Feminism refersto an organised movement that supports women’s rights and the equality of thesexes. Despite the many variations of feminism ranging from; liberal, radicaland social, each movement aims to express women’s personal experiences wherebythey face oppression due to patriarchy in their daily lives. This has initiallylimited their roles in society, hindering their efforts to succeed in life, aproblem that is still relevant to the modern day. Feminist artists emergedpredominantly in the 1970s, whom similarly intend to create art that reflectsthe issues in women’s lives and experiences through feminist perspective forthe viewer. The feminist art movement significantly challenges the socialhierarchy giving women an equal position to their male oppositions, changingsocieties norms and further achieving their goals of liberating sexism 1. Therefore,the feminist art movement has both informed and shaped aesthetic attitudes andstudio practices drastically through taking an avant-garde approach.
It hastransformed “traditional art forms such as paintings to more unorthodox methodssuch as conceptual art, performance art, body art” and various other uses ofmedia. “Feminist art serving as an innovative driving force towards expandingthe definition of art” has allowed society to become aware of female discrimination,therefore many artforms now avert oppression whilst also attaining a feministperspective for viewers 1. Despite many other political ideologies that haveshaped attitudes to art, the feminist art movement in achieving a greaterimpact. JudyChicago was “one of the pioneersof Feminist art in the 1970s”. Her work focused on “questioning the authoritythe of male-dominated society which has posed one of the most significant challengesto modernism”.
This at the time was deemed rather controversial and raisedpolitical activity which in ways has shaped aesthetic attitudes and studio practiceof art. Figure 1: ‘The Dinner Party’ by JudyChicago, 1974-1979.She created ‘The Dinner Party’ (1974-1979, fig. 1) which is oneof the most influential piece of the feminist art movement as it displays “alarge banquet table with place settings for thirty-nine notable women fromhistory and mythology”, with each of the women being set a unique “butterflyand vulva-inspired design that represents Mother Nature and the vagina” 2.Chicago challenges the patriarchal hierarchy by attempting to rewrite historythat is currently male dominated by rediscovering “lost role models”, shewishes to express her intentions of creating a world where society canacknowledge 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 thethirty-nine women, “the names of 999 other women were painted on the tilesbelow the triangular table” displaying Chicago’s desire to unite all women andencouraging them in their movement to present their power against maleoppression 3.
Chicago, ‘The DinnerParty’ (1979) stated that”Because men have a history, it is difficultfor them to imagine what it is like to grow up without one, or the sense ofpersonal expansion that comes from discovering that we women have a worthyheritage. Along with pride often comes rage – rage that one has been deprivedof such a significant knowledge.” Whereby she explores her individual experience beingdisadvantaged in society, growing up without any significant female rolemodels.
Her ambitions have not only reshaped history, she has also given newperspectives for artforms, inspiring many other women to begin creating piecesthat encourage feminism. Chicago touches upon how “rage, that one has beendeprived of such a significant knowledge” which entails how men have succumbedto rage, knowing themselves that women are just as capable of succeeding inlife as they are. Thus, to keep their pride, they had silenced all thesenotable women through history and mythology, so that they must be the superioramongst the sexes. Furthermore, the women are offered “unabashed femininity onthe plate rather than a meal cooked by women” to signify their desire to changesocietal norms of how women were usually the cooks in the households.Demonstrating how women take ownership and are proud of their womanlyproperties to show that they are not discouraged for who they are. The use of”gold ceramic chalices” and “porcelain plates” connote luxurious aspects aboutwomanhood which links back to Chicago rediscovering the rich heritage that wasonce forgotten 3. Associating women with luxury perhaps could exhibit howthey too desire a sense of superiority that is not given to them. However, itis more to challenge their need for equal treatment to their male counterpartsin order to liberate them and abolish sexism, through their belief that bothsexes 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 artistsflourished and developed more interpretive ways to reflect women’s experiencesin life. Feminist art soon began to take upon new interpretations ofartforms that were rather unorthodox of traditional art. Ewa Partum, studied atthe State Higher School of Fine Arts in ?ód? from 1963 to 1965 as well as The Academy of Fine Arts inWarsaw whereby she graduated in 1970 for her work in poetry as art 4. As apoetic artist, Partum “engaged in linguistic activities in an attempt todiscover a new artistic language”, however from being “fed up with the discrimination she felt as a womanperformance artist, she began to incorporate her naked body into her work”. Figure 2: ‘Change’ by Ewa Partum,1974.
In her work, ‘Change’ (1974, fig. 2) along with the help of amakeup artist to “artificially age a portion of her face, in front of anaudience and on camera” to “address the standards of beauty established andperpetuated by men”. The final image was then on posters throughout Poland witha caption stating, “My problem is the problem of a woman” 5. The contrastbetween the current and aged halves of the faces are used to portray herselfchallenging societal expectations of a woman and men’s belief that women becomemore “undesirable as they grow older”.
This shows to viewers that she candisplay comfort and beauty in both the current and aged appearences of herself.Her actions enforce a feminist approach for the viewer to acknowledge that shedisregards how men feel that women should act and behave. By doing so, sheliberates herself from male oppression, encouraging women that they too shouldnot be objectified to behave in a particular way in society and that men do notcontrol women.
These types of artforms shaped attitudes and studio practices ofart as women became more comfortable expressing how they felt and wanted toconvey themselves rather than to conform to societal norms. Many of Partum’sperformances associated with the themes of women’s bodies, reassuring womenthat they should not be ashamed of their appearance and to influence them to beproud of themselves as they are not the problem. On the other hand, “criticswere quick to label this as a manoeuvre of egocentrism rather thanthoughtfulness” displaying how women were still opposed to express themselveswith freely as men did not hesitate to exploit a negative aspect of herartform. Despite all the judgement, Partum’s passion for artform prevailed asshe expressed her true intentions of dismantling the treatment of a woman’sbody as a sexual object 5. Feminist artists such as Partum have started tochange society’s perceptions into realising the issues regarding stereotypingof each gender. Addressing these concerns gave birth to various media outletslike 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 tothe feminist movement, further advancing their goals of reaching genderequality which all initially began by the “power of independent women” 6.
Dueto this achievement, feminist artists began to experiment even further as nowthey had the freedom to express themselves in any way desired, wherebyunconventional interpretations could be created even from ordinary objects. Laurie Simmons “is one of the first contemporary Americanphotographers to create elaborate staged narrative photographs”. Havingfinished art school in 1972, she stumbled upon a toy store going out ofbusiness where she noticed toys she played with as a child, deciding then tobuy all of them along with wallpaper from an old general store” 8. Herphotographs consist of “staged scenes for her camera with dolls, mannequins andoccasionally people, to create images with intensely psychological subtexts”.
Shehas worked on “numerous solo exhibitions ever since her first at Artists Spacein 1979” by which most her work is now in museum installations within the USand abroad 7. Figure 3: ‘Interiors’ by LaurieSimmons, (1979).Simmons’ artwork explores the use of ordinaryobjects used in our lives to create something that can be interpreted through afeminist perspective for the viewer to engage them with unconventional topics. Theprocess began by setting “up empty interior spaces with miniature rooms andfurnishings” to be then “lit with direct sunlight or harsh contrast theatrelights” to create a realistic depiction of a place which gave her the idea forthe “camera’s ability to tell lies rather than portray the truth”. Figure 4: ‘Pushing Lipstick’ by LaurieSimmons, (1979).
Many havepraised her photographs in the ‘Interiors’ (1979, fig. 3) set for the rich andjoyfulness of its colour, “the space is more cramped” in the kitchen as thewoman 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 insimilarity to the harsh unfair treatment of women as they are belittled anddiscouraged to pursue their dreams and careers and only expected by society tobe subservient mothers andhousewives that must take care of their family. The tight spacing furtherimplies this as it shows the woman becoming entrapped within society as itexclaims to her how she must only act and behave in a womanly manner that hasbeen created by societies expectations of them. Whereas her photograph in”Pushing Lipstick (1979, fig. 4) “shows a doll beside a lipsticknearly 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 shapedstudio practices on a platform for artists to explore unconventional ideas.Simmons’ presents to the viewer how she ridicules male beliefs of how a biggerpenis size is more desirable, perhaps also entailing that male beliefs towardswomen are sexually objective which she disregards by laughing at their patheticview. In conclusion,to a great extent, feminist artists have informed and shaped aestheticattitudes and studio practices as it has “served as an innovative driving forcetowards expanding the definition of art”.
Artforms have now shifted fromtraditional works into interpretive methods as they wanted to display afeminist perspective. Artist such as Chicago’s traditional feminist art becameinfluential for other women to also act for the movement leading to the likesof Partum explored performance and conceptual art to fight for her cause. Thus,raising awareness of female oppression to the public which had given a platformfor the movement to explore further unorthodox and unconventional themes, ideasand beliefs when portraying female experiences. Through displaying theirartwork to a global audience, women have presented their prowess to challengepatriarchal society into becoming one where both sexes exist in equilibrium.