!Women Art Revolution Documents 40 Years of Feminist Art
Think of local art superstars Christy Gast, Agustina Woodgate, Jillian Mayer, Susan Lee-Chun and Jen Stark. Add to that major curators like Bonnie Clearwater and Ruba Katrib at MOCA, and gallerists like Bernice Steinbum, and our feminist art report card looks pretty good. But it wasn't always this way. A documentary, !War Art Revolution, which catalogs the feminist art movement, is screening at three of Miami's indie theaters this weekend.
Filmmaker and artist Lynn Hershman Leeson has been filming frustrated women artists for over 40 years. Her latest, !W.AR., documents how their work was discredited by art programs, galleries, and museums for decades. Leeson herself sold one of her pieces in the mid-70s, only to have the collector return it when he found out she was a woman.
With an original score by Carrie Bowenstein (of Sleater Kinney and Wild Flag), the film is a collection of interviews with dozens (frankly, too many) feminist artists, female curators, and tenured art professors. It traces back to early activism like a protest at the Whitey where feminist artists projected their artwork on the outside of the building and placed eggs inside the walls where their work was ignored.
Censored from the white, male art world, women sought out rooms of their own by starting their own magazines, galleries, and academic programs. Judy Chicago, while developing the first female art program at Fresno Sate, noticed women were immediately drawn to "act out" via performance art. Another interviewed artist backs this up with "There's a long tradition of women being looked upon. Performance art was a way of looking back." (Interestingly, most of Miami's major female artists work in performance.)
In a scene from 1990, House representatives spend an hour and half raging against vagina art as porn via a bill censoring Chicago's The Dinner Party as a pornographic collection of ceramic "vaginal areas." A highlight of the film, Rep. Ron Dellums, who once curated an exhibit of Vietnam war crimes outside his Congressional office, retorts with "Pornography are military weapons that look like phallic symbols capable of doing nothing but destroying human life."
While the film is invaluable for featuring artists and work that were unjustly marginalized for decades, it suffers from far too many talking heads. Just as the personal is the political, !W.A.R. would have been better served by centering on a few women's specific experiences.
Even in its current treatment, the patron saint of the film is undoubtedly Ana Medieta, a Cuban exile performance artist (and the subject of Miami choreographer Ana Mendez recent The Body Is Present piece).
To some extent, the film wraps around the narrative of the filmmaker. Leeson closes the film by stating that one of her pieces, so undervalued back in to '70s, was recently bought for 9,000 times its original price -- ultimately funding this film.
!W.A.R. is a must-see in that it reveals the decades of struggle on which today's women artists enjoy their success. As artist Harmony Hammond comments in the film, their fight was "excitement, it was empowering, and it was a lot of fucking work."
!W.A.R. is screening this weekend at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema, and Cosford Cinema.
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