I know I've spent a lot of time on this blog looking at subtle forms of feminist art, but it's only fair to consider the more direct approaches, especially when they're as thought-provoking as Red Is The Colour. Be prepared to embrace menarchy, or menstrual anarchy...
Her artistic career may have been short—she was taking photos for only nine years of her life—but Francesca Woodman left behind over 800 images when she died in 1981. She commands enough attention, 30 years after her death, to merit a retrospective at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, which will move on to the Guggenheim in 2012. What is the lingering hold that she has over art lovers?
The campaign for gender equality in art is essentially spearheaded by the Guerrilla Girls, a network of anonymous activists who go by the names of great artists like Frida Kahlo. Their mantra is: "We could be anyone; we are everywhere." If you've ever wanted to challenge your local gallery on its lack of women behind the canvas, this is the organization to teach you how to get your point across. Start taking notes on the herstory and plotting your part in the revolution...
23-year-old Shauna Taylor is proud to own an original piece by Damien Hirst. If you want to have a look, she's showing it within the pages of Garage magazine—a new publication edited by Dasha Zhukova, who runs a gallery in Moscow and used to edit Pop, the biannual fashion bible. A word of warning: Shauna isn't flaunting one of Hirst's trendy spot paintings. She's been tattooed to order by him, on the labia, with a lurid green butterfly, hidden only by a sticker that says "Peel Slowly and See." This is part of the Inked project for Garage's first issue, taking human canvases to be permanently marked.
[Shauna Taylor, photographed with sticker to hide the sensitive artwork, for Garage magazine].
As one of the most controversial artists of modern times, Tracey Emin has generated serious column inches for her overtly personal work, including the installation My Bed (complete with condoms) and her series of autobiographical appliquéd blankets, littered with swear words. David Bowie called her "William Blake as a woman." But is she standing up for women everywhere with our shared life experiences, or is she only interested in using herself as subject matter?
Great artists don't just have to exist in galleries. Books have given us some really inspirational pre- or post-feminist characters that are good at art, and this liberates them either emotionally or physically. What unites them is their independent thinking, as they are determined to go against the grain and not end up like their peers, bitter or vacuous. Some examples here are from classic novels, such as Jane Eyre, where art is a form of escapism for our heroine, whereas in Andrew Davidson's modern novel The Gargoyle we find a sculptress whose work is so consuming that it leaves her exhausted. Whatever the situation, it is clear that these women take their art seriously—it's not just a hobby to keep them occupied before they're whisked off by Prince Charming. This is so much better than a fairytale.
My ultimate empowered female art heroine is a woman who made a career for herself long before the word "feminist" was in use. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/3) is a force to be reckoned with, taught by her father Orazio and following in the footsteps of fellow Italian, Caravaggio. She stood out not only because of her incredible talent, but also the obstacles she overcame in her personal life to make a career out of painting.
In 1972 the artist Valie Export wrote a manifesto, simply called "Women's Art." She went on to become a key figure in the feminist art movement and her words inspired many people, but I wanted to see how far we've come since then and what we can do to progress even further in liberating ourselves through art, and getting it recognized by the mainstream.
Femicide is perhaps not the most attractive topic for an art exhibition, but then neither is it an acceptable crime. However, due to the continued ineptitude of the authorities in Juárez, Mexico, the count of local women who have been abducted, raped and murdered before being dumped like trash is continuing to rise above 400. The sense of public panic seems low as Juárez is already a violent city and both the police and media are suggesting—wrongly—that the victims were involved in drugs or prostitution, as if that would mean they asked for it. Yet if this sort of thing occurred in an American or European city, we'd be begging for justice to be served and there would be an inquiry into the handling of each case. Determined to commemorate these lost women, Tamsyn Challenger enlisted almost 200 of her fellow artists to create a visual tribute to each victim which is being toured around the world. Will creativity be the tool to bring justice for Juárez?
Feminism and art aren't as closely linked as they should be, but I want to change that. Too many women are excluded from being called "the great artists," as if we require a separate category. Well, I want to give Bitch readers and art lovers everywhere a reason to celebrate strong females in the art world.