Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Back to the Future

Who ever heard of meeting with women?
~ Ida Applebroog

When you hear the word feminist, what comes to mind? For some, undoubtedly, the word connotes little more than that tired, over-publicized image of women burning their bras in a public square. Yes,  some women burned their bras. It was documented.

Also documented was another, more important story for most of the women I knew or admired in the late 1960s through the late 1980s. That narrative involved women who didn't have time to burn bras; some didn't even wear them, and all of them were spending too much time having to prove they had the brains and the talent to report a story, paint a museum-quality picture, get a foot in the door let alone behind a desk from which to run things. 

One remarkable group of women — feminists and artists, every one — in particular stood out during the period known as the "Second Wave" of the Women's Movement. Perhaps you know some of their names: Emma Amos, Patsy Beckert, Joan Braderman, Su Friedrich, Ida Applebroog, Sabra Moore, Amy Sillman, Mary Miss, Miriam Schapiro, Lucy Lippard, Pat Steir, May Stevens, Nina Yankowitz, Sally Webster, Cecilia Vicuna, Janet Froelich, Harmony Hammond, Elizabeth Weatherford (also see Native Networks), Elke Solomon, Michelle Stuart, Susana Torre, Joyce Kozloff, Sue Heinemann, Joan Snyder, Arlene Ladden, Elizabeth Hess, Marty Pottenger, Mary Beth Edelson. Not only were these women active in politics; they were writers, visual artists, graphic designers, art historians, architects, video artists, street-scrapers, filmmakers, performance artists, organizers, theorists, creators, questioners, challengers, educators, curators, philosophers, idealists, dreamers, doers, heretics. 

These women dared to be "radicals" because they were willing to step out and speak up, to become "the first to. . . ." Together, they founded The Heresies: A Feminist Journal on Art and Politics, one of the most extraordinary and ground-breaking collaborative efforts to present women as their fullest, most accomplished selves.

It's a pleasure to introduce some of these women below, via the 10-minute trailer to The Heretics (2009), a documentary film directed by one of the publishing collective's pioneers, video artist Joan Braderman, who, decades after some of the greatest political, intellectual, social, and cultural upheavals of our time, sent out a call to bring members together to re-think and claim for the historical record what the collective accomplished and what it meant to the women who founded it. The film combines interviews with some two dozen of the women (from among the hundreds of members who live all over the world today) with archival footage and digital motion graphics. The documentary had its premiere in Boston earlier this year.

Watching the trailer is instructive, both because it tells us from where we've come — how, as one member says, "we've turned feminism into a verb" — and with what we struggle still. That such "a wild patience has taken me this far" (in the words of poet Adrienne Rich) does not mean women here or anywhere in the world have yet to reach the future. The future is still being made. As Michelle Stuart exclaims in the film, "How can anybody retire?"

Be sure to visit Heresies Film Project, where you'll find an online archive of every issue (there were 27) of Heresies that was published between 1977 and 1992. The Heresies Collective papers are housed at Rutgers University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives Department. They are part of collections jointly held with the Margery Somers Foster Center.

Article: "Feminist Art: A Reassessment" by Susan Bee and Mira Schor


M.L. Gallagher said...

thank you.

And I say, AMEN Sistah!

jenne said...

This is terrific, and so much work. What about reposting on your She Writes blog and then posting on the "What did you blog about today thread?" x j

Anonymous said...

so many different things women are doing now in amreica and different ways the word "feminist" has changed as well.

jenne said...

BTW, many of us actually didn't burn our bras in our activism. We protested the war and wrote and marched with the men, trying to bring the anti-war message to the world and to encourage ourselves and each other to step out of our traditional roles that so trapped our spirits and devoured our creativity. Gloria Steinem et al gave me the courage to believe that what I had to say was of value and although things sometimes became too polemical we learned that we could forge new selves and become all we could be. I was there, in Chicago in 68, and in the Twin Cities in the seventies when we were inspired by Adrienne Rich's breaking from the tradition of what women usually wrote about and were... xj