When Kim Kardashian’s nude selfies ‘broke the internet’ followed with lengthy debates on empowerment it became apparent that the notion of women and representation is still very much a contemporary issue. In ‘Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s’, an exhibition currently displayed at the Photographers Gallery, visitors can see many of the modern elementary contributors to issues of representing women, and that the values elicited still bear relevance to our current society.
Taken from the SAMMLUNG VERBUND collection, the display consists of works of photography, performance and film by over forty-eight international artists, ensuring that women’s issues are acknowledged from an intersectional perspective where race and class are influencing factors. Divided into four themes, those being ‘Domestic Agenda’, ‘The Seductive Body: Sexuality and Objectification’, ‘In My Skin: Normative Beauty and Limits of the Body’ and ‘Alter Ego: Masquerade, Parody and Self-representation’, the exhibition encompasses a diverse range of approaches to creating new visual languages.
Upon entering, visitors are greeted with Mary Beth Edelson’s ‘Some Living American Women Artists/ Last Supper’ (1972) a bold and humorous all female re-appropriation of Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of the gathering between Jesus and his disciples that re-asserted the importance of women’s artistic contributions to the public sphere. The utilisation of humour within the exhibition was particularly important and was contrasted with pieces that embodied more serious undertones, such as George and Betty Woodman’s ‘Self-deceit #1’ (1978-9), a brutally honest depiction of the unhealthy relationship that women often harbour with their perception of their bodies. In incorporating a range of tonal approaches through the display, viewers are equipped with an understanding of using existing codes to parody or criticise traditional depictions. In combination with little acknowledged artists are more prominent contributors to the movement, notably Hannah Wilke and her performance piece ‘Super-T-Art’ (1974) which consisted of photographs of her performance at the Kitchen in New York. In the photographs, she adopted parodic feminine guises that aligned themselves with her play on words of soup and tart, exposing the incompatibility of expectations of domesticity and desirability thrusted upon women. One of the most intriguing thematic aspects of the exhibition involves the referral to the adoption of an alter-ego that was utilised by artists such as Cindy Sherman and Judy Chicago, effectively dismantling the idea that the female gender is intrinsically tied to its oppressive stereotype.
Witty, bold and strikingly earnest at times ‘Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s’ comprises of a thoughtful collection of women’s methods of exposing problematic perceptions of femininity and recreating new domains for women to explore and create powerful identities.
The exhibition is running until the 15th of January 2017 and more information can be obtained here.
Text Libby Festorazzi