I’ve got a postcard with this heading and the statements below it on the wall at home. Displayed with a somewhat tongue in cheek intent of course, it does act of a reminder, not just of my ardent feminism in the 70s, but, on International Womens’ Day (today) perhaps it’s appropriate to look at the history of these statements, and the role of women using art as protest. The text is from a 1988 poster, and is in the MoMA archives.
Art and protest are inextricably linked, and have been for centuries, but the connection is both complex and difficult. For women protesting about oppression and war, protest is traditionally aimed at the masculine oppressor.
Nancy Spero (currently exhibiting at the Serpentine and an OCA gaggle visiting soon) wrote at the height of ‘womens’ lib’ in 1971 ‘The enemies of women’s liberation in the arts will be crushed.’ Even today Spero says that her work has operated as acts of protest throughout her career. Rebecca Belmore is a prominent Canadian artist who works in installation, performance, and multi-media art. She developed a performance that commemorated a number of women who had gone missing in downtown east Vancouver, many of them victims of alleged serial killer Robert Pickton.
There are few women artists who have not at some point in their careers focussed on an examination of their role as a woman artist, and the struggle to find a market niche in the face of the male dominated art world. Beyond the world of ‘art’ women have always protested and found forms of protest that may not have had artistic intentions but have inflamed creativity through deep seated commitment to a cause. The Guardian newspaper this week led an article on protest in Libya with a piece about the rise of womens’ voice in the protests. The images were of women painting their faces to symbolise their place in the protest against the regime. In Bahrain, hundreds of women wrapped in traditional black tunics stood up to the authorities in the demonstrations against the government. Women in Egypt are energised into protest despite rampant sexual harassment and deep seated oppression. Meanwhile the BBC videoed a makeshift protest art gallery in Libya last week, I searched for examples of protest art by women but I suspect there was none there, but it is events like these that eventually do find avenues for womens’ voices. We will see more interesting forms of creativity emerge from these forces in the Middle East.