The recent spate of women’s marches and MeToo movements have shaken up the art and culture industries, and with the frequent revelations of sexual assault, we are once again focusing our attention on the subject of feminist art. Art institutions around the world are increasingly focusing on women artists, and major solo and group exhibitions of women artists are coming up. Join us today for a look at the development of feminist art!
The Emergence and Development of Feminist Art
Feminist art is an important artistic trend that has emerged in the Western art world, reflecting the demand of some female theorists and artists to change the previous spheres of social life and male-dominated cultural phenomena in order to reconceptualize women themselves and the relationship between gender and culture.
We usually divide feminism into two phases: the first wave of feminism, which took place between the 19th and early 20th centuries, centered on the struggle for women’s voting and civil rights, while the second wave of feminism, the feminist movement that emerged in the 1960s, was more broadly concerned with women’s access to more jobs and education, while emphasizing women’s sexual and family rights. Driven by the latter, awakened “new women” took to the streets to protest society’s unfair employment policies and oppressed family status and sexual freedom. This led to the emergence of women’s art as part of the second-wave feminist movement, in which women artists formed groups and held exhibitions with the intention of subverting the male-dominated discourse of art history.
Strictly feminist artists did not emerge until the 1970s. Female artists represented by Anna Mantilta, Eleanor Antin, Carolee Schneemann and Judy Chicago created impressive feminist works. Among them, American female artist Judy Chicago’s installation “The Dinner Party” can be said to be very representative. 1979 “The Dinner Party” was first exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and this installation, which records 1,038 ancient goddesses or prominent women in Western history, mainly consists of a large equilateral triangular banquet table with each side 48 feet long, the triangle symbolizing women and the equilateral sides symbolizing equality. The triangle symbolizes women and the equilateral sides symbolize equality. Each side of the equilateral triangle is divided into 13 units, each equipped with a tablecloth embroidered with a woman’s name and a graphic related to her contribution, a napkin, a dinnerware set, a wine glass and a 14-inch diameter round painted ceramic plate. The 39 plates represent 39 prominent women in various fields from ancient Greece to the present, corresponding to the embroidered names. 39 plates are directly painted with female genitalia, like butterflies or flowers, and gradually change from flat to high relief in order from ancient to modern times, symbolizing the elevated status of women. The 13 women in each group who share the meal correspond to the 13 male saints of the Last Supper, elevating women to the same status as men, a heroic hymn to women. The names of another 999 prominent women are inscribed on the white ceramic floor of the equilateral triangular table known in Chicago as the “Heritage Floor” to show how many women stand behind the 39 famous women. Clearly, the work demonstrates the outstanding contributions that women have made to society from ancient times to the present, and by celebrating women, it is hoped that women will be given equal status with men and that the desire for equal rights for humanity will be realized. Politically, this work undoubtedly challenges the oppression of women under male domination in a radical way, and works to preserve the spiritual heritage created by women throughout history. At the same time, in the social context of the time, the message of this work itself is evidence of the rise of contemporary women’s art.
Today, feminist art has become an important branch of contemporary art. Feminist art represents, to a certain extent, the voice of a vulnerable and repressed group, and is an attempt to deconstruct a male-centered society. Following the second wave of feminism feminism began to take a new turn, it no longer places special emphasis on a confrontational nature, but shows women’s own joyful experiences and feelings, and feminist art has received a new interpretation.
Feminist Art Expressions
With the development of society, the topic of “feminism” has gradually been taken seriously and has become a focus of constant attention and debate. For example, on February 22nd of this year, an international symposium on “Contemporary Chinese Women’s Art” was held at the Tate Modern in London, England, co-organized by the Tate Center for Asian Studies and the Art Museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, as part of the exhibition “Emergence: Women’s Voices in Chinese Contemporary Art. This international symposium on “Chinese Contemporary Women’s Art” was held at Tate Modern in London as part of the exhibition “Emergence: Women’s Voices in Chinese Contemporary Art. The exhibition, which spanned the entire United Kingdom, opened up more possibilities for understanding women’s art. At a time when men dominate the discourse of society, women’s voices are often ignored and drowned out. Instead, female artists have created many artworks with distinctive characteristics of the times through their perceptions of the changes of the times and their reflections on society and themselves. These works are undoubtedly representative and epoch-making in themselves, and they can arouse people’s spiritual resonance and shock.
The 1970s was the heyday of contemporary art, and feminism found its place and avenues of appeal in the pluralistic structure of post-structuralism. It was also the most glorious time for feminist art, and many famous feminist artists emerged, emphasizing a female perspective, and their works were full of resistance and rebellion against the patriarchal center. For example, Yoko Ono’s “Slice” is one of the representative works: she sits on the floor and invites the audience to cut off her clothes piece by piece with scissors, and finally she appears naked and trembling in front of people’s eyes. There is also a female artist, Oran, who kept doing plastic surgery until her originally beautiful face became very scary. And each cosmetic procedure was filmed and toured the world. These are all excellent works of feminist art, and what they have in common is that they are fighting against a history of women being watched. Feminist art of this period is critical and in some ways can be used as a way of visual criticism of feminist theory.
When it comes to the expression of feminist art, the connection with “sex” is inevitable. The emphasis on sexuality in early Western feminist art had its own special historical background. 19th century Europe was influenced by the severe religious sexual confinement of Victorian England, which imposed harsh requirements on virginity and chastity and discriminated against women; strict monogamy for life and divorce was not allowed even for couples with completely broken relationships; masturbation was considered a blasphemous sin; talking about sex was not allowed, and scientific research and artistic creation related to sex was not allowed. The sexuality-related scientific research and artistic creation were not allowed. For this reason, people were generally subjected to heavy sexual repression. This situation did not fundamentally change until the 1950s and 1960s, when society continued to treat the female body as a tool to serve men and children, and female sexual experience remained off-limits.
Later, as performance art and performing arts expanded in the contemporary field, many female artists used their bodies to interpret women’s control over their own bodies and minds. German artist Rebecca Hong uses her body as a prop to reach into the individual’s spiritual world through photography, video, and performance. One of the artist’s representative performance works is “Unicorn”, in which she wraps her naked body in cloth and exaggerates a long horn on top of her head to show a kind of extended body. This work is called “Body Sculpture”. The way the artist handles her body shows a kind of psychological tentacle, which makes people reflect on the relationship between the human body and the identity of public space. But at the same time, when female artists use sex to express their thoughts, those inappropriate acts of nudity and privacy revert back to the initial state of being voyeuristic, which is always a contradictory existence, and female art continues to develop.
What exactly is feminist art saying?
In the field of art, the creators, curators, collectors, and viewers are usually men, and women are valued more for their roles of being created, viewed, and consumed (a situation that did not gradually loosen until the 1960s/1970s). This imbalance, this network of unequal power relations, is deeply rooted in human consciousness and culture. Feminist artists’ focus on female sexuality and their sexuality challenged previous societal notions of the affirmation of male sexuality and the female body as a mere vehicle for the transmission and satisfaction of male sexuality.
In both traditional social life and artistic expression, the female body is mostly viewed and satisfied by men, making women shy away from feeling and expressing their own bodies. However, the female genitalia, as an important part of the female body, is closely linked to women’s lives and spiritual emotions. Early feminist artists were particularly concerned with the physical basis of gender construction because they believed that the fundamental difference between male and female art was the difference in the perception of the body. Feminist art is, in part, a phenomenon in which a female performance artist uses her own body as a prototype for performance and expresses her ideas through performance and makes the audience understand and reflect on them. It is a reflection of the state of life from a woman’s perspective and a reflection on life, thus presenting the demands of women themselves. The transformation of the female body from being viewed to active self-viewing is a construction of female consciousness and a reflection on male power.
Entering public space was a common feature of women’s art and women artists in the 1970s. Women’s art was increasingly exhibited in public spaces such as museums, parks and squares, and women artists increasingly entered some large public projects to create art. However, this does not mean that women can no longer create individually. Women’s entry into public space is not because they want to enter the masculine system by recognizing male characteristics and wanting to be like men, which is against the original purpose of feminist art.
Today, feminist art is much more than simply a question of gender equality; it is more broadly linked to the social contradictions caused by race, class and other minorities, and is a contemporary practice that allows more voices of the “other” to be heard and true human rights to be liberated. As Simone Beauvoir put it, “The nonsense men invent to keep women in a state of oppression is not a question for women to emphasize that they are women, but a question to become fully human.”
Feminist Art Today
As we enter the 21st century, women’s art, despite its diversified appearance, has a generally similar trend: it weakens the confrontation between genders and instead seeks to express women’s unique ways of observing and experiencing the world, or to leave behind the constraints of gender and devote itself to the exploration of humanity in its universal sense. In terms of content, there is a decline in the use of sexual objects or direct expressions of violence or non-violence against women, replaced by recognition of women’s way of life and behavior, and deeper exploration of women’s individual inner world.
Although in reality there are still some female artists who cater to power capital, making their erotic works generally present a situation of creation according to men’s visual aesthetic standards and perspectives and for their psychological needs. They have not succeeded in establishing an effective erotic interaction between themselves and their works, in order to break the trap that erotic or erotic depictions have been monopolized by the male gender. However, in recent years, we can also feel a new trend emerging in women’s art creation: more and more women artists are involved in thinking and creating in the current socio-political dimension. For example, Yan Yinhong’s performance work “One Man’s Battlefield” is a metaphor for the suppression of women in the power society with a nearly crazy dance, and finally, the image of a police officer hidden in the lower half of her body is shown in an upside down position. This is a typical work that critiques the social ecology through the body, and at the same time is branded with feminist characteristics.
This is undoubtedly a direct challenge to the patriarchal society in the form of art, and is a more prominent manifestation of feminist art, but from the perspective of art history, where many contemporary female artists truly distance themselves from male artists is in the reconfiguration of the structure of viewing. With the intervention of female artists’ subjectivity, the use of the female figure, especially the female body, as a viewing object, and the control and possession of the male audience over women safely hidden in elegant artworks, has been fundamentally subverted. The tradition of objectifying the female body in Western art history has continued from the Classical period and continues to dominate art production in modern art in various variants. As John Berger points out in “The Way of Seeing,” “the female body as object is not a subject matter but a form.”
Feminist art has been developing for nearly half a century, but either because of preconceived prejudices or because of its own novelty, social standards and artistic mechanisms have always been harsh and severe in their evaluation, but this does not prevent feminist art from moving forward. confidence. Regardless of its profound historical function and practical mission, feminist art has at least changed the pattern of artistic existence with its pioneering and avant-garde nature.
Today, at the market level, the status and attention of women is soaring. The Tate has welcomed its first female curator and planned two of the three major solo exhibitions this year for female artists, namely American video and performance artist Joan Jonas and Bauhaus artist and textile art pioneer Anne Albers, all of these phenomena show that female art is increasingly valued by society.
Feminist art should express works with feminist spiritual connotations, rather than being limited to the formal level of mere nudity. Female artists should not be confined to the established male-dominated ideology but should look for socially meaningful expressive content, and on the premise of both focusing on the real life state of women without being bound by these kitschy ideas, so as to make some art works with practical and effective The future of feminist art will continue to develop as people pay attention to women as a whole and reflect on some social issues.