The first week of the new year brought with it the passing of Eve Arnold, one of the first women to earn recognition as a photojournalist in the mid-twentieth century. Though she is perhaps best known for capturing celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford in rare, unguarded moments, Arnold should also be recognized for the political and social commentaries her archives provide.
I can't believe it's the end of my guest blog series already. Looking at he theme of art and feminism has raised loads of questions and also given lots of answers. We've explored artists who use hair and those who've experienced domestic violence, the woman who got a vaginal Damien Hirst tattoo, and the countless murdered and attacked females in Juarez, Mexico, who have been immortalized through the exhibition 400 Women. It's powerful stuff...
When I started this guest blog I was overwhelmed with your brilliant suggestions for artists to explore, and I followed up on as many of your tips as possible. Here is a taste of what Bitch readers recommend—I hope you'll discover someone who inspires you!
For me, art isn't just about finding something pretty or intelligent, or wishing I could paint as well as someone else. It's about looking at a piece and knowing that it's taught you something and you feel better for having seen it. You understand the world a little better afterwards, and you can't wait to rave about it to your friends. Here are three lessons I've learned from artists that I'd like to pass on:
In a game of word association, "art" might make people think of paintings, sketches, canvases or a specific artist like Jackson Pollock (paint splatters, oh my) or the Mona Lisa (very tiny, strange smile). Disciplines such as sculpture, ceramics, and taxidermy might not be mentioned, because they're sidelined in favor of the mainstream. Etsy and Deviant Art are full of intense paintings; children bring home scribbles from school that are kept on the wall for years, but there's a weirder and larger side to art.
Founder and janitor of the Oregon Department of Kick Ass, Portland-based artist Vanessa Renwick has made over 40 films and installations. Her work ranges from towering gold-leaf BMX bike sculptures in front of Powell's Books to super 8 shorts of her hitchhike sojourn to the Native American reserves in South Dakota during a two and a half year period spent barefoot, her wolf dog by her side, a pair of tweezers to pick glass out of her feet in her pocket. In an interview with the artist, Renwick talks about her affinity for nature and repair stores, her inner voice that says: "stop walking on concrete," local history, getting shit done, and the great grey wolf.
There are loads of photographers who take the body as their subject matter—hey, it's nothing new. But the women in this post made a point of portraying the body as something to be celebrated and combined with fashion, sociological thinking, or mythology. It's so much more than just snapping a photo.
Together, Andrea Blood and Zoe Sinclair are known as The Girls—an artistic partnership that has revolved around intense tableaux self-portraits, live performances, videos and installations. Along with exhibiting regularly in the UK, they've shown at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and Milan's UNO+UNO. Whether they're taking on recognizable people and reimagining them, or creating entirely new and vibrant characters, you're sure to be drawn in. I wanted to quiz The Girls about their most controversial pieces, their future projects, and how feminism fits into the picture.
Art therapy has been used for years on patients who are dealing with trauma in all its forms, whether they are suffering from cancer, struggling to fit into a community that isolates women of a certain age or race, or rebuilding their lives following rape and domestic violence. A lot can be gained from this sort of psychological approach, as it allows patients to express themselves (which, in some cases, they have never done before). This therapy is not only a tool for coping, it's also a source of great and deeply personal art.
Aside from looking at artists who happen to be feminist, or happen to be women, I also want to look at how key events in history have led to the creation of art that inspires support of feminism. One example of this is Votes for Women and the suffragettes and suffragists who wanted to achieve gender equality for the electorate.
It's a complex debate, because not all men had the vote when women began campaigning to be included, and women of color were not included at all in most of these movements. Countries around the world were routinely governed using the political beliefs of rich men, which is clearly something we can relate to today with the Occupy protests fresh in our minds. The 1% not had all of the wealth but they also had the power to change how the country was run. Although we might feel that we have it bad in 2011, we really have made much progress compared to life before electoral democracy in the Western world. I want to highlight some of the key movers and shakers in suffrage activism.