The Feminist Art movement emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s to resist the unequal representation of women artists in galleries. These women were trailblazers, always fighting for what they believe in, especially when their rights and roles have been undervalued and underestimated.

The art world has always been male dominant. Men were the artists as well as the curators deciding what was to be displayed and what wasn’t. Women in the art world were like ghosts, and seemed unworthy to be shown to the public eye. This had been mostly the case up until the mid-late 20th century, when a group of strong feminists decided to put an end to the injustice, and created change for generations to come. The goal behind these feminist movements was to eliminate the mentality that the objectification and sexualisation of women -especially in art- was alright.

Across history, women in artwork were portrayed solely for their sexual value and were mostly nude. Groups like the Guerrilla Girls , Judy Chicago and others vocalised how almost no female artists were ever being exhibited in galleries and museums. This was alarming and spiked the start of a revolution.

The Guerrilla Girls were the first start to this change.  They had formed as a reaction to an exhibition called An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture in 1985.

They were an anonymous group of feminist, female artists that decided to put their foot down and fight sexism, and discrimination in the art world. They wore gorilla masks to keep their anonymity. And this was because, the issues they fought for to create change, was more important than who they were as individuals. Breaking stereotypes, and barriers was how they fought for change.

Guerrilla Girls (www.guerrillagirls.com)

They noted that out of 165 artists exhibited at the MET museum, only 13 were women. The Gorilla Girls were enraged and as a result, they decided to react and stand up for the discrimination that was exhibited.

The action came in the form of a billboard titled, Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into The MET Museum? In that billboard, they borrowed the figure in Ingre’s La Grande Odalisque– by far the most famous depiction of female nudes in western Art History- with a gorilla head covering the figure’s face. Seeing this image raises the following question, ‘why do women have to be naked in order to be at the museum?’.

This then uncovered the brutal fact that less than 5% of women in the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts were female artists, and 85% of the nudes were female

Guerrilla Girls, Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into The MET Museum’ part of Guerrilla Girls Talk Back, Screenprint on Paper, 28x71cm, 1989 (tate.org.uk)

Judy Chicago is another name that fought for justice. She the American Feminist artist behind the 1974  installation The Dinner Party.  The installation consists of a triangular shaped dinner table with 39 place settings for prominent and important female figures from history. With each plate being a reclamation of the female anatomy. The work caused disruption and was completely controversial at the time, but is now considered one of the most important feminist works in history.

Chicago’s goal as a feminist artist was to change the way images and paintings were perceived. She wanted to highlight the female gaze in museums as opposed to the male.

Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Ceramic, Porcelain and Textile, 1463×1463cm, 1974–79 (brooklynmuseum.org)
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, Ceramic, Porcelain and Textile, 1463×1463cm, 1974–79 (brooklynmuseum.org)

Other female artists followed in her footsteps, except their methods differed.

For example, Jenny Holzer introduced protest art and Truisms to the art world. Her posters contained one-liners; this was to awaken this uncomfortable feeling within the viewer, and thus make you question the artwork. She challenged the barriers of the art world. A new art medium was born. Statements art pieces were no longer a thing of the past.

Jenny Holzer, Truism, Photostat, 243.9×101.6cm, 1978-87 (moma.org)

All these mentioned examples across the past 60 years founded the grounds for groups like the Russian political-art group Pussy Riot to fight for their rights of freedom in their societies.  Pussy Riot gained wide media attention on July 15th 2018 when they interrupted the final match of the FIFA World Cup as four of their members ran across the football field dressed as Russian Police officers. This interruption was followed up with a social media statement demanding the Russian government to:

  1. Free all political prisoners.
  2. Stop jailing people for social-media “likes.”
  3. Stop illegal arrests at protests.
  4. Allow political competition.
  5. Stop fabricating criminal cases and putting people in jail for no reason.
  6. Turn the earthly policeman into a Heavenly Policeman.
Stewards pull a woman off the pitch after she stormed onto the field and interrupted the World Cup final between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15, 2018 (gettyimages.com)

The Feminist Art Movement has come a long way since it emerged in the 1960’s. There is still much debate and room for change left for the feminist artists of today to work with, and with the teachings of previous Feminist artists and the availability of social media protest art, statement art as well as Feminist art groups are more influential today than they were before.

All images courtesy indicated in captions.