The Post-Modern art movement coincided with another significant social movement: the feminist movement. In the 1970s, the second-wave feminist movement began to gain influence, fighting for equal pay, more women in the workplace, and legalized abortion, among other causes. Along with any social movement comes artistic expression of the values expressed within the movement, so naturally, a feminist art movement gained prominence. The following six pieces are examples of feminist art post-1975 that express relation to the goals of the feminist movement.
The most famous piece of feminist art, that we happened to examine in our class, is The Dinner Party created by Judy Chicago and a team of 129 assistants (source) from 1974-1979. The Dinner Party features a triangular table with 39 place settings with famous women’s names inscribed on the tablecloth, as seen in the photo. Underneath the table, an additional 999 names are written across the entire piece to represent other women who contributed to society (source). The piece is currently housed at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and it is complemented by “rotating Herstory Gallery exhibitions relating to the 1,038 women honored at the table,” (source).
Judy Chicago herself was born in 1939 in Chicago. She has an impressively broad career, including artist, author of numerous books, and teaching at universities across the country (source). The Dinner Party is by far her most famous work, but she has many collaborative works in museums that have been influential to the feminist art cause as well. I feel like this piece fits in well with my theme because it is definitely one of the most recognizable and influential feminist artworks. Chicago was able to combine women’s history and art into one powerful exhibit, which is truly remarkable. I had never heard of this piece before we learned about it in our class but I think it is so unusual and awe-inspiring all at once. Many times we forget that women have had much more of an effect on the world than we realize because their contributions are often overlooked as unimportant, or in dramatic cases, attributed to male counterparts instead. I love how large this piece is because it represents the ability of this woman to create something that would always take up space, when traditionally women have been taught to take up as little space as possible.
Another piece of feminist art that sticks out to me is Maria Poythress Epes’ Heart and Soul, created in 2007 (source).
This piece is even more nontraditional and unusual than The Dinner Party. As seen in the photo, Heart and Soul is a mixed media piece using a woman’s blouse as a canvas. The centerpiece, with the scrambled threads, is a heart, surrounded by two painted breasts.
Maria Poythress Epes studied art at Cornell University. She has an impressive art career, including being included in a “NASA art program at the National Museum of Women in the Arts,” (source). Maria Poythress Epes’ artwork is largely shaped by her father’s death when she was 11. She says
“My attempt to understand this dying as part of our living turned my eyes to what is under the skin, the internal structures of the body and our female systems. It is hard to think about the female body without thinking of the clothes that cover or adorn it. So the social politics of gender on the outside meet with biology when I paint body parts on clothes, trying to merge the outer and the inner, our life and our inevitable death,” (source).
I chose to include that quote not only because it explains how Poythress Epes relates her artwork to her feminism, but because it is a beautiful expression of how her father’s death has influenced her spiritual growth and her artwork. This piece stuck out to me because I love how it is very simplistic but has a powerful message about the relationship between outer expression and inner spirituality.
A third piece that relates to the theme of feminist art is another project by Judy Chicago entitled Powerplay. Powerplay is actually a series of pieces created by Chicago from 1982-1987. This particular piece of the project, seen at right, is entitled In the Shadow of the Handgun 2 and was made in 1983. Powerplay is a series of pieces designed to study the “gender construct of masculinity”, according to Chicago’s website (source). I really like this piece because to me it seems as if it is first taking something usually meant in fun, the man pointing his finger like a gun, and then adding the volcanic eruption from it to imply that real danger can come from the over-hyping of masculinity in the form of violence. This is very fitting with goals of radical feminism, which examined the effects of rape and domestic violence. I also really like the minimal, but striking use of color in this piece.
Powerplay, as previously stated, was not made up of just one piece. Along with the prior piece expressing the relation of violence and masculinity, Chicago also created pieces in Powerplay that investigated, not surprisingly, the effect of power coupled with masculinity. These two pieces are entitled (left to right) Disfigured by Power 1 and Disfigured by Power 2, and were created in 1984 (source). I found these pieces to evoke a very different response from the piece I looked at above. The distorted appearance of the faces is disconcerting and evokes an emotional response of pain, fear, or even anger. Overall, it is a very powerful piece. One can only imagine what looking at the entire series of Powerplay would be like. Chicago herself explains part of the motivation behind Powerplay as “I wondered what feelings the male body might be made to express. Also, I wanted to understand why men acted so violently,” (source) This piece very effectively demonstrates Chicago’s goal of Powerplay.
The next piece in this virtual exhibit looks a little different than the first four. This piece is entitled The Twinning of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and was painted in 1989 (source). The artist, Miriam Schapiro, is considered by many to be one of the most important feminist artists. According to the Brooklyn Museum, Schapiro has been honored with six honorary doctorates and even has her own art archives – the Miriam Schapiro Archives for Women Artists at Rutgers University (source).
To be perfectly honest, I picked this piece because I don’t like it. I find it to be very busy and hard to look at. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it in the cause of feminist artwork! This piece demonstrates that female artists can express themselves in many different ways, and that feminism is not a ‘one size fits all’ ideology.
The final piece I have selected is also quite different from all the other pieces in this exhibit. This piece, seen to the left, is entitled Paper Dolls by Jocelyn Braxton Armstrong, created in 2012. According to her website, Jocelyn Braxton Armstrong is a sculpture artist who previously spent 20 years in the fashion industry, something that comes across often in her artwork. Her work can also be seen at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art (source).
I chose this piece because the inherent message is very subtle but moving. You may not have noticed it at first, but if you look closely at the paper dolls, you can see that from left to right there is a transformation from the typical paper doll structure to a sexy woman structure. The medium of the dolls is money from different countries. To me this is very moving because it represents the hyper-sexualization of young girls, and although I am not completely certain what the artist intended, the use of money and sexualization could indicate she was trying to bring attention to the crisis of the global sex trafficking trade. I really like this piece for its message and because of its very simple method of projecting a huge message.
Overall, these six pieces all tell individual stories, but they also tell of an overarching theme as well. These are all works of feminist art not only because they all have messages about fighting for gender equality but also because each of these women have a different background and were empowered to create completely different, creative forms of art. Many people think that women can only create one or two forms of artwork, but these artists have shown otherwise and have certainly made a lasting effect on the worlds of art and of feminism.
“About the Artist : Biography.” Jocelyn Braxton Armstrong: Ceramics. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.
“The Dinner Party: Acknowledgement Panels.” Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/acknowledgement_panels/>.
“Exhibitions: The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago.” Brooklyn Museum: The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/dinner_party/>.
“Feminist Art Base: Jocelyn Braxton Armstrong’s “Paper Dolls”” Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/Jocelyn_braxton_armstrong.php?i=3511>.
“Feminist Art Base: Maria Poythress Epes.” Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/mariaepes.php>.
“Feminist Art Base: Maria Poythress Epes’s ‘Heart & Soul'” Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/mariaepes.php?i=2005>.
“Feminist Art Base: Miriam Schapiro.” Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/miriam_schapiro.php>.
“Feminist Art Base: Miriam Schapiro’s ‘The Twinning of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden'” Brooklyn Museum: Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Brooklyn Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/feminist_art_base/gallery/miriam_schapiro.php?i=2296>.
“Judy Chicago: Biography.” Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago & Donald Woodman, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.judychicago.com/about/bio.php>.
“Judy Chicago: Powerplay.” Judy Chicago. Judy Chicago & Donald Woodman, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.judychicago.com/gallery.php?name=PowerPlay+Gallery>.