Documentary reveals yet another battlefront of the War on Women
by Nancy Ford
“How can you tell when you’re being censored when you’re not in a museum to begin with?”
That is the question that drove a small but determined group of women artists to press for more representation of their works not only in the public arena, but also among themselves, as documented in !War: !Women Art Revolution.
The smoldering 1960s’ struggle for civil rights and opposition to the escalating Vietnam War gave birth to a renewed struggle for women’s rights in the ’70s. Early feminist leaders like artist Judy Chicago took their cues from the Black Panthers and other extremist groups in attempts to have their voices heard, beginning with an early performance-art protest at the 1968 Miss America pageant.
In the late ’70s, Judy Chicago’s definitive landmark collaborative, The Dinner Party, “battled for space in the public memory,” she recalls. Representation of women’s art up until that time was shamefully sparse; further, a woman curating an exhibit in a major art museum was unheard of. Chicago’s exhibit, with its 39 individual vulvic place settings at a dinner table represented powerful women throughout history, but was prevented from being displayed in Washington DC following testimony by an all-male panel (sound familiar?); California congressman Robert K. Dornan described it as “ceramic 3-D pornography.”
One of the film’s most profound segments recalls an early underground poster promoting “lesbian art and artists.” Betsy Damon, Maxine Fine, Louise Fishman, Jessie Falstein, Harmony Hammond, Maryann King, Gloria Klein, Kate Millett, Dona Nelson, Flavia Rando, Sandra de Sando, Amy Sillman, Ellen Turner, Janey Washburn, Ann Wilson, and Fran Winant boldly banded together to provide visual art, performance, readings, and discussions. What is more unthinkable is that a poster advertising lesbian art was considered subversive as recently as 1978.
Sleater-Kinney’s prolific Carrie Brownstein, who also currently stars in the hysterical Portlandia, provides a contemporary soundtrack juxtaposed against the historical archives revealing the works of trailblazers Miranda July, The Guerilla Girls, Yvonne Rainer, Marina Abramovic, Yoko Ono, B. Ruby Rich, Carolee Schneeman, Marcia Tucker, and others.
2011. Lynn Hershman Leeson directs. Zeitgeist Films (rawwar.org).