. The tight spacing further
implies this as it shows the woman becoming entrapped within society as it
exclaims to her how she must only act and behave in a womanly manner that has
been created by societies expectations of them. Whereas her photograph in
“Pushing Lipstick (1979, fig. 4) “shows a doll beside a lipstick
nearly as tall as she is, a phallic monolith to which she awkwardly inclines.
Scale is the punch line” 8. This illustrates how feminist art has shaped
studio practices on a platform for artists to explore unconventional ideas.
Simmons’ presents to the viewer how she ridicules male beliefs of how a bigger
penis size is more desirable, perhaps also entailing that male beliefs towards
women are sexually objective which she disregards by laughing at their pathetic


In conclusion,
to a great extent, feminist artists have informed and shaped aesthetic
attitudes and studio practices as it has “served as an innovative driving force
towards expanding the definition of art”. Artforms have now shifted from
traditional works into interpretive methods as they wanted to display a
feminist perspective. Artist such as Chicago’s traditional feminist art became
influential for other women to also act for the movement leading to the likes
of Partum explored performance and conceptual art to fight for her cause. Thus,
raising awareness of female oppression to the public which had given a platform
for the movement to explore further unorthodox and unconventional themes, ideas
and beliefs when portraying female experiences. Through displaying their
artwork to a global audience, women have presented their prowess to challenge
patriarchal society into becoming one where both sexes exist in equilibrium.