Contemporary Feminism: Art Practice, Theory, and Activism-An Intergenerational Perspective

Article excerpt

Mira Schor

Although in our time a generation seems to be the measure of the life span of a mosquito, it was-a generation ago-agreed upon as the thirty-year span of time during which a person could grow from birth to parenthood. So perhaps it is fitting that, thirty years after the inception of the Women's Liberation Movement and the Feminist Art Movement, a number of panels, forums, and symposia have focused on the history, relevance, and fate of feminism. At events such as the panel "Between the Acts," moderated by Faith Wilding for Art in General in New York in October 1997; the series of four panel discussions held at A.I.R. Gallery in New York in 1997-98 to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary as one of the first women artists' cooperative galleries (including "Realities of Feminism and/or Activist Practice," which I moderated and which inspired this forum in Art journal); the symposium "The F-- Word: Contemporary Feminisms and the Legacy of the Los Angeles Feminist Art Movement" at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in September- October 1998; and the panel discussion "The Body Politic: Whatever Happened to the Women Artist's Movement?" at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in December 1998, vanguard feminist artists and younger women artists have considered many of the questions I asked the following women artists and art historians from three generations of feminism to address:

How would you place your own work within a historical continuum from 1970s feminism to the present? Has the influence of feminist theory affected your practice as an artist, teacher, critic, or historian, and has that changed in the last [five, ten, fifteen, twenty] years? What is your experience of an intergenerational dialogue around feminist ideas and histories? What do you find is the relationship between the theoretical assertions, aims, and positions articulated within feminism and the realities of your lived experience and actual practice? How would you characterize the exchange between men and women around feminist issues? Can feminist ideals be perpetuated without writing about or representing women, gendered practice, or gendered identity? How have the critical reformulations by which feminism challenged art historical and critical discussions twenty or so years ago been integrated into current curricula, institutional politics, and individual working methods?

Emma Amos

An artist friend of mine remarked to me that she hated the question, Which is worse, being black or being female? Aside from the question's ubiquitous dumbness, she had never not been both, so how could she tell? Besides, the answer is in the question itself: they are both limiting. Though I am told that many black women eschew feminism, I do not think I know any who will admit that they do. (By the way, I have no use for the term African-American, even if it does slip out of my mouth on occasion. Being parts African, Cherokee, Irish, Norwegian, and God knows what else, I refuse to cede the high status of being unhyphenated American to people who hide their hyphens behind whiteness or those who came to these shores way after my ancestors did.)

In 1961, when I moved to New York City from Atlanta by way of college in Ohio and art school in London, I was sure that I was prepared for anything. But I was surprised by the hidden racism, sexism, and ageism that greeted me as I showed my work to galleries and tried to find a studio teaching job. It was suggested that only mature artists could teach, and that I was too young to show. (Now, younger artists have more of an edge, if not the edge.) I eventually took a job at the Dalton School, where I made friends with artists who introduced me to my future husband and to the New York and Easthampton art scene. I shortly began to understand it was a man's scene, black or white. After a year, I began a career as a textile designer, working for the great weaver and colorist, Dorothy Liebes, who showed me how much energy it takes to be a success in a world of male power. …