“One man’s terrorist is another woman’s freedom fighter.”
B.I.T.C.H. BEING IN TOTAL CONTROL (of) HERSELF: THE FEMINIST JIHAD
By Alex Welsh
Bitches, Bimbos and Ballbreakers (above), by the Guerrilla Girls, 2003.
The “New” Feminist Movement got its roots from the cultural and political Armageddon that was occurring in the turbulent sixties. It was a time when gender equality was always at the periphery of social discourse. It was pervasive through its art, within the vortices of anti-war sedition and pro-war propaganda. Their statements were an affront to the status quo but acutely relevant to the historical treatment of women.
Feminists were collectively active in society as early as the American Suffrage Movement (1840-1920) and the Labor uprisings in the 1890’s. Cultural taboos that came with women smoking in public were whisked away by Edward Bernays, through art and propaganda. Art was in the PR ammo box long before activist citizens and artists started firing back. Art as PR/propaganda dates as early as the Hellenistic period of Roman art with the fashionable Greek style busts and dramatic personifications of nobility.
The “emancipation” of the modern woman empowered them with the freedom of “choice” – about which designer cigarettes they preferred to smoke, or which boutiques they chose to shop in.
Some ancient civilizations held the virtue of feminism in high regard. The Pagans had strong female leaders, Boudicca for example. But let’s talk about fundamentalism and how it relates to feminism in art. The essence of all life springs from the vagina. Where would we be without them? After centuries of manipulation and suppression in our properly “established” and civilized society, the vagina, the fundamental source of all life, had become the “dirty bomb”.
The Feminist Art Movement maintained its integrity throughout the entire 20th Century in contrast to many other movements in art. The sixties’ open ended culture paved the way for feminist movements to reemerge, from being historically political, to a more cohesive relationship with the cultural paradigms of the postmodern. The sixties were stripping away at the status quo with wild abandon. Many young Americans were engaging in new social paradigms and spiritualism. Existentialism and humanitarian issues came to the forefront of the experience and women were shocking the art world out of its comfort zone with their vaginas.
The list of well-known feminist artists of the postmodern include Judy Chicago, Kiki Smith, Jenny Holzer and Ana Mendieta. Metamodernism is not without its participants in the feminist movement. Contemporary artists like Rupi Kaur and Vanessa Tiegs have made bold statements in blood as well. When artists like Jim Dyne were challenging the preconceptions of what legitimized the perceived value of art during the 50’s and 60’s, their spontaneous Art Happenings provided a vehicle for feminist performance artists, like Carolee Schneemann. Known for her ”Interior Scroll”, the work referenced ritualism and the female body as the source of all life’s experience, sometimes in very sexually explicit ways. Mysticism, magic and often fear is provoked by the female’s anatomy, sexuality and intuition.
Photograph by Rhiannon Schneiderman
My first encounter with insurgents from the feminist jihad was while attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. I saw works reminiscent of Judy Chicago, Schneemann and others. One piece was a performance installation. A structure a bit larger than a refrigerator box was elevated on stilts about 3 feet from the floor. It was almost conical in shape like a funnel. On the floor directly below the funnel’s opening was a small pile of sand. The artist sat unseen inside the enclosure as blood from her menstrual cycle dripped into the sand.
Fundamentally, fertility was the gift of the goddess, not the god. In many cultures woman held her place along side of man as a means to both their survival. The more violent and influential the patriarch was to become with the introduction of weapons, power and wealth, the more the female’s value in the patriarchal society was reduced. As the new religions were taking the world by storm, all things earthly that were under the domain and stewardship of the “goddess” were soon to be downsized and outsourced to the heavenly patriarch above. The goddess of pre-Christianity became the Virgin Mary or the Madonna and her life giving sexuality was nullified by the Immaculate Conception.
Chinese artist Li Xinmo questions the female identity in China in a subtle performance piece entitled “Love Song Written in Water”, (2010).
What we see in visual arts motivated by feminism is often a spiritual regression to ancient ceremonial practices. Their messages stress the importance of the female’s role in society and religion as they might have been appreciated during pre-Christian times. Non-Christian belief systems still being practiced today still regard the goddess as well as the god.
The radical feminist jihadist strikes at the soft underbelly of the patriarch’s institutions of established but somewhat dysfunctional perceptions of femininity. Society cringes in terror at any immodest impropriety, except when they’re flipping through National Geographic or Victoria’s Secret. We objectify, sexualize and monopolize the western female’s anatomy while ignoring her autonomy.
Not all art is meant to be decorative or appropriate. Some art is meant to challenge if not threaten dysfunctional social behavior. But can it be justified as culturally relevant or original, anymore? Like all societies the more things change the more they stay the same and like evolving art movements, they will always share some characteristics of their past manifestations.
As a man I apologize for making any assumption that I understand the world from a woman’s perspective. I can only try to empathize as best as I can. Is the continuation of feminist art in metamodernism aesthetically relevant, or is it purely manifested by a culture craving new levels of intensity and shock value in their art? Much art having nothing whatsoever to do with feminism is painted with blood and other bodily fluids. Why should that be received any differently than a static work or performance piece derived from a woman’s vagina? We worship the blood of the lamb in church and symbolically drink of it from the communion chalice. Why wouldn’t the blood from a woman’s vagina, the source of all life on Earth, be considered just as sacred?
Protests concerning social injustice have been pushed beyond every known limit including the self-immolation rituals performed by the Buddhist Monks in Tibet. Native American teen suicides are off the charts and war is still the answer. And a woman’s existential being has never been released from judgement of men. The sixties put the vagina in everyone’s face. It was the dirty bomb that shocked the world, and still womens’ issues and war remain on the unsolved mysteries list. I wonder: how will they take it to the next level? What will metamodernism bring to the social art construct and the forum of public opinion in terms of a new feminist movement?
The “Angel of Kobane” and the mystique of Rehana.
This female Kurdish fighter’s image (above) went viral last year. They say art mimics life and no struggle has been more intense for female autonomy than that of the Kurdish women, currently fighting against ISIS. Much speculation exists about this being a propaganda tool; and it is still questioned whether or not this particular lady actually killed one hundred men in battle. Never the less, this image has stood strong as a symbol for feminism all over the world. These Angels of Death bleed from every orifice in battle, right along side of their men.
This performance based project of Christen Clifford’s is reminiscent of Carolee Schneemann’s “Interior Scroll”, (1975). Both artists are making similar statements through their own physiology about reproduction, misogyny and control. Both artists reclaim “ownership” of their objects by objectifying them at their own discretion; as the vehicles through which they deliver their messages. Ms. Schneemann’s original statement combines ancient or fundamental elements of art, magic and religion. In a manner of speaking, Ms. Clifford is connecting metamodernism to mysticism; the digital realm to the metaphysical realm. In the featured video the Young Turks give Pussy Bow a tough critique.
Schneemann writes in 1991’s “The Obscene Body/Politic”: “I didn’t want to pull a scroll out of my vagina and read it in public, but the culture’s terror of my making overt what it wished to suppress fueled the image; it was essential to demonstrate this lived action about ‘vulvic space’ against the abstraction of the female body and its loss of meaning.” – Source
*The comments are open for a salon discussion. Please feel free to add your perspective.
Russian punk band Pussy Riot is assaulted by police while trying to preform under Sochi sign. It required men with whips to subdue the unarmed radical feminists.