Feminist Art in Response to the State

Due to the enthusiastic response to our “Call For Proposals” for the TFAP Affiliated Society Session during the 2018 College Art Association Conference, The Feminist Art Project features here some of the outstanding proposals submitted by feminist scholars, curators, and artists.

CFP: Feminisms inherently engage politics, and by extension systemic State power and the marginalization and oppression of individuals. Current events have triggered a magnified importance and urgency to this engagement. The Feminist Art Project seeks proposals for papers and presentations from artists, art historians and theorists related to the ways in which art can further respond to politics and amplify resistance to the State. Topic possibilities may be: effective strategies that artists currently or have employed, ways in which feminisms can evolve constructing new paradigms as well as critiques and shortcomings of existing methods. Proposals with potential images to be included are preferred.

Satellites and  Con-tain-er
Hiba Ali
, Artist/Writer/Musician  

Resume forthcoming

My practices focuses on invisible information flows we take as granted and makes these processes tangible, particularly investigating the labor behind the objects are produced from techno-globalization. How are present day circuits organized and how did they come to be in the present? How do historic entanglements and restrictions of mobility arise in the present? While not explicitly feminist, in my practice, I do investigate power structures. These hierarchical relationships encompass gender, race, sexuality and class and have shaped the present.

I would like to share my arts practice where I investigate these objects, the satellite and shipping crate, in the projects called Satellites and Con-tain-er, and the systems in which the operate and their impact on how we perceive the world. Satellites are part of a global flow of information as is the shipping container, both are tuned in of "streams" of different sorts. Their movements have shaped our reality and connect us to many people of the world and usually labor, in their production, goes unseen as the object's product. I connect this to rise of a surveillance society and the process in which this technology can be used to empower people.

Con-tain-er traces the circuits of globalization through the movement of this object. This installation refers to the uneven spread of globalization, specifically how corporatization effects labor and how import and export effect local and global exchanges. The global shipping industry is indicative of our contemporary moment of globalization and shifting political alliances. We are connecting to a larger network and by understanding how a circuit is constructed, we can challenge and change how the system functions.

From Russia with Love: Russian Feminist Graffiti and its Aesthetic Resistance
H.C. Arnold
, Riverside College District 


Graffiti's capacity to illustrate social injustices and challenge the hegemony of those in power is an established aspect of the genre. Examples such as Banksy's paintings along the Israeli West Bank Barrier or the recent anti-Trump graffiti with slogans stating "Dump-Trump" confirm scholars like Carlo McCormick who claim that street artists "work in opposition to authority." However, these historians fail to analyze what feminist graffiti offers to this aesthetic resistance. My paper addresses this lack of research with attention to how feminist graffiti critiques the patriarchy and sexism within nationalist ideology. Specifically, I consider how the Russian feminist graffiti groups Gandhi and Zhena challenge issues of state sponsored discrimination based on gender and nationality by creating artworks depicting the experiences of female immigrants and domestic chauvinism. Unlike other street artists, these collectives are not consumed into the same types of westernized commodification that Adorno describes as foreclosing any "decisive change" for society. Instead, they maintain a capacity for resistance to the state that is comparable to groups including the Zapatista National Liberation Army of Mexico and the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. By establishing connections between these collectives using the philosophies of opposition authored by Gandhi, Vaneigem, and Gramsci, I argue that Russian feminist graffiti is a new method for attacking sexism and racism by using creativity, non-violence, community, and generosity. It pushes us beyond our current political suspicions of each other and offers a way to solidify ourselves against the common adversary of hatred with love and respect.

Chouf: Using Art to Create Feminist and Queer Space in Tunisia
Anne Marie E. Butler
, Ph.D. Candidate, SUNY at Buffalo  


Chouf Minorities is a Tunisian organization that prioritizes women's bodily sovereignty and sexualities, particularly lesbian, bisexual, and queer, through art and media. Since 2015, Chouf has highlighted women's critical cultural dialogue with their annual international feminist art festival, Chouftouhonna. Deploying Foucault's notion of heterotopia, "a sort of mixed, joint experience," that is "capable of juxtaposing in a single real place, several sites that are in themselves incompatible" (1984), this presentation investigates how Chouftouhonna functions as feminist space where the queer imaginary is made possible. While Tunisian women have long been granted many political rights, the majority of governmental policies and provisions for women merely reinforce a state-serving model of femininity. Further, Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code outlaws homosexuality for both men and women. Much feminist and queer work therefore remains to be done in Tunisia. The conceptual space of Chouftouhonna resists dominant narratives of social reality that include the illegality of homosexuality and the rigidity of the Tunisian social-sexual hierarchy, thereby constituting the festival through heterotopia, where the state and gender violence of modern Tunisia are temporarily suspended. By using multimedia and audiovisual approaches, the festival becomes a "material possibilit(y) of subversion" (Brown, 2007). It creates space where, through making and sharing art and performance, queer and feminist Tunisians can experience non-hierarchical community organization and affirmation of various sexual and social practices without the restrictions on their subjectivities currently created by the overlapping structures of the Tunisian state and social-sexual hierarchy.

Works Cited
Brown, Kath. "Lesbian geographies," Social and Cultural Geography. 8: 1-7, 2007.
Foucault, Michel. Trans. by Jay Miskowiec. "Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias," in Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité, October, 1984.

Feminist Unresolve: Aesthetics Beyond Identity Politics
Shannan L. Hayes
, PhD Candidate, Program in Literature & Feminist Studies Certificate, Duke University  


In possible contrast to the current CFP, this paper contends that feminist art need not produce efficient models of resistance or concrete, measureable outcomes in order to respond to the current political moment. Resisting such imperatives is already a step in the direction of refusing to let one's feminist political desires be corralled into the neoliberal "shadow-state" of non-profit professionalism, pragmatism, and obedience. This paper thus starts from the premise that feminism might better dedicate its resources to a project of feminist aesthetics that emphasizes the values of non-instrumentality and unresolve-long associated with aesthetics-than models of didacticism or democratic repair. Rather than introduce feminist critiques of gender, power, and the state into art, I explore what aesthetics might offer a feminist political disposition that is not organized primarily around what Linda Zerilli (2013) has called the "social" and "subject" paradigms dominant within feminism. By brining Zerilli's analysis into conversation with works of contemporary art, I posit aesthetics as an opportunity to reinsert productive unresolve into debates around identity politics that have recently been reinflamed by the 2016 election. In this presentation, selected from my larger dissertation project, I offer an account of how "the social question" and "the subject question" have limited feminism's political imaginary in ways that are relevant to both art and our understanding of politics. In the end I suggest the sculptural work of Roni Horn as one possible way to think about feminist aesthetics beyond the instrumental terrain of identity politics.

I Neither Celebrate Nor Commemorate Wars: Feminist Artistic Responses to the War on Drugs in Contemporary Mexico
Alberto McKelligan Hernández
, Assistant Professor, Art History, Portland State University   


Recent art historical scholarship has revitalized interest in the work of Mónica Mayer, a feminist artist from Mexico active since the late 1970s.  In particular, "Mónica Mayer: When in Doubt...Ask," the large-scale exhibition at the University Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City, revealed her leading role in the development of feminist art in her home country.  Art historians, however, have yet to analyze the ways in which Mayer's artistic production shifted in reaction to the forms of violence that erupted as the Mexican state initiated the War on Drugs in 2006.  In this ongoing conflict, the Mexican army and police forces have waged a war backed by the military-industrial complex of the United States.  Since 2008, Mayer has worked on I Neither Celebrate Nor Commemorate Wars, an extensive project that consists of collaborative performances, museum installations, and public interventions.  These artistic proposals employ feminist artistic practices to confront a national crisis that has claimed thousands of civilian lives.  Rather than viewing this project as a deviation from Mayer's earlier activity, this study emphasizes how the artist has expanded the scope and agenda of a feminist artistic movement, challenging the state's violence against activists and everyday citizens.  Using archival documentation recently made available by the artist, this paper positions Mayer's recent work as an important example of the ways in which feminist artists confront social problems that transcend national boundaries.  

Blood on the Fridge: Sloughing and the Feminist Commons
Alexis Bard Johnson
, PhD Candidate, Art History, Stanford University; and Raegan Truax, Artist Scholar

Resumes forthcoming

Art historian Lexi Johnson and performance artist and scholar Raegan Truax reflect on Truax's 28-day performance Sloughing (2017), which occurred in 19 locations across the San Francisco Bay area and included 25 female and genderqueer individuals menstruating freely onto plywood boards. A feminist work, Truax choreographed Sloughing as a collective action that would be physically impossible for the artist to perform or achieve alone. In this talk, we discuss how Sloughing occludes the oppressive, systemic failings of patriarchal state power by requiring the body to take a stance in the public and private spaces of everyday life. To complicate the notion that a successful protest gathers a large number of people for a single day of action, we examine the feminist paradigms and difficulties of Sloughing to offer insight about sustained embodied resistance and the challenges of cultivating a feminist commons. While the performance was conceived as a mechanism for sloughing off the rhetoric and policies of the Trump Administration, it also points us to the history of menstrala works that have challenged art institutions and discourse since Judy Chicago's Red Flag in 1971. Building from this history, Sloughing is the first work to stage the bleeding body for a live audience in gallery settings, private homes, and public spaces. We propose that now, more than ever, these kinds of radical works push us to consider the ways we harness our collective and political energy and live our politics.

Beyond Imagining
Erin Johnson
, Visiting Assistant Professor of Digital Media, Bowdoin College   


In the midst of 1980s Cold War tensions, 100 million Americans tuned in to watch The Day After, a made-for-TV movie depicting a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union on Lawrence, Kansas. The movie was filmed on location in Lawrence, KS, and director Nicholas Meyer cast 5,000 largely unknown local actors and extras for the film, so as not to distract viewers with prior associations. "For all intents and purposes," he said, "they might as well have been the characters they played."

In response to the renewed threat of nuclear war, feminist artist Erin Johnson asks extras from The Day After to recollect, re-perform, and re-imagine their original scenes, now 34 years later. In addition, the former extras share their perspectives on Lawrence's LGBTQ and activist history, the Cold War era, Midwest politics, and the recent election - providing insight to their lives during the making of the film and now. The result is a multi-channel experimental video documenting the lived experiences of a town that once performed its own destruction and a reflection on how enacting the unimaginable can help us better understand and respond to contemporary anxieties.

Re-visiting Feminism and Feminist Art in Pakistani Context
Sadia Pasha Kamran
, Associate Professor, Kinnard College for Women, Lahore 


This study explores the contemporary art of Pakistan with an aim to cognize feminism and feminist art in the local context. Pakistani art world is heavily impregnated with the presence of women artists. These women have not only practiced art but also led the art world from upfront. They stood up and protested against the Martial Laws, they raised voice for the women rights and while challenging the prevalent ideological dominance of time even initiated the Women Action Forum as early as 1983. They have made their presence felt in the social, political as well as cultural avenues on national and international level. However, it is interesting to note that their art does not essentially conform the ideals of feminism nor does it shares the typical feminist aesthetics as propogated in the West pointing towards a particular theoretical posture which maintains that women art differs in importance, value, technique, subject matter or audience.  More recently, there are women artists in Pakistan who hesitate to be coined as 'feminist artists'.

Carrie Mae Weem's Colored People series, 1989-90: Still Strategies of Resistance
Dr. Andrea Liss
, Professor of Visual Culture and Cultural History, California State University San Marcos  


Among its debris, the nightmare of the post-Orwellian United States presidential election brought in a demagogue acting as the mouthpiece of a neo-Nazi in full control of the nation's "security," rescinding the civil rights of women, people of color, "foreigners" of every kind unless they have investments in the Trump (mis)fortune and countless other enemies defined by the new oligarchy. Faced with this regime's transparent and self-congratulatory politics of hate, dissenting citizens including myself call for the endurance of kindness and thoughtful stances of resistance carried out by contemporary feminist artists. Photographically-based multimedia artist Carrie Mae Weems' work since the mid-1980s employs powerful and graceful strategies to address repressive state policies and their proliferation of cultural racism. Weem's exquisite portraits of children in the Colored People series, 1989-1990, bring into current focus resistant formations of facing, alterity and self-respect - thereby uncovering the derogatory intentions of name calling and turning these deadly abuses into the blessed connotations of naming. These lovely and powerful portraits echo the urgent call for intersubjective caring, critical awareness and thoughtful action called for by Black Lives Matter The Mothers of the Movement.  The artist and the Mothers share productive affinities that compel active imaginings of ethical racial and gender politics, pointing to compelling contemporary geographies of justice and resistance.

Don't Shut Up
Linda Litteral
, Independent Artist and Curator 


Women are silenced everyday in every part of the world, from simple interruptions to acts of violence. Don't Shut Up was female-led art and activism at City Gallery focused on raising women's voices. In this presentation I will document the art in the show and responses from artists and viewers. Artists were asked to present "work that addresses personal stories about sexism.  backlash, physical abuse, verbal abuse, discrimination, rape, language. Tell your story." The majority of the artists were from the Feminist Image Group, (FIG) "a coalition of artists who meet to organize exhibitions, discuss art, see exhibitions, and support one another in their careers. They aid each other in their creative and curatorial endeavors." Other local artists were asked to submit work. There are two" Community Quilts"  created for the show, one by STARS which is a program for girls and women between 12-24 years old who have been involved with commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. The young women submitted quilt squares expressing their voices. The other quilts were a compilation of blocks submitted by artists from around the country. Artists were asked to submit work " In the spirit of activist quilts in the past, a Healing Quilt will address the political climate of our time. This quilt is a way for our voices to protest the disregard for women, minorities, immigrants, environmental issues, public land, etc." This presentation will give the voice of all the artists that participated a wider audience. 

A Maternalist, Eco-Feminist Future: Model for an Ethics of Care in the Age of the Anthropocene
Margaret Morgan
, Independent Artist, and Myrel Chernick, Independent Artist

Margaret Morgan: www.margaretmorgan.com | margaretmorgan@gmail.com | CV
Myrel Chernick: www.myrelchernick.com | myrelch@gmail.com | CV

We have discussed elsewhere1 how New Materialism has given a way out of the old impasse within feminist art discourse regarding the efficacy of using the body or the image of the body in feminist art. This view invigorates feminist, queer and activist deployments of the body. New materialism also ignites a new a-essentialist, maternalist feminism that is tied to an ethics of care and to ecofeminism, and provides new ways of considering both feminist practice that has been critiqued for its 'essentialism' and feminist practices of the current moment. In a world in which we are all the more conscious of global misogyny, patriarchal leaders run amok, and the most urgent questions of environmental devastation under climate change and war, feminist practices coming out of nurturance, maternality, community, sustainability, eco-feminism and an ethics of care are more important than ever. Considering projects by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Lauren Bon, Jackie Brookner and others, Morgan and Chernick will examine work coming out of this ethos, work that makes a compelling case for a way forward and a return to an ethics, seemingly lost in the past two generations, of care.

1. For Natalie Loveless and Sheena Wilson, New Maternalisms, University of Alberta, Edmonton, unpublished transcript, 2016-17.

Dr Sarah Pucill
, Independent Artist and Reader, University of Westminster 

Resume forthcoming

The paper will discuss two feature length films I made that re-enact photographs by the Surrealist artist Claude Cahun that are overlaid with voices from Cahun's writing.  I will show clips from both films and discuss the nature of the dialogue had with Cahun's archive where her photographs and writing are re-enacted or staged as tableaux vivants.  The paper will analyse how the role as a filmmaker serves as a vessel that enables Cahun's words and images to come together (albeit through re-imagined imagery) in a manner that bridges time and how a process of interpretation of the archive became a process of creative collaboration and dialogue with Cahun that brings history into the present.  The inter-medial mixing of media, time-frames and authorship will be highlighted.

The paper will outline the two texts by Cahun that are used in the films; in Magic Mirror (16mm, bw, 75min, 2013) Aveux non avenus (1930, Cahun) and in Confessions To The Mirror (16mm, col/bw, 68min, 2016) Confidences au miroir (1945-52). The latter text will be discussed as it outlines Cahun and Malherbe's anti-propaganda activity in Jersey during the Nazi occupation, which alongside Cahun's photographs is re-enacted in Confessions To The Mirror.  An examination will explore the feminist strategy of collaboration and dialogue between myself and Cahun that crosses time, and between Cahun and her partner Suzanne Malherbe who collaborated with Cahun on two books, one of which being Aveux non avenus.   The paper will question the significance of the political potential that feminist dialogue has especially in film to cross time-frames.

Lives and Works of Three Female Sculptors of Pakistan
Munazza Rashid
, Dr, Visual Artist 

Resume forthcoming

Academic art practice in Pakistan is a European phenomenon. The way Oriental or indigenous approach amalgamated and intertwined with the European influences creates an interesting tapestry. Pakistan came into inception in 1947. It is the country which has been struggling throughout the centuries in their socio political, socio cultural and socio economic endeavors. In such a country art is surviving on its own without any government and public support. The Sculpture has been a neglected area in Pakistan. Overall there is no continuous art history in Pakistan, but with short intervals. It has studied here that which factors have influenced and shaped the lives and works of the female sculptors.

 Among them, I have selected three for their contribution at the national and international levels. These are Anna Molka Ahmed (b.1917 - d.1994), Novera Ahmed (b.1930 -d.1980) and Rabia Zuberi (b.1940). One of them is a white woman and the other two are indigenous black women.

This paper examines the social and artistic discourse. I aim to investigate cross-cultural influences and perspective by exploring the social position of the art and artists. How practitioners respond to their living environment, which narratives their challenges. The stories and alternative views they may be sharing and endorsing, how they might be engaging with followers and what types of content they are creating. How they responded to the relationship between gender, censorship and national identity.

This list was compiled with the permission of the author(s), who retain all copyrights for their materials.