THE Photographers’ Gallery in London celebrates the work of feminist avant-garde artists of the 1970s in a new group show which opens next week. The exhibition highlights how female artists sought to turn the tide of art history in response to the changing social attitudes of the time. Challenging the traditional image of the woman as male muse, artists used their own bodies in their work to reclaim the female form. Showcasing more than 150 major international works the Verbund Collection, including work by Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, Valie Export and Martha Rosler, the exhibition covers a diverse range of themes expressed through photography, collage, performance, video and film.
Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit #1, Rome, Italy, 1978 / 1979.
© Courtesy George and Betty Woodman, New York / Sammlung Verbund, Wien
Female artists of the 1970s adopted radical new ways to tackle issues of sexism and inequality in what was then, a largely male-dominated society. The performance artist, Valie Export took to the streets of Vienna to assert her female identity in a manner that was considered shocking at the time.
Wearing a mini movie-theatre covering her breasts, she invited any member of the public to poke their hands through the curtains to feel a real woman’s body. Artists such as Lynn Hershman Leeson and Cindy Sherman were concerned with the authenticity of the female image and constructed fictional personas to demonstrate how looks can deceive.
Video artist, Martha Rosler addressed women’s lack of empowerment in the public sphere and their imposed domesticity. In her film, Semiotics of a Kitchen the disgruntled artist dons an apron and mimes the ritual of family cooking.
The issues highlighted by these artists should strike a cord today with both feminists and non-feminists. As Rosler states,
“even the most anti-feminist public women are speaking to, for and about women.”