Last Thursday evening, the Nasher Museum showed !Women Art Revolution, a film documenting the trials and tribulations of the visionary artists, curators, critics and art historians (including a quote from Duke faculty member, Kristine Stiles) whose values and influential “call to action” helped shape the Feminist Art Movement. Highlighting both the anti-war and civil rights movements as a significant foundation for the first feminist actions against major cultural institutions in the 1970s, director Lynn Hershman Lesson has collected more than 40 years of footage, filming historic events such as protests at the front gates of museums and galleries, the formation of alternative art spaces and feminist art education programs at universities, the creation of the first feminist art magazines and publications, and of course, the very performances, art installations and exhibitions that have since turned the art world upside down.
What was especially important about the documentary, however, was not just the remarkable footage of history in action, but interviews with the very women who had the guts to go against the art world’s rigid status quo just to get their voices heard. Hershman Lesson, an artist herself, has collected interviews from 1990 to 2008, garnering a wide range of perspectives and reflections from those most involved in the Feminist Art Movement. And what’s even more incredible is that her extensive video interviews, along with their typed transcripts, are all accessible online, from Stanford University’s Digital Collections website. After perusing some of these interviews myself, with Judy Chicago and the Guerrilla Girls, I’ve discovered that the genre of performance art, as we know it today, essentially originated in Judy Chicago’s Feminist Art program at Cal. State University in Fresno. Just the thought of that is amazing! If you have any interest, or would like some background knowledge on feminist art before checking out the Nasher Museum’s new exhibition, “The Deconstructive Impulse,” I highly recommend checking out Hershman Lesson’s interviews and watching !Women Art Revolution for yourself.
I’ll leave you with a compilation of two of my favorite statements I found from a 2006 interview between Herschman Lesson and a group of the Guerrilla Girls, describing the core reasoning behind the need for the Feminist Art Movement: “When the feminists started working, art not only was defined by style, but also by content, and that opened up a whole Pandora’s box and you couldn’t get that box closed again…It was about making wider slots of taking place in culture and of being able to make the culture acknowledge that you have been there and that you are going to be there and that you will continue to be there.”
Pretty inspiring, to say the least.
IMAGE: Poster of !Women Art Revolution