While in London, I visited the Photographers Gallery where they were exhibiting a large catalogue named Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s. The exhibition held over two hundred works from forty eight international artists. The exhibition was split into four main categories to piece the work together. The work focused on practices that contributed to the feminist art movement of the 1970s. The women artists focus on challenging assumptions about gender and art.
During the 1960s-70s, artists began focusing on the construction of identity and gender roles in the media and in the male-dominated traditions in art history. They experimented with many things like dressing up in costume to explore how people perform gender in a way that meets social expectations.
Domestic Agenda – this set of work was about addressing the stereotype of the woman’s place being in the home. In this section was use of photography, video and performance. These two images were very outstanding to me. They show the series by Karin Mack – Zerstorung einer Illusion (Destruction of an Illusion) 1977, where the image of a stereotypical homemaker and housewife is pierced and eventually destroyed with needles, showing the destruction of the stereotype.
In My Skin: Normative Beauty & the Limits of The Body – feminist art challenged attitudes towards the female body and beauty. The work was about measuring, fragmenting and reconstructing their own bodies to create a new image of female identity.
Alter Ego: Masquerade, Parody & Self-representation – the feminist movement argued that identity is not something we are born with but is formed through social conventions and taboos. Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (The Second Sex, 1949). Many artists of the 1970s used performance to deconstruct representations that form stereotypes. Martha Wilson’s series Portfolio of Models, 1974, showed female stereotypes that have been created by society such as the housewife, the Goddess, and the Lesbian. Eleanor Antin produced a self-portrait called Portrait of the King, 1972, which saw herself dressed up as a King from history, discovering the nature of cross dressing. Cindy Sherman used role-play and masquerade in her series Untitled (Bus Riders I), 1976, to engage with and question gender identity. She dresses up as a series of male and female characters observed from everyday life, whose identities are determined by their visual characteristics, clothing and poise.
The Seductive Body: Sexuality and Objectification – one of the main goals of the feminist movement was the sexual liberation of women. They tried to highlight the continuing oppression of female sexuality and the sexual objectification of women. Valie Exports image from Aktionshose Genitalpanik (Action Pants – Genital Panic), 1969, challenged the dominance of the male by dressing a female in the same way, using props like a gun to pass the power to females. With her crotch less trousers, she defends her female body with the gun, demonstrating the symbol of power to be a prosthetic and its possession to be a product of role play.
- The Photographers Gallery. 2016. Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s. Catalogue of an exhibition at The Photographers Gallery. 7th Oct 2016 – 29th Jan 2017. London: The Photographers Gallery