It’s been a slow and agonising journey for women to be recognised over the past century. There have been many ideas, protests, events and movements run by women for women in order to be seen and appreciated to the same extent as men. I’m going to be talking about one form of history in specific – art.
As most of us know, women haven’t always had the same rights as men (we still don’t), and the privilege to exhibiting artwork was no different. Of course, there were those who wanted to take a stand against this, so in many different ways tried to gain what they deserved as artists – display space.
Around the 1960’s, there were various protests around art spaces, with the aim of women (and other under-appreciated cultures) being recognised and presented as proper artists. One example of this was a gender-bias protest at the Whitney Museum in the USA, to which the amount of female nominees for a particular cause was 5%. Afterwards, it raised to 20% – so clearly, the protesters were doing something right.
This however, wasn’t good enough. There were many groups of active ladies that were sick of waiting around for their art to be presented in already-existing spaces. So they created their own. Various locations around America were set up to specifically tailor to the female artist’s needs, such as the Feminist Studio Workshop of 1973.
An influence of the time worth mentioning, is the famous Guerrilla Girls – who are still at work today. Shocking the masses with their gorilla masks and vibrant campaigns, these impressive ladies (although not always successful) had a plethora of fun and interesting feminist propoganda.
As quoted from the Guerrilla Girls website: “One Sunday morning we conducted a ‘weenie count’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, comparing the number of nude males to nude females in the artworks on display. The results were very ‘revealing.’” They pose the question of whether this situation has improved since. It is certainly an interesting thing to think about and if we can take anything from this blog post, I hope it’s the consideration of just how well represented female artists are.
An incredibly interesting (and my personal favourite) specialist gallery space of the time, is known as ‘Womanhouse’. In 1971, 25 students from California Institute of the Arts took to a house in Hollywood and transformed it into a creative environment centred around the everyday life of women. Viewed by thousands of people and receiving mixed reviews, each room in the house contained something different, branching from live ‘maintenance’ performance in the living room, to a ‘menstruation bathroom’ full of bloodied sanitary products. Lest we forget the ‘eggs to breasts’ on the walls of the kitchen and the (brilliantly rhymed) ‘womb room’ covered in crochet works.
Hopefully, we can say that the situation for women presenting art has improved since the 60’s and 70’s. However we can’t deny that a lot of the change is thanks to ladies like the Guirrilla Girls and those from the Feminist Studio Workshop – who never took no for an answer and did something about the situation.
Arlene Goldbard, ‘When (Art) Worlds Collide: Institutionalizing the Alternatives’, 2002, ‘Alternative Art New York’, University of Minnesota press.
Exploring Creative Arts lecture, week 7 (2014)