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Women’s Day is Finally Here!

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Fair warning: if you do not want to hear my incessant ramblings about how glorious vaginas are, click away now. Seriously though, I am about to talk about vaginas…like A LOT. That said, this blog is not about my infatuation with the vajayjay but rather a tribute to some of the most badass female artists in history. With Women’s Day upon us, it only seems fitting to give a shout out to those trailblazing feminist artists who forged their way into a patriarchal art world replete with a penchant for nudity and equipped with the message that women deserve equal treatment in the arts.

Throughout most of history, women found their place in the arts on the canvas rather than standing behind the easel. When looking around the world’s greatest museums you will likely find a whole lot of naked women lounging about, and while I am not complaining about getting to soak up the splendor of the female physique there is an important caveat we need to examine: almost all of these paintings were created by men. Then the 1960s hit. Women began to experience a lot more personal freedoms; oral contraceptives were introduced and the right to take them was quickly protected by all states, more women than ever were entering the workforce, and soon abortion would be protected under the constitution. The sexual revolution was upon us, and with it came the shattering of restrictive social taboos.

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Building on the momentum of the changing times, women started pumping out work that not only spoke to the struggles faced by their gender but demanded that people give women the credit they deserve. The Feminist Art Movement was marked by a plethora of blatantly shocking work that could not be ignored. So here’s to the ladies who used their bodies to smash the patriarchy and allowed women to find their rightful place equally amongst men in the art world!

Judy Chicago

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When examining this movement, I cannot think of a better place to start than with Judy Chicago, the woman who coined the term “feminist art”. Chicago was one of the driving forces behind the Feminist Art Movement, and her piece The Dinner Party has become the ultimate symbol female empowerment in the arts. Chicago felt the need to honor women throughout history who did not get enough props so she decided what better way to do so than slap their vulvas on a dinner plate and call it good. While we should all probably get the name of her caterer, the real point of this work is to highlight what it means to be a woman and remind us of the invaluable role we have played throughout history. Plus if for nothing else, this piece can make all the slightly childish and inappropriate people like myself chuckle at the double entendre of “eating out.”

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The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, Brooklyn Museum

Carolee Schneemann

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Here we have the “cunt mascot on the men’s art team” (yes, she actually called herself that). As to be expected of any woman who self-identifies in such a crass way, she was not exactly the most reserved of people. No, I am pretty sure Carolee Schneemann had no shame. Schneemann used her career and bodily fluids to crush sexism in the art world. Feeling that the public needed to be more educated on feminism, Schneemann created her outlandish performance piece, Interior Scroll, in which she romped around an exhibition naked and proceeded to pull a scroll about feminism out of her hooha. Besides putting all magicians to shame with their antiquated rabbit out of the hat trick, Schneemann took such an overt approach to her work, there was no way the world was going to ignore her.

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Interior Scroll by Carolee Schneemann, Tate Modern *Because we want to promote this on social media we are required to censor this artwork due to Facebook’s puritanical views on the human body. You can see the actual artwork by clicking the link above.*

Faith Ringgold

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Faith Ringgold’s struggle for representation in the art world would be enough to snag her a spot on this list, but the fact alone that she used to go into museums and leave menstrual pads with the message “50% Women” written on them totally solidifies her spot amongst the most badass feminist artists. Ringgold built a career challenging race and gender conventions through her story quilts. Her work, The Picnic at Giverny, flips art historical norms on their heads. In this piece we see a woman of color painting a nude man, thus doing a total 180 in terms of tradition. Finally some dude nudes!

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The Picnic at Giverny by Faith Ringgold

Barbara Kruger

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Barbara Kruger knows we are all suckers for marketing. Rather than trying to sell us the next great exfoliant though, Kruger utilizes her advertorial aesthetic to push her feminist agenda, and boy am I buying it. Kruger created Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground) to use as a visual aid for the Women March on Washington in the 1980s to remind us all that, while the Supreme Court protected abortion in 1973, this brawl over our bodies still rages on. Almost 40 years later, this piece is as relevant and poignant as ever.

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Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground) by Barbara Kruger, The Broad 

Yoko Ono

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When thinking about Yoko Ono, most associate her with her third husband John Lennon. While she may have been out shined by the infamous Beatle, Ono rode no coattails on her path to stardom. In fact, she made her iconic work, Cut Piece, five years before she got hitched to the musician. Considered by many to be the first piece of feminist performance art, Ono sat motionless on stage (dressed to the nines might I add), and had the audience come up and cut her clothing off her body. While there are about a billion and a half interpretations for this work, most agree that this piece speaks to the passive and vulnerable role that women have traditionally taken on and how that can potentially lead to sexual violence. Ono may have broken up The Beatles, but her destructive nature also helped obliterate harmful gender stereotypes as well.

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Cut Piece by Yoko Ono

Guerrilla Girls

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At Sartle, we go bananas for the Guerrilla Girls. This band of babes has all the qualities we covet: a feminist agenda, shocking fun facts about the art world, and an irresistible air of mystery. While some naysayers may attribute the masks to a chronic case of butter face, these ladies don their hairy attire to protect their identity while fighting the patriarchy. In their piece The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist, they highlight all the great aspects of being a female artist such as working without the pressure of success and seeing your ideas live on in the work of others. Besides being gloriously cheeky, these women have shown the art world that gender equality is much more than just monkey business.

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The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist by Guerrilla Girls, Brooklyn Museum

Shirin Neshat

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Given the current state of American politics, Shirin Neshat’s work is as powerful and important as ever. Examining notions of femininity in relation to Islamic fundamentalism, Neshat explores how women can prevent sexualization and achieve equality. In one of her earliest photographs, Unveiling, Neshat is wearing a chador (the Iranian version of a hijab) in order to understand how oppression and freedom of expression can take similar forms. Additionally, she has an Iranian poem written across her face. Poetry has traditionally been a place for Islamic women to share their voice and perspective. Neshat does a stunning job of showing how femininity and gender equality can present itself in vastly different shapes across cultural lines. No wonder she has been dubbed artist of the decade and one of the most inspiring women today.

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Unveiling by Shirin Neshat, Whitney Museum of American Art

Lynda Benglis

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Lynda Benglis spent her entire career crusading for women in the arts, yet there is one very clear moment in which people decided she was a feminist artist. Needless to say, that moment still involved a penis. The year was 1974, and the world was about to receive the best dick pic to date. Benglis wanted to make a stand against male-domination in the art world, and what better way to do that she figured than to drop trou, oil herself up, and pose with a giant dildo between her legs. While this photo may be the shining beacon of her feminist ideals, Benglis never ceased making work that spoke to the issues of femininity in our culture.  

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Artforum Ad by Lynda Benglis *Because we want to promote this on social media we are required to censor this artwork due to Facebook’s puritanical views on the human body.*

Catherine Opie

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When talking about abolishing gender norms, we cannot forget about Catherine Opie. She is considered a master of capturing the American identity, which to her means drag, the LGBTQ community, and a whole lotta BDSM. Opie takes photos that crawl into your head and never leave, such as her work Self Portrait. Opie carves the American Dream into her back, but rather than showing a man and women with their golden retriever and white picket fence, she shows two women in a loving embrace. Would ya know it, Opie feels LGBTQ couples deserve all the same rights as straight couples, and she uses her artistic prowess and masochistic love of pain to create an image you will never forget.

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Self Portrait by Catherine Opie, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles 

There are so many women we should pay tribute to on this important holiday, but unfortunately there is not enough time in the day to tip our hats to all the ladies who have pushed us closer to gender equality, so I will leave you here to chew on my personal favorite feminist artists and some of their iconic work.

By: Jennifer

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Jennifer Tucker

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