Feminist art explores gender-related experiences within society, often with the aim to expose embedded inequalities and show alternatives to dominant gender roles
Feminism as a term to describe a movement for gender equality was first used in the USA in the mid-1800s, but has been applied to specific artworks mostly from the 1960s onwards. Its widespread use broadly corresponded with the rise of civil rights movements in the UK and USA including the Women’s Liberation Movement.
While many artists supported and were involved with the struggle for women’s rights including the women’s suffrage movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s, in the 1960s and 1970s a number of artists, activists and theorists began focusing on a feminist view of art and of society: on the experience of women and the construction of identity and gender roles in society, the media and in male-dominated traditions of art history.
Artists have employed many strategies to foreground gender and societal inequality. Often artists have used performance and their own bodies to directly engage with the roles of women in society, and social issues in general. While some have used vaginal imagery or menstrual blood, others have deconstructed sexual imagery or reclaimed goddess figures, often borrowing elements from popular visual culture in order to expose and question the ways in which the female body is presented. Artists have created activist work as graphic posters, or photocollages and films for gallery display, while others choose to document experiences seen as feminine, from childbirth and pregnancy to domestic work. The defiant use of media or techniques such as embroidery or patchworking that has had traditionally low status or been considered ‘women’s work’ has also often defined these works.
Attempting to reveal the origins of received ideas of femininity and womanhood, some artists have pursued the idea of femininity as a masquerade – a set of poses adopted to ‘perform’ a gender or identity that conforms to social expectations. Artists have manipulated their own appearance, stressing how clothes, hairstyles and make-up can function as a costume. Some highlight the ritualistic and depersonalising aspects of applying cosmetics, while others enact exaggerated male or female stereotypes.
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.
Explore more about feminist art
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.
TateShots met with her in 2007 to talk about art and punk rock.
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.
In this video below, 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.
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.