“Feminist Art, I find it Hard Work”

This is what I got from my friend a few days ago. He’s a pleasant enough guy but just doesn’t seem to relate to what this particular type of feminism is trying to achieve. But then again, I’m not sure that I do either. Breaking taboos with vagina art seems too much like an easy option. Feminism for me is when a woman fights for her freedom or her education – simple things that are denied women as a result of oppressive misogynistic religious and political regimes. Western feminism has a different approach – it’s relative to context, and that context is no longer about fighting for education or movement, but the freedom to expose the body without fearing the male predator, or perhaps, to show that a woman is empowered by her body, and is the only power over it. Misogyny is still rife and rampant in western society; it just depends on where you are placed to see it. New forms of sexisms are appearing, or perhaps they are the same old prejudices, reinforced in a younger generation of men. The sexualisation of girls and women in contrast to the image of the powerful woman is creating a different type of hostility. What a shame that the decades of hard work put in to shift perception by the early pioneers of feminism is lost to the youth of today. Female sexuality need not be threatening or a taboo but it also need not be shoved in our faces. What we get is either the influx of images that stream through our screens to sell products, or the exhibition, gesturing, and performing symbolic projections of femininity – via our bodily parts in order to break-down taboos.

“What’s the difference?” my friend asks.

The female form/body can be celebrated or it can be abused.

In an article about female sexuality at the Frieze Arts Fair in New York, the journalist quotes New York gallerist Gavin Brown, “I suppose if a man had done all those paintings of cunts and cocks, it might have been spoken about differently, but the subject was universal—[it was] about the birth of the world…Men have been sublimating images of their cocks for millennia, so why can’t women do the same?”

Good question. I suppose that is true but mostly men have been glorifying their cocks, while feminist art has been making a mockery out of perceptions and ingrained ideas. Feminism projects sexuality in a brutalistic way in order to reaffirm authority over the body, it is a statement that reinstates female power by sticking a finger up at the male gaze.

While this might seem like a revolutionary act, there is also something disturbing about it. Quoting my friend “I’m not denying the prevalence of misogyny in culture and society. I just find a lot of feminist art unnecessary; a lot of it is derivative nonsense that doesn’t tackle issues but recycles old ideas and creates attention-seeking art.”

The sort of feminist art that makes a difference is the sort that questions society in a meaningful way and that is the sort of art that lasts.


Lalla Essaydi, Les Femmes du Maroc, 1956

Lalla Essaydi. Converging Territories #26, 2004

Lalla Essaydi. Converging Territories #26, 2004

Lalla Essaydi. Converging Territories #10, 2003

Lalla Essaydi. Converging Territories #10, 2003


Charlotte Burns, “Women doing it for (and to) themselves”, Frieze New York, 10 May 2014 http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Women%20doing%20it%20for%20(and%20to)%20themselves/32644


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