Gleaming acrylic fingernails glued into reptilian forms that emerge from the wall; barnacles and ceramic teeth encrusted in life-size human figures in decay; female anatomy rendered in neon light and boxing gloves; cement seeping through lace and paint; haunting words about the present overlaid on imagery of the past: surface tension abounds in this exploration of contemporary feminist art.
The affirmation of the self as subject and the prevalence of craft-based practices such as sewing, weaving, embroidery, and appliqué in 21st-century art is a legacy of the feminist art of the 1970s. Artists such as Judy Chicago, Mira Schor, Martha Rosler, Adrian Piper, Howardena Pindell, Faith Wilding, and others merged art and activism, elevating everyday materials, methods, and experiences to challenge conventional notions about how and why and where art is created and consumed. Today, artists like Margarita Cabrera and Frances Goodman employ decorative or unconventional materials to reveal intersections between the personal and the political. Cabrera’sVocho—a life-size Volkswagen, sewn in vinyl with seams and threads exposed—examines the relationship between the US and Mexico through the lens of labor, industry, and immigration, whileFrances Goodman’s vibrant multi-media investigations employ everyday materials to explore and expose female representation and consumerism.
The inventive use of language, whether printed or projected, animates works by Carrie Mae Weems, Jenny Holzer, and Michele Pred, introducing unexpected voices into both art and history that resonate as private and public at once. Weems and Holzer use text to interrogate power through self-expression, creating new narratives for cultural and political resistance, while Michele Pred’s mirrors combine the symbol for the female gender with captions that render the viewer “Feminist,” “Equal,” or “Powerful,” offering a passive yet potent transformation of the audience-subject’s self-image.
Expanding beyond the individual experience to a shared one, Vibha Galhotra and Alison Saar evoke Classical mythology mixed with grim reality to create culturally critical work addressing shared global concerns, connecting past and present adversities resulting from the intersection of environmental destruction and social inequality. The dual power of water to sustain and destroy is the subject ofPhosphene, Monica Cook’s life-size sculpture of a couple crashing through layers of glass. Reflecting the influence of feminist art, Cook’s work utilizes materials high and low to realize a vision of what the body knows: that beauty and decay, creation and destruction, are inextricably linked.
Long subject to patriarchal control, the female body knows pain and power. Zoë Buckman invokes this visceral knowledge in Champ, a sculpture of female reproductive organs made with neon light and white boxing gloves and in her series, Let Her Rave, which responds to 19th-century poet John Keats’s expression of male dominance in “Ode on Melancholy.” Buckman’s combination of traditionally feminine or fragile materials with boxing gloves is both an assertion of feminist power and an invitation to join the fight.
Investigating identity, consumer culture, ecology, history, mythology, and power, the art featured inThe Future is Female illuminates both the consequences and the persistence of the struggle for equality: much progress is needed before Saya Woolfalk’s fantasy of a harmonious universe created by her female Empathics reflects lived reality.