Feminist movement in (Performance) Art

This post is about
Feminist practitioners and their ideas/works
Mary Kelly
Susan Hiller
Faith Wilding
Judy Chicago
Valie Export
La Ribot
Lorna Simpson
Carolee Scheeman
Milo Moire
Guerilla Girls

Supported by theoretics such as
Carol Martin
Rachel Warriner
Mary Kelly
Luke Dixon & Sean Bruno
Amelia Jones
Jeanie Forte
Barbara Einzig

The works are divided into categories such as:


“Feminist theoretical work has been an important link between performance studies and theatre studies (and now cultural studies) over the last 10 or 15 years. While some theatre scholars, attached to more modernist paradigms of theory and performance, were reluctant to leave the comfortable structures of dramatic literature as the object of their study, feminists found that some of the most exciting work, aesthetically and politically, was happening outside of conventional theatre genres and architectures. Performance art, for example, seemed to allow women to insert their subjectivities into a representational apparatus scoured with a newly critical poststructuralist, postmodernist eye.” (C. Martin, 2009, p. 3-4)

  • Mary Kelly- “Post-Partum Document” is a six-year exploration of the mother-child relationship. When it was first shown at the ICA in London in 1976, the work provoked tabloid outrage because Documentation I incorporated stained nappy liners.
    "Post Partum Document" a piece of Documentation I
    A piece of Documentation I (“Nappy liners” – a documentation of the child’s menu) from “Post Partum Document”

    Each of the six-part series concentrates on a formative moment in her son’s mastery of language and her own sense of loss, moving between the voices of the mother, child and analytic observer. Informed by feminism and psychoanalysis, the work has had a profound influence on the development and critique of conceptual art.” Post-Partum Document consists of six sections of documentation that follow the development of Kelly’s son, Kelly Barrie, from birth until the age of five. Kelly intricately charts her relationship with her son, and her changing role as a mother by writing on artefacts associated with child care: baby clothes, his drawings, items he collects, and his first efforts at writing. In addition, there are detailed analytical texts that exist in parallel to the objects.

In ‘Documentation III: Analysed Markings and Diary Perspective Schema,’ Kelly includes three types of text. She describes them in the documentation that accompanies their exhibition as:

R1 A condensed transcription of the child’s conversation, playing it back immediately following the recording session

R2 A transcription of the mother’s inner speech in relation to R1, recalling it during a playback later the same day

R3 A secondary revision of R2, one week later, locating the conversation (as object) within a specific time interval (as spatial metaphor) and rendering it “in perspective” (as a mnemic system)

Post Partum Document – Document III
A piece of Documentation III from “Post Partum Document”

Kelly’s documentations that accompany the work are heavily indebted to Lacanian psychoanalysis, which conceives of the unconscious as being structured like a language. This is interesting in relation to Post-Partum Document because it is so layered with text. The quote above strongly contrasts with extracts taken from column R1 (the transcripts) from the piece dated 27.9.75, which is written in lowercase on a typewriter. They state:

Come’n do it (wants to fly the kite)
Down dis, its falling. (I’m pretending to fly the kite)] Ask Daddy flying the kite, go ask him (I say Daddy will fly it tomorrow)

We can see how much range there is in the text that she uses. Adding to this, there are the sections in R2 that provide a picture of an adult’s day to day interaction with a small child. This column is typed in capital letters, using the aesthetic of the text in order to separate the voices. From the same piece R2 reads:

I say it would be nice to take it outside as it’s very windy but it’s also very late so I try to change the subject.
As I started this game of pretending to fly the kite standing on a chair holding it and making sounds like wind, now I’m stuck with it.
He remembers promises very well.

Finally, in section R3, Kelly describes her anxiety following an accident in which her son drank liquid aspirin and had to be rushed to hospital. This section is handwritten and is much longer, with candid text that explores the difficulties of childrearing. A part of this section states:

Sometimes I forget to give him his medicine which makes me feel totally irresponsible or I just feel I wish it was all over i.e. he was ‘grown up’ but my mother says it never ends the worry just goes on and on.

Over the top of all this worry and analysis are Kelly Barrie’s drawings. They are typical of the drawings made by a young child, not much more than scribbles on rice paper. However, his lines cut over his mother’s careful work; their carelessness seems all the more free when contrasted with her deliberations.

What makes this piece important is the way in which motherhood—so often seen in art history as a sentimental connection between mother and child—is shown as a difficult and complex relationship. Kelly’s voice does not overbear her son’s, instead it exists in tandem; we see Kelly developing and adapting as much as her child. Information from: Smart History: http://smarthistory.org/mary-kelly-post-partum-document/ & Mary Kelly’s official website: http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html

  1. Susan Hiller – “10 months”  was a first of it’s kind:
    “There hadn’t been, in England, any work done by women artists on pregnancy.” (Hiller and Einzig, 1996, 50)
    This is an artwork of 10 pictures of the artist herself during her pregnancy. She states that: “the average pregnancy is 280 days, which is not 9 and a bit months, but ten lunar months.” (Hiller and Einzig, 1996, 48). For this reason the piece is called “10 months” and not “9 months”. Moreover, she looked more into moon phases and it’s landscapes and found a lot of similarities between the phases of a female body and moon phases, bringing these ideas also into the artwork.

    9th month in "10 months"
    The picture of 9th month from artpiece “10 months”

    Firstly, she did not plan to create an artwork from the pictures she made, but only a bit after the birth of her child, she saw a possibility to talk about something that couldn’t be and wasn’t talked about earlier.
    The piece was quite contentious at the time, as pregnancy in art is quite and important theme, but the way this artwork was presented and done disturbed traditionalists. (Hiller and Einzig, 1996, 50)


Winer states: “Feminist theatre reaches out to women: “Get angry, get upset, look at how you live.” It’s probably the best way to arouse women … and to force them to see how they live, what their options are, and, more importantly, what they aren’t. How they’ve been oppressed; why they’re slaves, regardless of whether they’re rich or poor … When you begin to see sexism (you see that) it’s everywhere … in the kitchen, at schools, in the bedroom … The pan that you pick up every morning to cook an egg for your lover or husband, that’s a political act in so far as it expresses the way in which you are oppressed as a woman. We’ll have to look at very different actions, a whole different area of life, all of life, to find out in what kind of ways women are oppressed so that perhaps they’ll … see it, hate it, and stop – and so will the rest of the world.” (C. Rea, Women for Women from C. Martin, 2009, p. 32)

“Within this movement, women’s performance emerges as a specific strategy that allies postmodernism and feminism, adding the critique of gender/patriarchy to the already damaging critique of modernism inherent in the activity. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, coincident with the women’s movement, women used performance as a deconstructive strategy to demonstrate the objectification of women and its results.

  • “Waiting” (1972), Faith Wilding rocked slowly in a chair, quietly listing item after item for which she waits as ‘woman,’ from childhood to old age:

“Waiting for someone to pick me up / Waiting for someone to hold me … / Waiting to be somebody / Waiting to wear makeup / Waiting for my pimples to go away … Waiting for my children to come home from school / Waiting for them to grow up, to leave home / Waiting to be myself / Waiting for excitement … Waiting for my flesh to sag / Waiting for the pain to go away / Waiting for the struggle to end / Waiting for release”

Wilding eloquently expressed the frustration of a woman rendered incapable of independent action or thought, forced to wait for her life to happen to her. Always “waiting to be myself,” Wilding’s monologue shares with her audience the specific status of the objectified, the feeling of selflessness when constructed and delineated by male-dominated society. Initially performed for an audience of women only, the performance also served as a kind of consciousness-raising, feeding the group’s awareness of the subtle ways in which women are denied an active role in the constructed path of their own lives. (J. Forte, 1988, p.218)

As a deconstructive strategy, women’s performance art is discourse of the objectified other, within a context which foregrounds the conventions and expectations of modernism. This deconstruction hinges on the awareness that ‘Woman’, as an object, as a culturally constructed category, is actually the basis of the Western system of representation. Woman constitutes the position of object, a position of other in relation to a socially dominant male subject; it is that ‘otherness’ which makes representation possible (the personification of male desire). Precisely because of the operation of representation, actual women are rendered an absence within the dominant culture, and in order to speak, must either take on a mask (masculinity, falsity, simulation, seduction), or take on the unmasking of the very opposition in which they are the opposed, the Other. (J. Forte, 1988, p.218)

  • Judy Chicago, a feminist artist has said “Performance can be fuelled by rage in a way that painting and sculpture cannot.”
    Judy Chicago is an artist, author, feminist and educator whose career spans five decades. Chicago studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating with a Master’s Degree in painting and sculpture in 1964. In 1970 she launched the first feminist art programme at the California State University, Fresno. At the same time, Chicago dropped her birth name in favour of her birthplace, as a gesture of breaking away from the patriarchal tradition of a woman taking their father’s or husband’s name.
    Chicago works across media, often using traditional crafts such as needlework and China-painting. She has sometimes enlisted the participation of hundreds of people to create monumental works, which are realised collaboratively over a number of years. The unifying goal of her work is to make a place for female-centred imagery and to overcome the erasure of women’s achievements in art and society..
    “Rejecting both her maiden name and that she had taken on her marriage, she changed her name to Judy Chicago in 1971, signalling her move into a feminist art practice, and a rejection of male domination. The influential installation Womanhouse 1972 took place throughout a house in Los Angeles, and showed the work of 26 students as well as Chicago and Shapiro, including Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom (a bathroom with a bin overflowing with bloody tampons) and a series of performances exploring the lives, activities and roles of women. Chicago’s most well-known work, The Dinner Party 1974–9 came from previous works such as her Great Ladies series and her realisation of the erasure of female achievements throughout history. The Dinner Party is a triangular open table set with thirty-nine places, each commemorating an important female historical figure or goddess, resting on a tiled floor inscribed with the names of 999 other important women. The Dinner Party was exhibited in 16 venues in 6 countries on 3 continents to a viewing audience of over one million people, amking it an important touchpoint in the history of feminist art.”
    “Menstruation Bathroom” by Judy Chicago: The bathroom is painted a stark white, and a layer of gauze covers the shelves. A single trashcan is overflowing with what appear to be used tampons, a woman’s “hidden secret” that cannot be covered up.
    Information from:
    Revolvy https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Womanhouse
    TATE http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/ey-exhibition-world-goes-pop/artist-biography/judy-chicago
    TATE http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/performance-art-101-angry-space-politics-and-activism
  • Lorna Simpson – Five Day Forecast: If portraiture is intended to communicate something unique about its subject, Five Day Forecast might be described as an ‘anti-portrait’. The economy of the images, their serial arrangement and the use of black and white recall the conventions of nineteenth-century ethnographic photography, in which the subject becomes a de-individualised representative of a wider group. But in Simpson’s work, rather than being available for scrutiny and categorisation, the figure is photographed cropped so only her torso is visible. In this way, she remains ultimately inaccessible to the viewer.
    Five Day Forecast 1991 Lorna Simpson
    Five Day Forecast 1991 Lorna Simpson

    Information and picture from TATE: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/simpson-five-day-forecast-t13335/text-display-caption

    Performance art has typically been defined as motivated by a “redemptive belief in the capacity of art to transform human life,” as a vehicle for social change, and as a radical merging of life and art. As I explore it here, body art is both far more and far less than this. Articulated by artists such as Shneemann, Kusama, Vito Acconci, and Hannah Wilke, body art does not strive toward a utopian redemption but, rather, places the body/self within the realm of the aestetic as a political domain (articulated through the aestheticization of the particularized body/self, itself embedded in the social) and so unveils the hidden body that secured the authority of modernism. Again in this regard body art is not “inherently” critical, as many have claimed, nor (as we will see others have argued) inherently reactionary, but rather . in its opening up of the interpretive relation and its active solicitation of spectatorial desire. provides the possibility for radical engagements that can transform the way we think about meaning and subjectivity (both the artist’s and our own). In its activation of intersubjectivity, body art, in fact, demonstrates that meaning is an exchange and points to the impossibility of any practice being “inherently” positive or negative in cultural value. (Jones, 1998, p.14)

Texts partial documentations of past events, which offer the flavour of form and content without the visceral impact of the bodies’ seductions and repulsions. The language is to be consumed, studied, experienced, and treasured for its inventions into conventional American dramaturgy. Language in feminism performance however is only part of the story. “The body writes the largest portion of the text.” (C. Martin, 2009, p. 5)

“Feminist filmmakers and theorists have accomplished mush in the project of dismantling “woman”; from identifying and articulating the male gaze and the ways in which the female body is placed in the service of that gaze through operations of voyeurism and fetishism, to manipulating the narrative and cinematic mechanisms that produce meaning in film through strategies that subvert or disrupt the cinematic apparatus. “ (K. Davy, Reading Past the Heterosexual Imperative in C. Martin, 2009, p.141)

“Gender refers to the words, gestures, appearances, ideas, and behaviour that dominant culture understands as indices of feminine or masculine identity. When spectators ‘see’ gender they are seeing (and reproducing) the cultural signs of gender, and by implication, the gender ideology of a culture. Gender, in fact, provides a perfect illustration of ideology at work since ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ behaviour usually appears to be a ‘natural’ – and thus fixed and unalterable – extension of biological sex. Feminist practice that seeks to expose or mock the strictures of gender usually uses some version of the Brechtian A-effect. That is, by alienating (not simply rejecting) iconicity, by foregrounding the expectation of resemblance the ideology of gender is exposed and thrown back to the spectator.” (E. Diamond, Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory in C. Martin, 2009, p. 123)

From prehistory to the present, naked human figure was one of the most important motives and themes in art practice. However, its popularity has declined in Christian art, and not Islamic art in general, is not weighed figural representations. However, most of the European art practice as well as many non-European tradition, equally cherished this issue. Only with the advent of Abstract Expressionism figurative painting and sculpture in the European culture retreat with proscenium art scene, and reinvent, the body as an artistic motif and media experiences in performance and modern dance in the 20th century. (L.Janjetović, 2015, p. 248)

Ever since the Ancient Art, the lust-targeted eroticization and sexualization of female body have been the topic and motive of art shows. Never having been a direct and objective presentation of reality, these art shows reflect the set of the mainstream social and aesthetic ideals and values of the times of creation. Hence, the classical art provided the definition of the social- cultural form of the portrayal of female nude body, which (according to the feminist and poststructuralist approaches) controled it, restrained it, and finally turned it into the sexualized symbol of female subjection. The tradition of male-observer and female-observed reached its peak in 19th century art. At that time, the pioneer critical art reconsiderations of female body presentations, began to happen. Nevertheless, it was only when the Performance Art appeared in the second half of 20th century that the true liberation of (female) bodies from the semiotic cultural burden took place. Those new visual contemplations no longer saw the body as a product of presentation but rather as an active creator of the art process. Within the contemporary Performance Art, the (nude) female body – being both the object and subject of the action – is no longer the propagandist. It has upraised beyond the art semiotics and returned to its organic materiality. (L. Janjetović, 2015, p.276)

  •  La Ribot: La Ribot is the performance name of the Spanish dancer and live artist Maria Ribot. She adopted the name La Ribot in 1991 and most of her work has taken the form of solo performance, some lasting as little as thirty seconds, some lasting many hours. Clearly, La Ribot is at the centre of all her performances and all her work is in some sense about her. All her work is about the body and all her work uses her own body, often her naked body, in the performance space. The nakedness suggests a lack of disguise, of uncompressing honesty, of stripped truthfulness that is itself a performance persona artfully crafted. By appearing naked in much of her work, La Ribot gives herself nothing to hide behind, except for the persona that is La Ribot who is perhaps a mask for the artist Marie Ribot, even when she is naked, to hide behind. (Dixon and Bruno, 2014, p. 92)

La Ribot is a Spanish dancer and body artist. She is at the centre of all her performances, using her own naked body. However, the nakedness is not the central point of her works, but rather the nakedness is to represent lack of disguise, uncompressing honesty and truthfulness. (Dixon and Bruno. 2014, 92). Although all of her works cover different topics, the overall key point she makes is to present life unadorned.

Still Distinguished Chair (2000) by La Ribot
Still Distinguished Chair (2000) by La Ribot

Picture from http://artesescenicas.uclm.es/index.php?sec=artis&id=25

  • Valie EXPORT
    • Action Pants: Genital Panic is a set of six identical posters from a larger group that the artist produced to commemorate an action she performed in Munich in 1968. The posters show EXPORT sitting on a bench against a wall out of doors wearing crotchless trousers and a leather shirt and holding a machine-gun. Her feet are bare and vulnerable, as are her genitals, and she holds the gun at chest level, apparently in readiness to turn it on the viewer towards whom her gaze is directed. Her hair stands up in a wild mop above her head, emphasising the strangeness of the image. The action that gave rise to the photograph Action Pants: Genital Panic has become the subject of apocryphal art historical legend. EXPORT performed Genital Panic in Munich in an art cinema where experimental filmmakers were showing their work. Wearing trousers from which a triangle had been removed at the crotch, the artist walked between the rows of seated viewers, her exposed genitalia at face-level. This confrontation challenged the perceived cliché of women’s historical representation in the cinema as passive objects denied agency.
      Action Pants
      “Action Pants: Genital Panic” by Valie Export

      Information from TATE: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/export-action-pants-genital-panic-p79233/text-summary)

    • TOUCH and TAP Cinema (1968) took the traditional view of the woman’s body as something to be looked at, specifically in the world of film and cinema, and made the voyeurism public. Carrying a box open at the front attached to her bare torso, participants were invited to put their hands through the curtain coverinf the opening and touch her body. EXPORT called this the first genuine women’s film, as the woman controlled the display of the female body. EXPORT’s notion of ‘expanded cinema’ was that the live body activated the projected film. Forcing those interacting with her body to meet her gaze, she challenged the dehumanisation of woman as object in film as well as taboos around sexuality and physical experience.

      “Touch and tap cinema” by Valie Export

“VALIE EXPORT’s TAP and TOUCH CINEMA 1968 took the traditional view of the woman’s body as something to be looked at, specifically in the world of film and cinema, and made the voyeurism public. Carrying a box open at the front attached to her bare torso, participants were invited to put their hands through the curtain coverinf the opening and touch her body. EXPORT called this the first genuine women’s film, as the woman controlled the display of the female body. EXPORT’s notion of ‘expanded cinema’ was that the live body activated the projected film. Forcing those interacting with her body to meet her gaze, she challenged the dehumanisation of woman as object in film as well as taboos around sexuality and physical experience. Her work Action Pants: Genital Panic 1968 took a similar theme as she walked through the rows of an art house cinema in Munich wearing crotchless trousers, her genitalia level with the seated spectators’ faces, again forcing the public viewer to engage with the live female body rather than images on the screen.”

Information from
TATE: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/performance-art-101-angry-space-politics-and-activism
MOMA: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/109931?locale=e

  • Milo Moire:
    • Mirror Box (2016) “I am standing here today for women’s rights and sexual self-determination. Women have a sexuality, just like men have one. However, women decide for themselves when and how they want to be touched and when they don’t”
      “Mirror Box” is a societal reflection of human sexuality. It’s a expanded reenactment of the “Tap and Touch Cinema” (1968) and a homage to the Austrian artist VALIE EXPORT, who was already fighting for women’s rights in the 1960’s through artistic actions. Artist Milo Moiré utilizes her body as an instrument, even as a weapon, in order to depict and disrupt power structures. She aggressively seeks the feminine expression of sexual self-determination and explores the boundaries of art and bourgeois morality.
      The consensual nature of sexual acts becomes a symbol here. Moiré has additionally taken the liberty of showing female desire, thus giving women a sexual voice. The artist supplements the dominant image of the female body as a mirror of male desire through the illumination of the libidinous black box of woman.
      Inevitably it is not only one’s own self that becomes recognizable through the Mirror Box. The audience’s reflection on the mirrored box simultaneously becomes a visual metaphor for the role reversal from voyeur to the object of view: a constant play of inversions analogous to our roles in the digital world.

      "Mirror Box" performance in summer 2016 by Milo Moire
      “Mirror Box” performance in summer 2016 by Milo Moire


    • PlopEgg (2014): The artist is standing naked on two ferries from the vagina threw eggs filled with paint and also ‘born’ work of art (in this case as an artifact, but not the only result of the artistic action). Mojrino artwork visually and symbolically reminiscent of the womb. Gender-poetic narrative Mojrinog performance has itsroots in the feminist performances Judy Chicago, Marina Abramovic, Karol filmed and other performance which, as presented in the private and closed space, were hidden from the eyes of the global public. Today, thanks to the mass media, public space has become a global field of activity of socially engaged art practice. This performance also examines the problem of space as an element of materiality of performing, as well as the phenomenon of mediatization
      of society to contemporary performance practices. Unlike Chicago and Abramovic, Moira “is” private and intimate in public.

      "PlopEgg" by Milo Moire
      “PlopEgg” by Milo Moire
    • The Script System German performance artist and psychologist Milo Moiré tried to attend Art Basel — which happens every year where the borders of Switzerland, Germany, and France meet — completely naked. With just the words of clothing items written on the appropriate body parts, she walks down a residential street, gets on a train and then queues for a ticket until a security guard tells her to put her clothes on.
      “The Script System” by Milo Moire

      Information from
      Milo’s official website: https://milomoire.com/en/performance-2/

  • Carolee Schneeman:
    • Eye Body (1973): “That the body is in the eye; ensations received visually take hold on the total organism. That perception moves the total personality in excitation… My visual dramas provide for intensification of all factultioes simultaneously – apprehensions are called forth in wild juxtaposition. My eye creates, searches out expressive form in the materials I choose; such forms corresponding to a visual-kinaesthetic dimensionality; a visceral necessity drawn by the senses to the fingers of the eye… a mobile, tactile event into which the eye leads the body.” (Jones, 1998, p. 2) An eroticized body performance, where she was covered in paint, grease, chalk, ropes, plastic to establish her body as visual territory.
    • Interior Scroll (1975): Shneemann extended her sexualized negotiation of the normative (masculine) subjectivity authorizing the modernist artist, performing herself in an erotically charged narrative of pleasure that challenges the fetichistic and scopophilic “male gaze”. Her face and body covered in strokes of paint, Shneemann pulled a long, thin coil of paper from her vagina (“like a ticker tape … plumb line … the umbilicus and tongue”), unrolling it to read a narrative text to the audience. Through the action, hich extends “exquisite sensation in motion” and “originates with … the fragile persistence of line moving nto space”. Schneemann integrated the occluded interior of the female body (with the vagina as “a translucent chamber”) with its mobile, and apparently eminently readable (obviously “female”) exterior. (Jones, 1998, p. 3)
      In feminist Women Here and Now conference in East Hampton, Long Island, Schneemann entered the room covered in a sheet with only an apron beneath. She disrobed in the centre of the space, climbed onto a table where she outlined her body in mud and struck “action poses” as if for a life-drawing class. She read from her book Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter, and then slowly extracted a paper scroll from her vagina and read from it. Schneemann drew upon ritualism while using her whole body as an integral part of the art; she stated, “I thought of the vagina in many ways – physically, conceptually, as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation.” According to art critic Robert C. Morgan, Interior Scroll must be understood within the contemporary context of the 1970s and feminist art in particular: by locating the root of artistic creativity at her genitals, Schneemann shifted away from the masculine precedent in art toward a feminist exploration of her body.Carolee Schneeman’s Interior Scroll 1975 also confronted viewers with female genitalia, though with a different meaning. Standing naked on a table, Schneeman read from a scroll slowly unrolled as she pulled it from her vagina. The text was a conversation setting ideas traditionally associated with women, such as intuition and bodily processes, against notions of order and rationality, seen as male. For Schneeman, the body was a source of knowledge and experience and the vagina particularly as a site of sexual power.

“I thought of the vagina in many ways – physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the source of sacred knowledge, ecstacy, birth passage, transformation.” says Schneeman.

Information from
The Art Story: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-schneemann-carolee.htm
Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/performance-art-101-angry-space-politics-and-activism


Sklar believes that it is important to determine whom one is addressing: “The general audience is the male-oriented audience. If you say that the society is male-dominated ant that art has grown up in male traditions, then anything that is sort of general thing is, in fact, coming out of that and make choices that way. If you are successful at it, men are going to come away saying that they liked it but didn’t quite feel moved by it, or there’s something cold in it, or it was funny but it wasn’t deep enough – because they are not the persons being spoken to.” (C. Rea, Women for Women from C. Martin, 2009, p. 32)

Sklar observes: Certain material played in a mixed context comes off one way. It may come off funny and theatrical. But in the context of only women, it comes off in a much deeper, more penetrating way. You see the audience responding differently.” (C. Rea, Women for Women from C. Martin, 2009, p. 33)

  • Judy Chicago’s most influential work, and a milestone in twentieth-century art, is the iconic installation The Dinner Party 1974–9, today a permanent exhibition housed at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Dinner Party (1979) is a monumental installation celebrating forgotten achievements in female history. Chicago described it as, “as a reinterpretation of The Last Supper from the point of view of women, who, throughout history, have prepared the meals and set the table.” The central form is a forty-eight-foot triangular table with symbolic places set for thirty-nine “guests of honour”—remarkable women from different stages in Western civilisation Each guest has her own runner, embroidered on one side with her name and on the other with imagery illustrating her achievement. Each place setting includes a glass plate, decorated with a butterfly or floral motif symbolizing the vulva. By incorporating elements of a contemporary social event with the status and appearance of a banquet, Chicago elevates her guests to the role of heroes, a traditionally male epithet. In essence, Chicago states, the work “takes us on a tour of Western civilization, a tour that bypasses what we have been taught to think of as the main road.” The floor is inscribed with the names of 999 additional women worthy of recognition, while acknowledgment panels on the walls honour the 129 collaborators who worked with Chicago on the piece.

Regarded as an icon of twentieth-century art, The Dinner Party is arguably the most significant and recognized piece of feminist art ever made, notable in its incorporation of collaborative working process, political symbolism, the sheer scale of the media response, and the unprecedented worldwide grassroots movement it prompted in reaction to the work’s condemnation. The piece’s lasting importance lies in its defiance of fine-art tradition by representing a feminine history suppressed by patriarchal society, as well as its celebration of the traditional “feminine” crafts: textile arts (weaving, embroidery, and sewing) and ceramic decoration. Featured in sixteen exhibitions in six different countries, The Dinner Party has now been seen by more than one million viewers.

Information from The Art Story: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-chicago-judy.htm)

"The DInner Party" by Judy Chicago
“The DInner Party” by Judy Chicago

“The new ‘essistentialism’ of which Susan Griffin is the most inspired and interesting exponent, holds that women are intrinsically different, that womanliness exists as an absolute concept, beyond cultural and historical conditioning. But because developments through time – blamed on males, according to this view – have oppressed and silenced women, the only unmistakable badge of identity is physical sexual difference. Because women are evidently different, one from another, in opinions, interests, expression, the single uniting common factor between them is biological; reductive anti-historical as this definition of femaleness may be, it beckons powerfully to feminist artists and writers. Affirming the strength and beauty of female sexual characteristics attacks the privileged symbolic discourse male authorities have enjoyed hitherto. In the work of Judy Chicago, the monumental Dinner Party, each of the thirty-nine women of the past honoured by a place at the table is symbolized by a ceramic painted plate on an embroidered multi-coloured mat. Each dish was designed by Chicago as a different mandala-like sunburst. (Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of Female Form by Marina Warner, p 264)

  • Guerilla Girls: Many noticed that of the 169 artists included only 13 were women and all where white. Though women protested outside with placards, a few noticed that this was not a one-off, and that in fact, women and artists from minority ethnic groups were still poorly represented in major art institutions. The Guerilla Girls (a group of anonymous female artists) started pasting up posters on SoHo that pointed out the poor numbers aiming to embarrass the various groups of the art world, artists, dealers, collectors, critics. Since then, the Guerilla Girls’ activism has continued to appropriate the visual language of advertising to create witty and ironic posters and prints as well as forums, protests and actions, where the Guerilla Girls wear their trademark gorilla masks to conceal their identity.

    a poster by Guerilla Girls
    a poster by Guerilla Girls



“In lesbian performances at New York’s WOW Café – I’m thinking of Holly Hughes’ Lady Dick and Split Britches’ Upwardly Mobile Home – and in the broadly satirical monologs of Italy’s Franca Rame, gender is exposed as a sexual costume, a sign of a role, not evidence of reality.” (E. Diamond: Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory in C. Martin, 2009:123)

“I am suggesting that sexual difference is imagine, where we theorize; gender is where we live, our social address, although most of us, with an effort, are trying to leave home.” (E. Diamond: Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory in C. Martin, 2009:125)

“Within Dress Suits’ shifting subject field, power relations are repeatedly redistributed. Both women in Dress Suits are ‘suited’ with femme iconography, so that one emerges as more powerful than the other, the action is played out in the context of sameness – same sex partner, same erotic identity. If power is understood as distributed according to “difference” then again, the “picture” is out of kilter. The “difference” is in erotic role, which is not fixed – power positionings change, slide back and forth, throughout the performance. Power is exchanged between the two characters.” (K. Davy: Reading Past the Heterosexual imperative in C. Martin, 2009: 147)


  • Hiller, S. and Einzig, B. (1996). Thinking about art. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • The Performativity of Performance Documentation. (2006). A Journal of Performance and Art, 28(3), pp.1-10.
  • Forte, J. (1988) Women’s Performance Art: Feminism and Postmodernism. Theatre Journal, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 217–235. www.jstor.org/stable/3207658.
  • Jones, A. (1998). Body art/performing the subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Dixon, L. and Bruno, S. (2014). Creating Solo Performance. Routledge.
  • Kelly, M. (1999). Post-Partum Document. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
  • Warriner, R. “Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document,” in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed November 4, 2016, http://smarthistory.org/mary-kelly-post-partum-document/.
  • Janjetovićh, L. (2015). FROM Venus of Willendorf MILO Moire – semantic TRANSFORMATION naked female body in visual art.
  • Martin, C. (1996). A sourcebook of feminist theatre and performance. London: Routledge.

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