Feminist art is art by women artists made consciously in the light of developments in feminist art theory in the early 1970s

1 of 6
  • Cindy Sherman, 'Untitled #97' 1982
    Cindy Sherman
    Untitled #97 1982
    Photograph on paper
    image: 1150 x 760 mm
    Purchased 1983© Cindy Sherman
  • Guerrilla Girls, '[no title]' 1985-90
    Guerrilla Girls
    [no title] 1985-90
    Screenprint on paper
    image: 280 x 710 mm
    Purchased 2003© courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com
  • Margaret Harrison, 'Little Woman at Home' 1971
    Margaret Harrison
    Little Woman at Home 1971
    Watercolour and graphite on medium-heavy weight white wove paper
    support: 636 x 518 mm
    Purchased 2008© Margaret F. Harrison
  • Lorna Simpson, 'Five Day Forecast' 1991
    Lorna Simpson
    Five Day Forecast 1991
    5 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper, 15 engraved plaques
    displayed: 622 x 2464 mm
    Purchased with funds provided by the 2010 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2010© Lorna Simpson, courtesy Salon 94, New York
  • Linder, 'Untitled' 1976
    Untitled 1976
    Photomontage on paper
    136 x 210 mm
    Purchased 2007© Linder
  • VALIE EXPORT, 'Identity Transfer 1' 1968, printed late 1990s
    Identity Transfer 1 1968, printed late 1990s
    Black and white photograph on paper
    support: 960 x 692 mm
    frame: 1006 x 738 x 35 mm
    Purchased 2006© DACS 2006

Introduction to feminist art

In 1971 the art historian Linda Nochlin published a groundbreaking essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? In it she investigated the social and economic factors that had prevented talented women from achieving the same status as their male counterparts.

By the 1980s art historians such as Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker were going further, to examine the language of art history with its gender-loaded terms such as ‘old master’ and ‘masterpiece’. They questioned the central place of the female nude in the western canon, asking why men and women are represented so differently. In his 1972 book Ways of Seeing the Marxist critic John Berger had concluded ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at’. In other words Western art replicates the unequal relationships already embedded in society.

In the film Unlock Art: Where are all the women? actress Jemima Kirke addresses the topic of women in art (or the lack them), and looks at the changing role of female artists in a male dominated art world over the centuries – and how some of them eventually took on the establishment in the 1970s.

The development of feminist art

Feminist art followed a similar trajectory to feminist theory.

In what is sometimes known as First Wave feminist art, women artists revelled in feminine experience, exploring vaginal imagery and menstrual blood, posing naked as goddess figures and defiantly using media such as embroidery that had been considered ‘women’s work’. One of the great iconic works of this phase of feminist art is Judy Chicago’sThe Dinner Party, 1974–9.

Later feminist artists rejected this approach and attempted to reveal the origins of our ideas of femininity and womanhood. They pursued the idea of femininity as a masquerade – a set of poses adopted by women to conform to social expectations of womanhood.

Watch feminist and conceptual artist Mary Kelly reflect on the development of feminst art, featuring archive footage of happenings and demonstrations.

Feminist artists in focus

Margaret Harrison

Margaret Harrison founded the London Women’s Liberation Art Group in 1970. Soon after, an exhibition of her work was closed by the police for its ‘pornographic’ depiction of men.

In this film Harrison talks about the events leading up to the closure, and her subsequent career as a feminist artist.

Linder Sterling

Linder Sterling’s photomontages, combining images from pornographic magazines with pictures from women’s magazines, make a powerful feminist statement.

TateShots met with her in 2007 to talk about art and punk rock.

Louise Bourgeois

Lumps, bumps, bulbs, bubbles, bulges, slits, turds, coils, craters, wrinkles and holes
Tate Etc. article examining the art of Louise Bourgeois whose work explores a range of personal themes within the context of feminist concerns.

TateShots: Louise Bourgeois
In this video curator Frances Morris presents an overview of the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at Tate Modern in 2007 and introduces footage of her meeting with the artist at her home in New York.

Other perspectives on feminist art

Performance Art 101: The Angry Space, politics and activism
Blog examining feminist performance artists in the wider context of politics and activism. 

Patron saint of lipstick and lavender feminism
Tate Etc. article in which feminist theorist and writer Germaine Greer explores the life and work of Frida Kahlo.

Studio: Cindy Sherman
Exclusively for Tate, artist Cindy Sherman has photographed her own studio. Betsy Berne – painter, novelist and fellow pugilist – goes 15 rounds with her. 

Feminist art in detail

Mary Kelly, known for her long-term critique of conceptualism informed by the feminist theory of the early women’s movement, talks to Hans-Ulrich Obrist.

Her Noise symposium
Listen to audio recordings of the Her Noise symposium which explored emergent feminist discourses in sound and music, bringing together musicians, artists, academics and writers to challenge standard readings and approaches to feminisms and the sonic.

Gender Talents: A Special Address
Video recordings of the Gender Talents symposium which gathered togetheran international group of thinkers, activists, and artists to explore radical expressions of sexuality and gender

Audio Arts: Margaret Harrison and Lucy Lippard
American writer on contemporary art, Lucy Lippard, and artist Margaret Harrison compare, analyse and discuss what it means to be an artist and woman within British and American Society today.