Essay Question I: First Generation versus Second Generation Feminist ArtIn the 1960s social protesting against the Vietnam War ignited many other social movements, including the second wave of Feminism. The movement surpassed politics into other areas of life including literature and art.The second wave of feminism had two generations of artists, the first of which lasted from the late 1960s to the late 1970s had a reevaluating approach; artists envisioned a revolution of the social and cultural attitudes towards women, based on existing biological constructs. This first wave of artists was determined to prove that female artists were disadvantaged in relation to access to art education, representation in art history, exhibition and participation. Feminist art was used to protest stereotypes, inequality, violence, and more on the basis of gender and often times race. Many artists also used art to redefine women’s experiences by retelling stories about women from a female perspective, bringing to light cultural issues in our recent history.
The movement created new opportunities for women in the form of higher education programs for women’s art and art history as well as female only exhibitions. A great example of women taking education and exhibiting into their own hands is Womanhouse, organized by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro in 1971 as part of the feminist arts program at CalArts. First generation artists had no singular style, and experimented with a variety of mediums including performance art, found art, and instructional art. One piece from the exhibition that encompasses the approach of first generation of artists is the performance piece Three Women, by Jan Oxenburg, Shawnee Wollenman, and Nancy Youdelman. The performance is made up of three women, each with distinct personalities that mirror some common female stereotypes: The tough girl, the hippie, and the naive mother-type. Three Women starts follows a conversation between that starts out lighthearted and humorous. As the conversation between the characters continue, it becomes apparent that all three of these women feel trapped in some aspect of “womanness.
” The piece also explores sexual consent and illustrates how women are accustomed to rationalizing and minimizing assault. In the piece, the “hippie persona” tells the story of her experience being drugged and raped by her “old man” and his friends. She masks her concern about the severity of the situation by making the story about losing her jacket and even making jokes.
The playfulness very clearly fades when she describes the men forcing her to swallow a handful of pills by holding her face in the shower stream, then putting her on the bed, and “taking turns getting on top of her.” The hippe does not once assign blame to her assailants or identify herself as a victim. She ends her story by pretending the jacket was her main concern again, and by voicing the importance for women to “stay above that shit”. The artist here shows how sexual assault is not taken seriously enough in society and how this cycle leads to women minimizing their own traumatic experiences. First Generation feminist artists also used art to redefine womens’ experiences and retelling stories. Artists felt that this would empower women and bring attention to discrimination in our history.
A perfect example of of this is Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. The name in itself tells you what it intends to do, liberate Aunt Jemima from the facade created of her to make money. The piece started as a figurine of Aunt Jemima used to market products to housewives. These racist, commercialized depictions of cheery looking slaves and maids were very commonly used to market kitchen products during the time the figurine was made. The images in the background of the frame are of a more modern version of aunt Jemima, showing that, though the images have changed, the exploitation never really went away. In the figurines hand, Saar placed a gun. The gun is meant to symbolize and therefor give aunt Jemima power, since during times of slavery guns were how slave owners held their power.
The figurines apron holds a vintage photo of a mammy holding a white baby in a sort of careless fashion, which could represent the the women’s actual feelings towards her job.The second generation of second wave feminist artists, which lasted from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, had a deconstructive approach. Artists’ focus shifted away from equal rights struggles and biological differentiation, to a deeper awareness of how unstable gender positions are. Artists addressed gender behavior as a product of social constructs rather than biological makeup, and were convinced that gender behavior could be changed by changing society’s views about it. The first step of change is awareness of the problem, many artists used their art to point out the subtle ways men and women are treated differently. One artist that was successful in this Barbara Kruger.
In Kruger’s Untitled (We won’t Play Nature to Your Culture), 1983 she addresses the roles women are expected to play by rejecting the notion that women are synonymous with nature and domesticality, and men control culture. The photo is of a woman laying in grass, with the contrasting words “you” and “we” and “nature” and “culture” written over it in strong, bold type. Kruger often uses existing images in media to make her points.