Women Artists: Feminism In The 80s And Now

3 Jan

Symposium, Saturday 3rd December 2011

Goldsmiths University, Ben Pimlott Building.

[This symposium is a collaboration between The Women’s Art Library (MAKE) and Brixton Art Gallery Women Artists Group (BAG Women) to coincide with the Brixton Calling! exhibition at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning (28th Oct-21st Dec 2012).]

I attended this symposium primarily as part of my research for my Major Critical Project which explores the work of a number of women artists working in 1980s Britain. This came at a time when I was feeling a bit worried as to whether I would have enough research to write the project. The purpose of the symposium was to bring a cross-generational audience (and speakers)  to examine the legacy in Britain that had been left by women artists in the 80s in the light of current feminist practices. It aimed to not only recall feminist practice in the 80s, but, to look in depth into their thinking, debates and campaigns and discuss their relevance today for a the new generations of women artists and feminists (which I identify myself as both an artist and a feminist).

For me, one of the reasons I decided to research into 80s feminist practices was due to the often contradictory debates that I have encountered (specifically at a feminist art lecture I attended at the ICA led by Katy Deepwell) as to whether the 80s have been forgotten in feminist history, with the 70s being the glory decade, or as to whether they have been parodied, re-enacted and emptied out of content or whether it has created ongoing tension between past and present generations of feminists. I simply do not have an extensive knowledge of the decade as I do of the 70s, where my influences lie. So for me, it was only natural that this be the topic for my MCP.

The running question we were met with both at the beginning and end of the day was:

Drawing from 80s feminist aesthetics, ethics and practice, how can we today develop a critical and relevant feminist art practice?

Towards the end of the day we convened in the lecture room and identified two of the re-occuring themes/topics of the day:

Body Politics (Performativity, identity formation, race, sexuality)

Public Sphere (Community engagement, education, places)

We broke off into smaller discussion groups with a key speaker into the following groups:

  • Body Politics/Aesthetics
  • Education
  • Public Sphere/Archives
  • Collectivity/Collaboration/Inter-generational resistance

(I decided to participate in the body politics/aesthetics group as it relates directly to my own practice.)

KEY QUESTION: Is there a feminist aesthetics today? If so what is it?

At first we asked ourselves “What is feminist art?” but then realised that it many of us do not have a clear answer and perhaps the reason why that is could be that we sometimes automatically assume that an art work is feminist due to the artist being feminist so the question here is “Is art feminist because the artist is feminist?”.

I guess you could say that there are particular attributes to ‘feminist’ art such as a consciousness of material or the use of a feminist sensibility but is it to our benefit to

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