Teaching Feminism in Relation to Contemporary Art


Guest Author: Katy Deepwell

Contemporary art (whether defined post-1945, post-1970 or post-1989) has to be considered in a global context and beyond a purely national framework. Survey courses have tended to use movements or tendencies (minimalism, conceptualism, pop art, the trans-avantgarde or the anti-aesthetic) or geographical areas, regions or nation states to organise the field. Women artists have been present in every movement, in every country, and in increasing numbers in contemporary art (approx. 20%-40% of biennales and retrospectives and 40%-50% of all artists today). It is possible to introduce a very broad range of examples and paradigmatic case studies of women artists’ works into every lecture offered on contemporary art.

n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal has been publishing articles since 1998 on the work of contemporary women artists from around the world in relation to feminist theory. Over 500 articles in print and as PDFs (by subscription) are available from more than 300 artists, curators and writers living and working in more than 80 countries in the world (see our cloud list!). KT press’ website additionally provides resource information about women artists’ booksexhibition cataloguesjournals, feminist film festivalsfeminist art manifestos, national timelines and statistics. KT press also publishes ebooks on contemporary women artists which can be read on computer or tablet. It is also possible to search by country, date, author and title either the articles in n.paradoxa (1998-present) or the extensive database of exhibitions, books and journals (1970-present).

Many regard feminist art history as being launched in 1971 by Linda Nochlin’s essay: ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ but feminist art history has continued over the subsequent decades and introduced many different approaches within art history and visual culture. Since the 1970s, many “optional” courses on ‘women and art’; ‘transnational feminisms’; or ‘feminist art’ were devised which concentrated on women artists because their work was marginalised in general survey courses. Although feminist art history is often introduced through the study of women artists, its methods can also be used to study the work of male artists’ genres in relation to gender. Feminist art historians have paid special attention to the development of the women’s art movement post-1968 outlining the trajectories, debates and projects of feminist artists. This includes artworks informed by feminism or read through feminist perspectives from 1970 to the present. While there are several accessible books which outline the history of the emergence of the feminist art movement in the USA, feminist art has flourished since the late 1960s in many European and Latin American countries, as well as Australia and Canada, and since the 1980s, across Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Today many major survey shows of feminismanthologies and articles on women artistsfrom different parts of the world have been produced.

In redefining the survey course away from a chronological approach, many courses (and museums) have adopted thematic or issue-based approaches. Feminism emerges in relation to its diverse formulations in eco-feminism, cyber-feminism, urban activism, models of political protest, questions from and about women’s history and the politics of representation of race, class, sexuality, and gender. Feminism is not separate from questions of post-colonialism or queer theory or black politics, as feminist perspectives have been articulated within these struggles. Feminist artists have explored varied and innovative representations of motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, self-portraiture, women’s domestic and waged labour, female sexuality, attitudes to religion, childhood and ageing, sexual love and romance, marriage, lesbian identity, women’s economic exploitation, violence against women, rape and experiences of female illness (cancer, AIDS, anorexia). Feminist critiques of women’s body images in relation to mass-media stereotypes and pointed critiques of the pornography industry have been ubiquitous in many different cultures and media. Feminist work gave a new attention to critical craft practices, new genres of public art, innovations in video, photography and performance art, and collaborative models of practice. n.paradoxa has a full-text search facility which will allow you to search for keywords, media, themes and names where all the topics named above might be introduced as a question or issue on your courses.

For some innovative seminars using this site:-
– set n.paradoxa’s Guide to Feminist Art, Art History and Criticism for discussion (or use it as a means to organise a course).
– select some feminist exhibition catalogues using n.paradoxa’s website as a guide to explore debates about feminist art and feminist curating (1970-present);
– review different sites linked from n.paradoxa’s resources and discuss what they reveal about women’s art practices and feminist debates today;
– read extracts from KT press’ new ebook anthology on feminist art manifestos (1969-present) out loud in class (or from the links to these manifestos on the website);
– select one topic or theme named above with reference to articles from n.paradoxa
(All n.paradoxa’s 34 print volumes (1998-2014) are thematically organised and have contributions from up to 10 countries);
– watch and discuss one of Katy Deepwell’s 4 video seminars online (ICA/ n.paradoxa).
– explore and search n.paradoxa’s website in terms of what was published in 1975? 1985? 1995? Or 2005? Or in Sweden compared to Korea? Or about Chinese women artists compared with French women artists?

There is a lot of material to explore on www.ktpress.co.uk , the official site forn.paradoxa: international feminist art journal.

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