Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Beyond the Waves"

This is PART I of a series of blog entries devoted to
Contemporary Art and Feminism

On March 30 I had my first feminist public speaking gig (well…since the mock debate on abortion in 5th grade). I was invited to be the youngest panelist for “Beyond the Waves: Feminist Artists Talk Across the Generations” at the Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, the bookend to a month of exciting events for Women’s Art History Month in New York put on by the feminist art gallery A.I.R.
(L2R: Kat Griefen, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, me, Carolee Schneemann, Brynna Tucker )

On the panel with me were an array of other accomplished feminist artists, many of whom we interviewed as part of GIRLdrive.* The implicit question on the table was daunting: what does it mean to call yourself a feminist artist? How is it different now than in the revolutionary glory days? Squeezed between famed Second Wavers, some of whom I literally owe my life to (my mom was on the panel), and with a standing-room audience packed in peering forward for answers... my nerves kicked in. The speech I had prepared didn’t necessarily provide backrubs for every neglected older woman artist in the room. The night before, practicing in my bedroom, it seemed like a good idea to draw attention to the changes in generational attitudes towards proclaiming oneself a “feminist artist.” Now all I could think was, thank God those emergency exits are blaring red, I might need them for a quick escape.

But as I took the podium, first talking about GIRLdrive, then about my own feminist-infused artwork, I began to feel proud to be representing my generation. After announcing our publishing deal, I got a round of applause that turned me as red as those exit lights. And even though I ended on an ambiguous, slightly admonishing tone (asking the audience to reconsider the ungrateful daughter paradigm, and come up with new language to describe gendered artworks), I was surprised to find an enthusiastic crowd waiting to compliment me when I stepped down. Maybe the reason why open dialogue between feminist generations is so hard is that we are all so afraid of hurting feelings, of misspeaking.
The panel taught me a lot. Feelings are for sissies.
Don’t open your heart: open your ears, and you’ll hear a whole lot more.

*Our forthcoming book will have a section devoted to art and feminism. It will include interviews with curators, artists, art critics and historians on the state of women in the art world. Look for upcoming blog entry snippets with the likes of: Linda Nochlin, Amy Galpin (of Woman Made Gallery), Kat Griefen (of A.I.R. Gallery), Joan Snyder, Joan Jonas, Carolee Schneemann, Mira Schor, Susan Bee, Faith Wilding, the Brainstormers, a Guerrilla Girl, and many more!

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