Barbie, Ardor, and Hip Hop: A Feminist Art Highlight

My first introduction to feminism was, perhaps unexpectedly, through art. An art history major, I was sitting through my contemporary art lecture, dreading another lecture on minimal steel cubes and white paintings. Instead an image of a woman standing on a stage, naked, covered dirt, looking down at her hands which were pulling out a scroll out of her vagina. I had never seen anything like it. I was confused, slightly taken aback, but completely captivated. The picture was of Carolee Schneeman, Next another topless woman, this one posing with chewing gum sculptures adhered to her face, her defiant look challenging any easy understanding of her work. That was Hannah Wilke. Next, a woman’s body engraved into the ground, like a shadow of a figures pressed into the earth. That was Ana Mendieta. After class I ran to the library and picked up a book on the history of the feminist movement, and per recommendation of my teacher, a book of Adrienne Rich’s essays on art and feminism. I was hooked. Over the next three years I read everything I could about countless of feminist artists:  the Guerilla Girls, Yoko Ono, Shirin Neshat, Tracey Emin, Valie Export, Tee Corine, Lorna Simpson, Lynda Benglis, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kreuger.

Whenever I feel that feminist fatigue, I often go to art to find consolation and excitement. This week in particular, there was a swarm of incredible art by women. All though (most but) not all of these artists claim a feminist view point, their works, featured below, address contemporary gender and race issues while remaining relevant, and even forward thinking, within contemporary art. Here are some of my favorites:

Barbie remains one of our cultures most recognizable, and problematic, representations of the ideal female body. Nickolay Lamm of asked a simple artistic questions that has gone now turned into a viral art project: what would Barbie look like if she had the body of an average woman?

Carrie Mae Weems remains one of the most impactful black female artists of the last century. Her photographs continually emphasize intersectionality within identity politics  exploring the ways in which beauty is normalized and performed.  Weems has just debuted a retrospective of her photographic and video work at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Opening this week at the Cue Art Foundation  in New York, Goddess Clap Back: Hip Hop Feminism in Art is a group exhibition highlighting Hip Hop Feminism as an emerging motif of contemporary artists working with performance, photography, video, collage, sculpture and sound. The curator of the show, Katie Cercone, explains it best:

Goddess Clap Back interrogates the sex fetish of cooked commercial rap as a product of the West’s puritanical roots and the way in which Hip Hop Culture and its proto-genres is the outgrowth of African Diasporic cosmologies that uphold a notion of cosmic oneness which defies Western dualities such as nature/culture, mind/body, spiritual/secular, male/female, intellect/intuition and dark/light. It identifies Hip Hop Culture as the apex of insurrectionary knowledge concerning the legacy of racism in the United States so much that this history is largely an oral one which pushed its way through music while other outlets for its expression were blocked.[viii]Goddess Clap Back explores the way in which visual artists have contested, revised, appropriated and celebrated this radical black musical tradition.

Curated by photographer (and all around beaut/cool/talented girl of the world) Petra Collins, The Ardorous features the best young female artists. Featuring photography, collage, and drawing, The women of  Ardorous  are the queen bees of the girl art world.

By: Ana Cecilia Alvarez, Managing Blog Editor

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