“THE MEN LIKED TO PUT ME DOWN AS THE BEST WOMAN PAINTER. I THINK I’M ONE OF THE BEST PAINTERS.” —GEORGIA O’KEEFFE
As Nina Simone said, “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” As is evidenced by the characters in The Revolutionists, art of various shapes and sizes can play an important role in confronting and challenging important political and social issues. For centuries, women like Olympes de Gouges have used the power of the pen, the paintbrush and the performance stage to demand their voices be heard. So just who are some of today’s artistic revolutionists?
One of the founding members of the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s, Judy Chicago has advocated for new ways of making feminist art for over half a century. Her work aims to explore the historical and cultural representation of women, and reverse the stereotypes seen in many paintings, pictures, performances and installations. Her best-known piece, The Dinner Party, depicts 39 place settings at a dinner table for 39 invited guests, including Virginia Woolf, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and other legendary women—both real and imagined. The dinner table stands on The Heritage Floor, made up of more than 2,000 tiles—each inscribed with the name of one of 999 women who have made a mark on history. As Chicago herself wrote in The Guardian in 2012, “The Dinner Party demonstrated the power of art in that it overcame enormous resistance and is now part of art history, inspiring generations of young people with the stories of 1,038 courageous women.” For over 50 years now, Chicago has been a symbol of the fight for women’s rights to freedom of expression.
The Guerrilla Girls:
Originally formed in 1985 (and still active today), The Guerrilla Girls is a group of female artists that uses a mix of humor, satire and outrageous visuals to bring gender and racial inequalities into focus within the greater arts community. In order to remain anonymous, members of the group wear gorilla masks and use names that refer to deceased female artists. During its early years, the group conducted a sexism study called “weenie counts,” which tabulated the male-to-female ratio of artists in the public collection of major art institutions. Among the findings they revealed was that 85% of the nude works on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were of the female figure, while less than 5% of all work exhibited there was by women artists. In response to this, the Guerrilla Girls created their first color poster, which remains the group’s most iconic image. The poster asked “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”
In 2002, the Guerilla Girls launched a billboard campaign that declared, “The Anatomically Correct Oscar. He’s white, like almost everyone who wins!” Several years later, the Group launched I’m not a feminist, but if I was, this is what I’d complain about…, an interactive graffiti wall that enabled women who didn’t identify as feminists the means to target gender issues with the hope that active participation would broaden their perspectives. In the past year, the Guerilla Girls made appearances at the Women’s Marches in DC, LA and NYC.
Through their unauthorized and provocative guerrilla-style concerts, the feminist punk rock band, Pussy Riot has been addressing such topics as feminism, LGBTQ rights, freedom of speech and opposition of Vladimir Putin, since they exploded on the scene.
In 2012, three members of the band were arrested for “hooliganism” and held without bail following a performance staged inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, in protest of the Orthodox church leader’s support of Putin. They were eventually convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years in jail, resulting in worldwide protests and human rights groups campaigning for their release. While the members of the band have changed over the years, the group still exists and released the song “Make America Great Again” in 2016, in anticipation of a Trump presidency.
Like their sisters of the French Revolution, today’s revolutionists continue to push the limits, stretch the boundaries and remain committed to the power of art as a vehicle for social change. Who are some of the artistic revolutionists that inspire you? Tell us on our facebook page.